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This Week in Review: NASCAR and online free speech, and details of Bradley Manning’s leak

Plus: Updates from the paywall migration, the renaming of The International Herald Tribune, and the rest of the week’s media and tech news.

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Fair use and control over online speech: We got a case study from the sports world in breaking news, citizen journalism, and copyright in the aftermath of a crash at a NASCAR race last weekend that injured more than a dozen fans. The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple has the blow-by-blow of what followed the crash: A fan posted a jarring video of the crash to YouTube, which quickly took down the video, ostensibly because of a copyright violation. YouTube reversed itself hours later and allowed the video back up.

NASCAR claimed that it asked YouTube to take the video down not because of copyright, but “out of respect for those injured” in the accident. It was a rationale a NASCAR exec reiterated to Wemple a few days later, insisting NASCAR had no problem with the video on copyright grounds and adding that it only goes after unofficial video that’s used commercially.

Regardless, the incident turned out to be an instructive moment regarding the legality of distributing fan video from sporting events, especially when it becomes a news event. Media law prof Chip Stewart explained to Poynter’s Al Tompkins that though NASCAR tickets claim it owns all video shot at the event, it doesn’t have any legal right to claim copyright over others’ documentation of news facts. Tompkins explored the issue further, tying it more broadly to fair use for news. The Knoxville News Sentinel’s Jack Lail also chastised NASCAR for its fair use overreach, as did Techdirt’s Mike Masnick, who lamented how easy it’s become to “censor via copyright claims.”

Will Leitch of Sports on Earth hoped this case would finally lead to resolution of the thorny legal issue of fan video at sporting events, though Rackspace’s Robert Scoble and Forbes’ John McQuaid argued that the problem is only going to get tougher as the ability to shoot video instantly — particularly through cameras in glasses — gets easier.

Lost Remote’s Cory Bergman was more appalled at YouTube than NASCAR, noting that it initially approved NASCAR’s takedown request while constantly denying governments’ requests for the same thing. Mathew Ingram of paidContent warned that while YouTube eventually did the right thing, we’re only beginning to understand the implications of letting a handful of giant corporations control most of our online speech.

Aside from the legal aspect, Staci Kramer criticized NASCAR’s move as bad social media strategy, pointing out that it should have known that taking the video down would only make it blow up bigger. “You can’t control the internet or social media. You only think you can,” she wrote. UNC’s John L. Robinson, meanwhile, used the incident to muse about the lack of courage among many young people hoping to go into journalism.

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Manning acknowledges leak: U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier who supplied WikiLeaks with the material for its biggest disclosures in 2010, pleaded guilty yesterday to 10 charges involved with providing the information to WikiLeaks, but pleaded not guilty to 12 other charges, including his most significant charge of “aiding the enemy.” The charges to which he pleaded guilty carry a combined maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Manning also read in court a 35-page statement in which he described why and how he leaked the information to WikiLeaks, saying he did it to “make the world a better place” and prompt a broader discussion about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He also asserted that no one from WikiLeaks pressured him into sending information. The New York Times has a good summary of the statement, and in a couple of posts, The Guardian explained the state of the case against him. The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald described Manning as a hero.

There was one other bombshell in Manning’s statement: He said he tried to contact the Times and The Washington Post about giving them the information before turning to WikiLeaks, leaving an unreturned voicemail at the Times’ public editor’s number and talking briefly with a Post reporter. (He also wanted to try Politico, but was deterred by bad weather.) The public editor Manning probably called, Clark Hoyt, said he doesn’t remember hearing from him, and the Post’s Erik Wemple noted that it’s really difficult to just call the Times and leave a news tip.

Gawker’s Adrian Chen argued that Manning’s initial attempts to leak to the papers indicate that WikiLeaks’ real value “was not its state-of-the-art leaking technology but its accessibility to lowly Army Private who came out of nowhere with one of the biggest leaks in history,” though paidContent’s Mathew Ingram said Manning’s story shows the opposite — that independent groups are needed to fill in the cracks among traditional outlets.

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Getting creative with paid content: There were a number of individual moves worth noting this week in the steady migration of digital content into the arena of paid, rather than free. The Seattle Times became the latest paper to announce a metered-model paywall, charging $3.99 a week for web and app access for non-print subscribers. GeekWire covered the plan’s basics, and the Times’ top editor, David Boardman, wrote the column selling the change to readers.

Elsewhere, the Lab’s Justin Ellis went deep on The Boston Globe’s plans to tweak its two-site strategy by more clearly separating the free Boston.com from the paid BostonGlobe.com. There were also some developments in the move toward paid content among web-only outfits, too. App.net actually moved a bit in the opposite direction: It launched last year as a paid Twitter alternative, but is expanding to allow free accounts with limits on storage and number of follows, as Quartz’s Zachary Seward explained.

Andrew Sullivan reported on the progress of the new independent paywall at his blog, noting that 7.7% of the people who are clicking through a paid-content notice to read a full article are eventually subscribing. PaidContent’s Laura Hazard Owen offered Sullivan some suggestions about how to get the subscriptions to pick up again. And in other paid-content innovation, Rachel McAthy of Journalism.co.uk reported on a Dutch newspaper app that lets readers pay to subscribe to individual journalists.

Reading roundup: Here’s what else is going on during this slow week in media and tech:

— The New York Times announced that it will rename its Paris-based International Herald Tribune as The International New York Times. The Awl’s Ken Layne voiced his displeasure with the new name and waxed nostalgic for the IHT of old. Here at the Lab, journalism professor Nikki Usher noted that the IHT has a very distinct culture from the Times (it’s 143 years old, and the Times has only been its sole owner for 10 of them) that can’t be wiped away with a simple name change.

— A week after The New York Times Co. announced it was selling The Boston Globe, newspaper analyst Alan Mutter explained why publishers aren’t interested in the Globe (it has the same problems as other struggling metro dailies, and many key publishers are out of the running for other reasons, too), and the Lab’s Justin Ellis explored how the Globe is handling its two-site free-paid strategy. On the Times’ side, journalism professor Rasmus Kleis Nielsen explained how the company is moving beyond American journalism, especially the metro version of it. Reuters’ Jack Shafer was skeptical about how successful that move will be.

— A big advance on the open-information front: The White House directed major research units ($100 million a year or more) to begin planning to make the results of all federally funded projects free to the public. Nature’s Richard Van Noorden provided some of the background behind the order.

— Something to keep an eye on: In a long-rumored development, the Tribune Co., which recently emerged from bankruptcy, is reported to be beginning the process of trying to sell its newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune. Jim Romenesko speculated about who might buy the Times.

— We got a rare glimpse at the algorithm Google News uses to evaluate news sites and rank results last week thanks to a patent application filed by Google, reported by Computerworld.

— Here at the Lab, the University of Florida’s Matt Sheehan provided a sharp summary of the discussion about journalism education at the Journalism Interactive conference a few weeks back. Among the takeaways: J-schools need to adapt a more nimble mindset, teach remixing alongside creation from scratch, and focus on teaching students to teach themselves.

— Finally, Poynter has some good tips on one of the basics — editing yourself as a reporter.

Photo of Bradley Manning billboard by savebradley used under a Creative Commons license.

                                   
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Mark Coddington    April 18, 2014
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