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.


Author: Roy Kaufman

Roy Kaufman is Managing Director of both Business Development and Government Relations for CCC. He is a member of, among other things, the Bar of the State of New York, the Author’s Guild, and the editorial board of UKSG Insights. Kaufman also advises the US Government on international trade matters through membership in International Trade Advisory Committee (ITAC) 13 – Intellectual Property and the Library of Congress’s Copyright Public Modernization Committee. He serves on the Executive Committee of the of the United States Intellectual Property Alliance (USIPA) Board. He was the founding corporate Secretary of CrossRef, and formerly chaired its legal working group. He is a Chef in the Scholarly Kitchen and has written and lectured extensively on the subjects of copyright, licensing, open access, artificial intelligence, metadata, text/data mining, new media, artists’ rights, and art law. Kaufman is Editor-in-Chief of "Art Law Handbook: From Antiquities to the Internet" and author of two books on publishing contract law. He is a graduate of Brandeis University and Columbia Law School.
Don't Miss a Post

Subscribe to the award-winning
Velocity of Content blog