Can Copyright Undermine Fake News?


Can Copyright Undermine Fake Journalism

There was a time when a news story was either classed as ‘news’ or ‘not news.’ If the story was current and significant, it was news, but if it was too lighthearted or lifestyle focused, it was not. These days, however, there is a third category: fake news.

From Pope Francis’ endorsement of Trump to the Pizzagate conspiracy, which led a gunman to enter a Washington pizzeria, fictional news stories  spread wildly across social media last year.

Top 3 fake political news stories on Facebook in 2016*

  • “Obama signs executive order banning the Pledge of Allegiance in Schools Nationwide” –
    2,177,000 shares, comments and reactions
  • “Pope Francis shocks world, endorses Donald Trump for President” – Ending The Feed
    961,000 shares, comments and reactions
  • Trump offering free one-way tickets to Africa & Mexico for those who wanna leave America –
    802,000 shares, comments and reactions

Such was the volume of misinformation in 2016 that trust in news reporting has deteriorated. According to figures from BuzzFeed News, hoaxes about US politics racked up 10.6 million shares, comments and reactions on Facebook last year. And fake news managed to steal the headlines to such an extent that Oxford Dictionaries selected ‘post-truth’ as its word of the year for 2016.

The public once enjoyed high-quality content paid for through advertising, subscriptions, and licensing, and protected by copyright.  Platforms, through intentional and unintentional design, political lobbying, and disregard of rights have undermined that traditional model.  I get the utopian vision of the early internet days.  At the time, there was an ethos that if the old business models were destroyed, we would reach a nirvana of citizen journalists and user generated content.  Platforms developed a new model based on clicks, but revenue models based on clicks are a difficult path for supporting a network of stringers, photographers, and reporters around the world.

As anyone in industry knows, enforcing copyright without the backing of platforms is not only expensive, it’s virtually impossible. Platforms have made combating copyright protection one of their key lobbying priorities, and have funded Astroturf organizations to hide their corporate interests.  Now as platforms seek fancy, tech-driven solutions to identifying and combating fake news — such as the use of artificial intelligence — they continue to avoid the simplest solution.

It should come as no surprise that it seems the only solution not being discussed by platforms is the support of copyright:  the legal regime that has enabled high-quality news for centuries.

Countless individuals across the globe are frustrated by the content they receive from their news and social feeds. They want news that will deepen their understanding of the world, make them feel enlightened and informed, and inspire them to share ideas of importance to them. If platform companies started to help creators defend their rights, and stopped lobbying against copyright, they would both provide users with something useful, and begin fixing the mess they created.


Roy Kaufman

Author: Roy Kaufman

Roy Kaufman is CCC's managing director of new ventures, responsible for expanding service capabilities as CCC moves into new markets and services. He is a member of organizations including the Bar of the State of New York and the Copyright Committee of the International Publishers Association. Roy is Editor-in-Chief of Art Law Handbook and has authored two books on publishing contract law.
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