News Corp Australia has turned its million-dollar might on a Canberra-based blogger, issuing him with notice to take down newspaper front pages from www.thepaperboy.com, a website that collates covers from 81 countries.

Early this week, the blog tweeted that the website would no longer feature News Corp Australian front pages …

News Corp contacted the website’s founder Ian Duckworth in January, its representatives telling him to either pay a licence fee for the front pages or no longer display the front pages.

“I run the website myself largely as a personal project and don’t have the time or resources to get into a legal battle,” Duckworth told Crikey. Despite believing that the website could “arguably fall under fair use provisions”, he “reluctantly agreed” to remove the titles. “Unfortunately, given how many titles News Corp has, this has effectively gutted our Australian front pages section,” Duckworth said. Today, the only Australian front pages on the website are those of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

A News Corp spokesman confirmed to Crikey the company had issued thepaperboy.com with take-down notices, and pointed to the fact the website had advertising on it (thepaperboy.com has a number of Google Ad slots).

“Thepaperboy.com was showcasing full front pages without a licence and was profiting from doing so by running advertisements on the site,” the spokesman told Crikey. “We are more than happy to license the content, but it declined.”

Newspaper front pages are commonly discussed and shown on commercial television broadcast news programs — and indeed frequently shown and commented on by websites like this one. Intellectual property expert Dr Matthew Rimmer told Crikey there’s a double standard at play.

“Newspaper proprietors will claim very strong copyright protection when others are using their work, but when it involves them, then they’ll say they’re protected by the defence of reporting the news,” he said.

Australia has a fair dealing exception to copyright law, which allows people to reproduce content for the purpose of reporting. But the Australian case law is complicated and far less developed than it is in the United States. “You often get into very complicated technical questions, like whether a substantial part of the work has been reproduced, or whether there is competition between the one who reproduces the content and the one who originally produces it,” Rimmer said.

Duckworth is still hopeful for a compromise, telling Crikey that many people, including many News Corp employees, value the service he provided.

“I would like to work co-operatively with newspaper publishers to promote the newspaper industry and their titles to a large audience … Hopefully we can reach an understanding at some point so I can once again provide Paperboy visitors and followers with a more comprehensive view of Australian newspaper coverage.”

Globally, there have been a number of cases where publishers have sued aggregation websites or media monitoring services for reproducing the headline and ledes of their news stories. Companies that rely on this, like Google, have often settled the cases before a judgment was issued, typically agreeing to pay a licensing fee.

Peter Fray

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