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Column: Why you shouldn't copy and paste this column
Shannon Casas
Shannon Casas

I reported myself for copyright infringement last week. Or at least that’s what Facebook thought I did.

Facebook sent me a message telling me I can post content to Facebook only when I have a legal right to do so. 

“The Times/Metro Market Media or their authorized representative reported your posts for violating their copyright,” Facebook told me.

Only I was that representative. And the folks — the robots, the algorithms, whoever or whatever was doing this work for the social media giant — were confused.  

Then I got an email from “Desmond” with Facebook to thank me for bringing the matter to their attention. “We removed or disabled access to the link(s) you reported for violating the Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.”

Have you ever yelled at Siri or Alexa? You’re trying to get directions only she doesn’t understand Southern, so you end up just screaming at that voice in your car who clearly has no idea what she’s talking about. Usually Siri doesn’t listen.

I didn’t scream at “Desmond,” who may or may not be a real person. But I did reply that the link was not the problem. I used an exclamation point but refrained from all caps. Desmond did not listen.

What had actually happened was that I posted a link to one of our stories in a Facebook group, where I thought the members would especially appreciate the story. You might be a member of this group. 

Someone complained they couldn’t read it and asked if someone else could paste it where they could see it. Someone did. I reported the comment.

Copying and pasting an article online may seem harmless to some. From my perspective in the newsroom, it’s maddening. I know the hours the reporter put in to tracking down sources, thumbing through records, conducting interviews, getting photos and writing the piece. Not to mention the part where someone, often me, edited that piece and published it on our website. If someone wants to say that work isn’t worth their $1, fine, but you don’t ask someone to walk into a store and steal a newspaper for you.

Before I continue, a few things about our website: It’s kind of like going into the ice cream shop and asking for a sample. You can have a sample or two. Then you’re expected to buy a scoop of ice cream. You don’t go in, have a sample and then ask someone to steal you a scoop of the best flavor. You also don’t go in and sample 25 different flavors.

The news may not be as tasty as ice cream — though we’ve done some pieces on where to find the tastiest ice cream in town — but it’s still a product that requires investment of time and money.

What about the ads, you say? 

The revenue landscape for newspapers across the country and world has changed. Print advertisements don’t pay the bills like they used to, and digital advertisements are pennies on the dollar compared to the print ads of yesteryear. Most of the local digital pennies go to Facebook and Google, anyway, not your local newspaper.

That leaves newspapers trying to figure out how to fund local news.

Some have gone nonprofit, though you’ve still got to raise the operating funds; others rely on events or other new revenue streams; and some drastically cut their expenses, i.e. staff. Most probably do a combination, especially of those last two options.

Newspapers all around the world have experimented, working to figure out just what works in their market.

Many, including The Times, have moved toward heavier reliance on subscribers. 

Our mission has always been to serve this community, and in turn we need its support. 

Copying and pasting the work is the opposite of supportive. It’s also illegal.

This is where Facebook got it right. In one of the messages I was sent, I was informed that in order to share something on the platform, I must have created the content myself, have permission from the owner or it must fall under fair use of someone else’s copyright.

At the newspaper, we follow these rules all the time. If you save someone else’s photo from Facebook and send it to us, we cannot publish it. If you see a great article on Fox or CNN and think our readers need to see it too, we cannot publish it. We do not have their permission and would be infringing their copyright.

There are a few reasons copyright infringement is a big deal. One, it’s illegal, plain and simple, those are the rules. Two, it’s not unlike shoplifting in that incremental damage adds up.

A single copy of the weekend newspaper costs $2. If you steal one from the grocery store, is that $2 going to hurt our bottom line? Probably not. But when you’re talking large retail outlets, the amount they lose to shoplifting adds up.

In fact, it added up to $61.7 billion in 2019, when including theft, fraud and losses from other retail “shrink,” according to the National Retail Federation.

Calculating how much copyright infringement hurts the paper each year would be a more difficult calculation and involve more guesswork than addition.

But when someone reads the pasted version of an article we publish, Facebook is the one benefitting. Click that link and this local newsroom benefits, along with the local advertisers who spend digital dollars with us. 

If you click that link and are asked to register or subscribe, we’re telling you that you’ve had enough samples. It’s time to make a decision. We hope it’s worth at least a few dollars a month to you, but if you don’t think so, you leave the allegorical ice cream shop empty-handed.

If you’re reading this column, you’ve probably bought the paper. You probably subscribe. Our staff thanks you for your support; we couldn’t do this without you. 

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a North Hall resident. 

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