Microsoft's IP chief: 'Information wants to be free' is a 'disaster'

Blasting Google as, if not the perpetrator, then certainly the beneficiary of the failure of the online content industry, Microsoft's chief IP attorney called upon British publishers to bring about change they can believe in.

In a clear contrast of his company's position on business models and strategies for content providers against those of Google, Microsoft's chief intellectual property attorney Thomas Rubin this morning, in a speech before the UK Association of Online Publishers transcribed by Microsoft, called on online publishers to find fair prices for their content. This instead of continuing the policy of giving content away for free, in hopes that a fair business model will eventually congeal itself into existence, around advertising or some other subsidiary platform.

"Today we are still searching for healthy symbiosis between newspapers and new technology," Rubin told the group. "And symbiosis it must be, for journalism and digital consumption are forevermore inextricably linked. As for that symbiosis, the open question is what form it will take. In biological terms, will the relationship be one of mutualism or of parasitism?"

As an example of parasitism, Rubin cited Google News, which the vice president in charge of that project, Marissa Mayer, estimated last July is responsible for $100 million in annual revenue for Google. In a speech that month, Mayer said that the same business model which exhumes monetization from places online publishers appear to have ignored, could also be applied to monetization from making users' medical records searchable.

"Clearly this can't be the future for publishing," proclaimed Rubin in response. "So how do we move forward? To start with, I agree with Arthur Sulzberger of The New York Times when he says that we should reject the 'apocalypse now, tomorrow and forever' view of new media. I believe publishers can create viable business models online that sustain the integrity of their trusted brands, maintain a free and competitive marketplace, and continue to nurture the creation of quality content."

It was a mistake for newspapers during the 1990s, Rubin contended, to adopt the model of giving away content and monetizing it through advertising -- a model which he said had been created by "Internet pundits," not businesspeople. "By the late 1990s, almost all newspapers put their valuable reporting and exclusive commentary online and allowed it to proliferate, easily accessible and free," he told the Association. "They did just as the new model professed and sold advertising to monetize the increased audience they were attracting. Well, here we are ten years later bombarded almost daily by announcements of newspaper layoffs and closures. The evidence is in, and I think we can safely say that the 'information wants to be free' approach not only does not work, actually it has been a disaster for almost all newspapers."

Despite the widespread and mounting evidence of that failure, he said, Google continues to urge content publishers to embrace the inherent freedom behind that model -- this while simultaneously espousing the virtues of finding revenue from content its publishers neglected.

Rubin then himself embraced a presently popular mantra, "Change Can Happen" -- giving full attribution to Pres.-Elect Obama -- in imploring publishers to coalesce behind what he described as more socially responsible models for content publishing. Such models would utilize technology to filter out infringing content, respect copyright, and give proper attribution to whom an idea belongs. It would also filter out false content, such as the report that United Air Lines recently filed for bankruptcy and the one stating Apple CEO Steve Jobs suffered a heart attack -- stories that had been propagated through Google News without filtering.

"The lesson here is obvious, not just to all of you in this room but to your vast audiences: Amateurs and algorithms are no substitute for reporters and editors. Time and again, readers keep telling us who they trust. In times of crisis especially, they race towards quality journalism."

Rubin went on to site Automated Content Access Protocol, a project to develop a centralized permissions storehouse for the Internet's wealth of content, as an example of a collaborative effort brought about by publishers working together for their mutual benefit, to establish a modern technological system that can support a more viable business model.

"In closing, don't let anyone tell you that the choice is between Luddite resistance to new technology and passive acquiescence to the destruction of your industry," remarked Microsoft's Rubin. "In other words, quality content is of great value and it is time to reclaim what is yours. The stakes here are high. Remember that, in a very real sense, we are all in this together as stewards of our cultural future. So let's finally turn the page on a failed model that has not worked for reporters and editors and publishers. Let's instead work together to build a model that works for newspapers and technology alike, and that sustains and enriches the free and vibrant media that our free societies require."

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