Going online - Press Gazette

Going online

In a recent
speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Rupert Murdoch
described newspapers moving into the online environment as “digital
immigrants”. The experience of businesses grounded in paper-based
publishing looking to adapt to a new online environment is presented as
an uncomfortable and uncertain one. The commercial reasons for this are
apparent: fundamental shifts in revenue sources, modes of presenting
and formatting content and publication frequency models are key factors.

legal landscape (particularly in the fields of intellectual property)
for businesses previously focused on paper publication and now
publishing content online, can be equally disorienting.

areas such as copyright and trademark law are subject to new tensions.
Content and brands are to be protected on new platforms, and the
geographical territory in which they are to be protected has suddenly

Print publications have not always found the transition easy. Disputes
have arisen where content sourced from freelancers in the pre-migration
period was not sourced with sufficient breadth of reproduction rights
to enable it to be published without infringing the copyright retained
by the contributors. This area remains contentious, as best practice to
which publishers aspire (overall buy-out of contributors’ rights) is
seen as incompatible with the rights of contributors to their own
intellectual property.

The difficulties of branding online have
also bitten. There are now far more publications by number seeking to
use the same narrow number of product names. At the same time, because
the domain name registration regime does not lend itself to multiple
registrations of the same name (there can only be one “.com” for each
title) publishers are having to compromise on their online branding. Or
they must be more imaginative as they seek to define an online brand
presence which is distinguished from competitors that they did not
previously know they had, and which also provides access to a domain
name which is not already reserved.

Putting material on the
internet in digital form is also seen in some quarters as the copyists’
charter. It is, in basic terms, easier to copy content published
online, whether by simple copying and pasting or by increasingly
sophisticated linking and deep linking methodologies. Sites exist where
content is derived from often unacknowledged links into the content of
others. The law has yet to settle down sufficiently to enable
proprietors and copyists to know how far they can link into another
party’s site without being accused of infringing copyright or some
brand-related IP infringement.

Murdoch’s “immigrant” analogy is
an apt one, in that it evokes the strangeness and unfamiliarity of the
new environment for print media. On the other hand, the online “nation”
is not yet so established as to provide such a daunting and excluding
place for new entrants from conventional print media. Indeed, one might
say that the intellectual property strengths which have been
established over time by paper-based publications (brand recognition, a
bank of content and contributors) give them a headstart over properties
which might be seeking to establish interests online from a standing
start. The trick is to adapt intellectual property gathering and
enforcement processes at the same time as (or preferably before)n the
migration begins.

Iain Stansfield is an IP partner at Olswang law firm