CBC.ca’s licensing system for emailing articles.
Thanks in part to the internet, people are consuming more news than ever before, which is great—except for the fact that the news industry has yet to find a way to turn online readers into a sustainable source of revenue.
Faced with cutbacks, declining newspaper subscriptions, and the possibility of extinction, news organizations everywhere have been experimenting with different sources of income, such as licensing. For more than a year now, CBC.ca, the Globe and Mail, and the Toronto Star, have been using iCopyright, a Seattle-based online copyright licensing service, to license their content to users.
Here’s how iCopyright works: if you want to print an article from your printer, just click the little print icon beside any story, and an iCopyright window pops up asking you how many copies you’d like to make. Printing is free, as long as you’re making fewer than six copies. If you want to print six or more, iCopyright asks you to pay per article. The system works the same way if you’re trying to email an article, and it can also be used to quickly purchase republication rights.
Of course, this is all voluntary, as the service works on the honour system. If you don’t want to pay, there’s nothing stopping you from refreshing your browser and printing off more copies or copying and pasting the text into an email. In fact, it’s so easy to bypass iCopyright’s system that it’s a wonder that it’s even implemented at all.
The Globe and Mail‘s licensing system for printing articles.
iCopyright’s website trumpets its service as a non-invasive source of revenue and as an anti-piracy tool, but as Torontoist learned, its clients are more interested in the system’s money-making potential than its ability to protect copyright.
“It’s not so much a piracy issue as it is a recognition of the fact that we’ve got financial issues,” Jeff Keay, the CBC’s head of media relations, told Torontoist. “The fact of the matter is that our subsidy hasn’t changed over the years—it has eroded in an inflationary environment—and we’ve got to come up with creative revenue streams to help fund some of the things we do, particularly CBC.ca, which has grown enormously.”
Robin Graham, the managing director of Torstar Syndication Services, also views the service as a revenue stream, but has been a tad disappointed with its performance so far. “iCopyright had approached the Toronto Star and they had told us about their service, and they said that they could help us earn revenue with online licences,” Graham told us. “It hasn’t produced as much revenue as we thought it might.”
News sites have a right to protect their copyrighted materials, but these licensing schemes are unlikely to dissuade pirates or generate much profit, and in an age where information usually travels fast and freely, they’re really only a hindrance that limits a site’s potential reach.