And We Have Copyright Law Because…?

Posted by Deborah Huso on Jan 3, 2011 in Writer Rants |

So we all know The Huffington Post is able to turn a profit because it doesn’t pay its contributors.  Now Forbes is looking to do the same…on a whole new scale.  Not only does the company have plans to use the works of thousands of unpaid bloggers to build the content for its site, but it then plans to turn around and sell the works for which it has not paid.  Yes, you read that correctly.

Now imagine for a moment how successful a typical company would be if it failed to pay its employees.  How many would give it their all?  I daresay very few.  Why does the media world think it can operate by different rules?  Probably because there are countless writers out there willing to work for nothing, a concept I’ve personally never been able to grasp.  But then I have bills to pay.

In one of his latest blog posts for BNET, “Forbes.com: Don’t Steal Our Content. We Took It Fair and Square,” a post for which I’m certain he received compensation, Erik Sherman writes, “Forbes can take any free blog material and use it in any of its magazines or give permission to any other publisher that has licensed the Forbes name.  It can sell rights to others to use the blog posts and also sell reprints.  These rights last forever and extend to all wireless and mobile.  And the writers get nothing.”

Now in case you are not familiar with U.S. Copyright Law, let me give you a quick civic lesson: the fundamental ideals behind copyright law are to give creators rights and control over their work, the ability to earn income from it, the idea being that if we creators have an economic incentive to create, then we’ll create more, thereby promoting knowledge in the universe.

Take the creator’s right to earn his bread by his work away, and what do you have?  Well, you certainly don’t have a full-time professional writer.  I can tell you that.  And why do you want one?  Well, it’s pretty simple.  I certainly don’t want Joe Neighbor giving me the scoop on what’s happening in Afghanistan anymore than I want the ghostwriter for GM’s CEO writing content for Forbes.com. Journalism is supposed to be objective…and factual.

Sure, there are some conscientious writers contributing to these “salary-free” sites, but they are few and far between. Most of us can’t afford to be conscientious for free.  Like normal people who get paid to go to work every day, writers have families and mortgages, too.

This is not to say I’m arguing here for the poor, unpaid writer to get paid.  If you’re writing for free for Forbes.com or anyone else for that matter with the idea you’re going to get your big break one day, I’ve got news for you: you’ll likely wait till you starve to death.  What concerns me and what has consistently concerned me on these pages is the continuing “dumbing down” of the universe.

Would you want an unpaid mechanic working on the airplane on which you’re about to fly cross-country? Would you want an unpaid surgeon putting a pacemaker in your dad’s chest?  So why are you reading “news coverage” provided by unpaid journalists?  Is truth cheap?  Somehow, I don’t think so. But bunk sure is.

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