Local Papers Can Make Content Copying Threats, Too, Y’Know?

We’ve become accustomed to national papers moaning about Google excerpting their stories, and the newswires trying watermarking and new licenses to stop abuses. But now the nascent pro-am local newsbloggers, which are finally beginning to show potential, are also giving local news organs the same headache…

Bristol247.com, a news site launched by Christopher Brown after he was laid off by the Bristol Evening Post in April, is now being warned by the very same paper not to rewrite its copy.

It insisted that I could not rewrite its content and publish it on my site, even with a credit in the first paragraph and a link back to the original source on its website,” Brown wrote. “A particularly amusing complaint, considering newspapers up and down the country have passed off re-writes as their own for years.”

Bristol247.com has been attracting admiration in grassroots local online journalism circles that, after years of failed “hyperlocal” promises and buoyed by an influx of newly redundant journos, are finally numbering a growing number of promising metropolitan and suburban news efforts. That’s partly down to Brown’s choice of off-the-shelf WordPress theme, designed to look like a professional US provincial news site, but also because he aims to thread some original reporting in amongst news the site aggregates from other sources.

With local newspapers having recently laid off hundreds of journalists in the ad recession, it may be important that communities are given a mix of media sources that fill the gap. The economy is lighting the blue touch paper under a new wave of sites and local projects, but there will likely be friction as entrepreneurial upstarts rub up against print editors that, in many cases, were the same bosses who made them redundant…

None of the pro-ams yet has a successful business model – but, as the more promising ones look to build audience and sell ads, they may worry ex colleagues already spooked by evaporating advertising income. We suggested last month, newspapers should seek partnerships with the pro-ams who show most potential.

Brown reminds his old employer that, while copyrighted content can’t be reproduced, re-writes and re-interpretations of reported fact are legal: “You cannot