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At the beginning of the year a new independent rights clearance company was launched in the US, with the backing of 29 mainstream news outlets including the Associated Press, the Washington Post and the New York Times.

The company, named NewsRight, is an evolution of Associated Press' plans to create an independent digital news licensing group. Although it is now a separate entity, NewsRight will use AP's news registry technology to tag, track and measure the use of online content.

With the 29 news organisations behind it the company will mean digital content from around 840 news sites can now potentially be licensed by third parties.

We caught up with the chief executive of NewsRight, former president of ABC News David Westin, to find out more about exactly how the model will work.

Q. So what exactly is NewsRight and how will it operate?

A. NewsRight is a new company owned by a large group of news companies and our mission is to realise more of the value that's been created online in the internet world from news content, and return some of that value to the news organisations investing to get the reporting done.

Q. Originally the technology and idea for such a body began at Associated Press. How did it evolve into a separate company?

A. The AP created the news registry which was the first step. News registry is a means of tracking through code, computer code, how news reports are being cast around on the internet. It moved from being a measuring device to give publishers information on how content is being consumed ... [to] a licensing possibility based on that measurement, then it was spun off. AP transferred the technology for news registry over, took minority ownership interest in the company, and then a number of other news organisations invested cash and took ownership positions.

Q. Why was the decision taken to get publishers to form the financial backbone to the company?

It was important from the beginning that ownership be tied into publishersDavid Westin
A. This is a private solution not a government solution. We could have done it a different way but it originated out of the private sector. It was important from the beginning that ownership be tied into publishers. It's not just a matter of getting investment and enough resources to have the venture to be successful, we also need to have commitment from publishers that they will contribute their content to the operation. So it made sense to align the ownership interest with the people who have the content to contribute.

Q. Are there any issues with the publishers being owners of the company that determines how their content is licensed online?

A. Because of the way the anti-trust laws work here [in the US] – you would call them competition laws, but here we call them anti-trust laws – we structure it so that the publishers between themselves do not get together and fix on a price. This is a separate entity and we're controlled by a board but we limit how much information is passed around so that we set it independently of the individual publishers. The regulatory scheme already protects against that. So it doesn't have the need for a regulatory rate setting.

Q. As well as the 29 mainstream media organisations, are smaller publishers able to be involved in anyway if they have not put money into the pot?

We are open to any creative, original news contentDavid Westin
A. We have a number of smaller newspaper publishers right now who are not investors but who are participating in the news registry. We are open to any creative, original news content. We're starting with text specifically but, for example, we've had some discussions with bloggers and other people who are creating original news content who are interested about joining the news registry and we are certainly open to having them. We do want to move on to video and to still photos with time, but we're starting with text. When you go to magazines, many of the magazines need to have still photo capability.

Q. How will licensing work exactly?

I can describe it in general terms, but it's hard to be specific as it will vary with different sorts of customers and different sorts of products. In general, the news registry allows each publisher to know how their content is being viewed throughout the internet, not only on their own websites but as it's being picked up by other websites.

They then make an independent decision for them alone about whether they want that to continue or they want to go individually to the websites which are using their content and negotiate a licence fee. Or the third alternative is to go in with other publishers to create a new joint product that we at NewsRight can go to the potential customer and say, "here's a wide range of news material that you can licence and we can provide you with a clean feed for that and provide you with data about how it's being consumed on the internet".

We would enter into a business relationship with the internet company using it, there would be money coming back to us, we would keep a portion of that and distribute most of it back to the publishers."

Q. Is it all financial arrangements or are there other cases where there may not be a need for a financial deal?

A. There are certainly various ways in which value being created can be returned to the newspapers publishers which are paying the reporters. Some of that is cash, but also non-cash value can be given back. One of the important ones is data, information about how content is being consumed through an internet site. There are a variety of things potentially. We're just beginning to go into the marketplace now so I'm sure as we have continuing discussions with customers they will have ideas.

Q. Is this the overall aim, to create a single marketplace to give the ability to set such arrangements?

A. It is very important as we do this that we create something that makes everyone's life better. It's not simply "let's get value for the publishers", although that's an important part of it. It also has to work to make internet company's business better. Right now in this country if an internet company wants to clear rights it has to go to 100 different companies and over 1,000 different sites. If we can provide one-stop-shopping that's much easier for them, that ultimately has to be better for the news consumer.

My hope is as this takes off it will facilitate more distribution of content and will give the news consumer access to a richer combination of news reports than they have now.

Q. A recent Nieman Journalism Lab article on NewsRight discussed the greater opportunities the company can offer publishers beyond simply rights clearance, suggesting enhanced distribution-based revenues. What is your view on this?
A. I ran a news company here for some time and I'll say this about myself, I think I under-appreciated the value of the data about how our news reports were being consumed.

If you put a news report out into the internet, part of the value is the content itself and what people learn from the content, but there's another level of value which is information about how people are consuming news reports, what are they interested in? What sorts of people are interested in it?

We see that in the internet sphere – that's part of what the genius of Facebook is. It's not just what's being passed around among Facebook friends, it's also the connections being made and how people are connecting up and what the paths are. So I do think, and think what the Nieman report said I agree with entirely, is that this is not simply "here's content that's valuable, give us money for it", although that's part of it, but it's also knowing how the content is consumed itself that can have real value.

  • You can hear more about the ongoing debate surrounding digital content copyright in this podcast, which featured David Westin, UK AOP chairman John Barnes and NUJ freelance organiser John Toner.

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