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'Association' keeps up fight against news copyright violations
The Society for Online News Providers (SONP) last week held a seminar on copyright violation as an event to launch itself as an "association".The (re)launching event seemed intended simply to remind Thai society of the group's existence and of the issues it has been tackling.
The SONP actually registered as an association last year, after working as a society for almost four years. Its members include major media organisations such as Nation Multimedia Group, Post Publishing and Matichon Group.
Interesting questions include whether the establishment of the association will really create an impact and help the SONP achieve its goals, and how it can get support from the public.
Although the SONP's mission is partly to protect the public's freedom of expression by fighting cases of websites being shut down or blocked by the state, the major issue it is addressing right now remains the protection of the rights of news providers.
The group is fighting copyright violations that occur when popular portal websites "copy" news content in its entirety from mainstream media websites to their own. While the number of views can create revenue for these portal websites, the sources of the articles, who invest in the effort of sending journalists to cover the stories, get nothing but a small credit or logo, or links posted at the bottom of the story.
The SONP once met with a dozen of these portal sites' operators. A few of them agreed to sign a memorandum of understanding that they would publish only the headlines and "parts" of the stories and let the readers click the links to the original websites for details. In that way, the news websites would also get page-view records that can be used to boost advertising sales.
Afterwards, however, the portal sites changed their method of publishing stories to rewriting the articles and presenting them as their own, with or without giving credit to the media agencies.
Some of the portal sites that still violate copyrights have been sued by the SONP. Meanwhile, rewritten stories are not seen as infringing copyrights; "copied and pasted" stories that are used to make a profit are.
SONP president Niran Yaowapa said the group's action had not achieved all that it wanted, but at least major portals no longer explicitly copied content from news websites.
On the public's side, Niran said people should understand that violating a copyright is like stealing.
Sarinee Achavanuntakul, founder of Thai Netizen - another group of advocates for freedom and rights of Internet users - said negotiations on revenue sharing would be one of the solutions. The media companies might also make use of technologies to protect their content. However, finding a new business model would be the best solution.
In the view of consumers, Sarinee said that while only a few people might be concerned about the issue of upholding justice for the original news-content providers, the public would not be able to ignore the problem forever. People must realise that eventually "quality content" will not be available. Therefore, the content providers and consumers should reach out to each other, Sarinee said.
"Conflicts about copyright are only part of the problem. Even if all portal sites stopped using their content, it doesn't mean [providers'] revenue would increase that much. Media organisations have to ask themselves how to create content that the audience feels is worth spending money on, and that it feels the need to get from the media's websites, not the portal sites," she said.