Free Ranging Information Meets New Digital Fences
Here is a followup comment to my previous post about the free flow of information on the Internet. Here is a prediction that some might take note: There will continue to be a growing number of digital barriers for information content in the next few years, such as subscription fees, privacy restrictions, membership access, per use costs, and perhaps the how information is indexed.
People have posted info freely about themselves over the past decade, but over the years I think that people have begun to realize that privacy is an issue to seriously consider. Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and other social network sites have reworked their policies so individuals can control the amount of information they give out to their family, friends, and the general public. I’m still surprised by the amount of personal info people put out on the web. As the saying goes, once it goes online, it could be out there forever (although I don’t entirely believe this statement).
I’m also still surprised by the amount of copyrighted materials that people continue to post without permission of the copyright owner like movies, music, books, etc. However, many companies and industries are fighting this ongoing battle. They are essentially fighting for their future existence as more of their content appears online and they lose a substantial amount of money and customers. The entertainment industry, for example, needs to have a fair amount of control over its content or the entertainment field will continue to lose money. The adage of “information wants to be free” comes into play here, which I liken to libraries. Everyone loves them, but they don’t want to pay for them, especially if they don’t have to.
Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation is seeking a partnership with a single search engine (Microsoft’s BING) to have the exclusive right to index the news and entertainment programming. I don’t know if this is legal because it is equivalent to saying a phone book can’t list company phone numbers or that article abstracts can’t be indexed because they are under copyright. But then again we have unlisted numbers, and article abstracts do fall under copyright. I think that news is factual information for one, and Fair Use clauses might loosely fall into play (specifically the first three of four clauses, but also Fair Use is not law). I really don’t think this partner ship will last in the long run because it will isolate many customers & make them choose which search engine to use to find specific articles (frankly, it is an ingenious way to make money from the free loading search engines for the new company, but also very risky to isolate their content on one search engine island). If customers don’t find it on their favorite search engine, which may be Google or Safari instead of the BING search engine, they will very likely lose that transaction.
More companies are offering apps for mobile devices, and charging for them. Magazines are beginning to pull back free access to their online content. Comcast also recently bought NBC Universal and plans to pull the free access to many of NBC’s TV programmings from Hulu.
So there are a lot of indications that free access to info may be coming to a close, or more likely become limited. A lot of these changes are tied to the advertising industry which has been ailing in our current poor economy. I expect that some companies will drop fees as the advertising industry begins to revive and to become more competitive, but I also think that many in the entertainment and news industry will charge for their online content well after the economy revives. I think that librarians will have a slightly more difficult time in tracking down information should other businesses follow suit and choose to be indexed by one search engine or another.
It is all an interesting situation, and I believe that there will be some major implications in the not so distant future.