The Washington Post has an editorial today in which they suggest the federal government should step in to protect their content.  They propose laws that, to my eyes, are just ridiculous. 

Given the topic of their article (they're angry at people copying their content) I've decided not to quote them out of respect.  But the laws they suggest include things like reclassifying web crawlers as copyright infringement and making laws that prohibit bloggers from quoting newspaper content.  Again, a little ridiculous all in all.

But I think the article's instructive in that it, and the responses to it, show two sides that are both arguing for unrealistic options.  Let me explain. 

The side opposing Journalists is saying technology should be allowed to flourish and therefore web sites should be able to do anything they want with content that's published to the web.  Basically "let technology sort it out."  The problem with that theory is it doesn't really understand the role of technology in society.  Technology is amoral.  Not good, not bad, just sort of there.  So it's up to society to set rules for technology.  The perfect example of this is cloning people to be organ donors.  Most would find this idea reprehensible and that's why we have laws against human cloning (which are thankfully not needed thus far but that's sure to change very soon).  So technology is not something that should be trusted to set guidelines.

But on the other hand the side of the journalists is equally mistaken.  They think that putting strict laws on everything will somehow save their industry and the simple truth is it won't.  Here's the hard reality: Life used to be lived locally.  People had local TV stations, local radio stations and their local newspaper.  Because of that the world needed thousands of newspapers.  That's not true anymore.  Not only are the newspapers all competing with each other they're competing with the TV and radio stations who now offer print versions of their stories on the web.  So no matter how many laws you enact a large portion of the print media is going to die off.

Given that you might ask what I think we, as a society, should do?

I'm not one to encourage new laws but I can see the print media's side of the story.  If I quote the meat of their article on this blog you probably aren't going to click on the link to read the rest.  This leaves the newspapers with no revenue (once actual print newspapers become unsustainable).  To me that's unacceptable.

My ideal solution would be to have the newspapers create a widget that allows you to embed their text but puts a little ad on the bottom of it so they can still make some money off blogs that quote their articles.  The problem with that is most bloggers will probably continue to copy text rather than use the widget.  Given that fact I'd be in favor of a law restricting bloggers from taking content provided one of the stipulations be that the newspapers' must offer their content in a way that allows bloggers to continue using it (like the widget idea above).

My take on this is certainly not ideal and there could very well be a much better answer out there.  But as long as both sides of the argument keep pushing unrealistic solutions I don't think we'll ever find it.