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Sapa: content deletion requirement not ‘devious or manipulative’

Newspapers

Yesterday Memeburn broke the news that wire agency Sapa had sent a letter to its subscribers requesting that news sites across the country delete Sapa content from their archives. Today Sapa editor Mark van Velden confirmed the decision, justifying it as “a logical and required step”.

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The 77-year-old Sapa is closing its doors on 31 March, apparently in the face of severe financial pressure.

The requirement for sites to delete its content, Sapa says, “is as a result of Sapa subscription agreements specifically excluding usage rights after the end of the agreements, usage rights in perpetuity and outright purchasing of copyrighted Sapa, AP, AFP and dpa content”.

In an interview with Grub Street’s Gill Moodie, van Velden said that there was nothing “devious or manipulative” about the requirement, which could have a serious impact on the legacy content of news sites around the country.

Read more: New Sapa twist: news sites to haemorrhage content, lose readers?

In turn, revenues could take a hit. This is because News sites rely on their digital archives to generate traffic and advertising, usually via network advertising services such as Google Adsense.

“There’s nothing sinister or devious or manipulative about this,” van Velden told Grubstreet. “It’s a logical and required step for management to take in trying to meet the board’s instructions to wind down and close the company”.

The Sapa editor said that the requirement is simply a matter of copyright and that it “Maybe best summed up with a question: A book publisher digs up a Sapa story on the M&G site and sends in a request for permission to include an extract of that story in a school textbook, for example. Who has the copyright on that original Sapa content — and the opportunity to extract a bit of extra revenue out of that ‘old’ story? It’s Sapa”.

As van Velden points out, this wouldn’t have mattered as much in the pre-digital era. “When newspapers printed a story from a wire agency they subscribed to (the key word is subscribed –received as a service, and used contemporaneously, but not purchased and owned),” he said, “there was no problem really, as the next day it was nothing more than something to put on the kitchen floor for the puppy to wee on. Archives were literally archaic then”.

“Now, with archives instantly accessible and searchable, and with data bases opening up serious new opportunities, news agencies around the world who are producing millions of words, pics, video clips, etc. on a daily basis, need to protect those copyrighted assets,” he added.

While van Velden is correct, it will be of scant comfort to the affected online news sites. Given that Sapa’s archive will be sold as part of its disposable assets, it does however seem that whichever of the various startup news wire services aiming to fill the gap left by the wire service buys those assets stands to make serious gains.

Read van Velden’s full statement below:

There’s nothing sinister or devious or manipulative about this. It’s a logical and required step for management to take in trying to meet the board’s instructions to wind down and close the company.

Maybe best summed up with a question: A book publisher digs up a Sapa story on the M&G site and sends in a request for permission to include an extract of that story in a school textbook, for example. Who has the copyright on that original Sapa content — and the opportunity to extract a bit of extra revenue out of that “old” story? It’s Sapa. And if that story actually happened to be a Sapa-AFP story originally, it’s AFP. AFP and most other wire services would come down on anybody trying to use it “for free” like a ton of bricks. Book publishers, especially, know this very well and go to extraordinary lengths to ensure they have the correct permissions before going ahead. The risks are just too high if they don’t.

In the “olden days” when newspapers printed a story from a wire agency they subscribed to (the key word is subscribed –received as a service, and used contemporaneously, but not purchased and owned) there was no problem really, as the next day it was nothing more than something to put on the kitchen floor for the puppy to wee on. Archives were literally archaic then.

Now, with archives instantly accessible and searchable, and with data bases opening up serious new opportunities, news agencies around the world who are producing millions of words, pics, video clips, etc. on a daily basis, need to protect those copyrighted assets.

Sapa, in its subscriber contracts with suppliers like AP, AFP etc , has been under unambiguous obligation to scrub data bases of content once those contracts end. Strictly speaking, Sapa is also under an obligation to oblige its own subscribers to also scrub out any AP copy, for example, they may have used via Sapa in the past. Sapa has to do the same with its own original content. Remember, it’s not only copyright, but also legal accountability/liability for content that may be deemed defamatory, for example.

This whole issue came up at an ordinary management committee meeting well over a week ago, reviewing progress on carrying out the board’s close-down. We decided it was important to ensure all our subscribers — the ones with which Sapa is cancelling its subscriber contracts by virtue of closing down — were well aware of the requirement and the possible consequences of not complying.

I’ve read in the media that Sapa’s board has agreed to sell its disposable assets, including the archives, to one of the new start-up wire services aiming to fill the gap Sapa will leave. So, that’s where the copyright on Sapa material will rest.

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