Cover of Who Owns the News? by Will Slauter
Who Owns the News?
A History of Copyright
Will Slauter


368 pages.
from $32.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503604889
Paperback ISBN: 9781503607712
Ebook ISBN: 9781503607729

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Winner of the 2020 AEJMC History Division's Book Award, sponsored by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC).

You can't copyright facts, but is news a category unto itself? Without legal protection for the "ownership" of news, what incentive does a news organization have to invest in producing quality journalism that serves the public good? This book explores the intertwined histories of journalism and copyright law in the United States and Great Britain, revealing how shifts in technology, government policy, and publishing strategy have shaped the media landscape.

Publishers have long sought to treat news as exclusive to protect their investments against copying or "free riding." But over the centuries, arguments about the vital role of newspapers and the need for information to circulate have made it difficult to defend property rights in news. Beginning with the earliest printed news publications and ending with the Internet, Will Slauter traces these countervailing trends, offering a fresh perspective on debates about copyright and efforts to control the flow of news.

About the author

Will Slauter is Associate Professor at Université Paris Diderot and a member of the Institut Universitaire de France.

"This history of the idea and practice of trying to control news by treating it as intangible property is an important and hugely timely work—brilliantly researched and presented with real sophistication."

—Lionel Bently, University of Cambridge

"Who Owns the News? is a meticulous and fascinating history of attempts over four centuries to copyright news, but it is also much more than that. Will Slauter has given us a commercial history of journalism, which demonstrates that news is a public good that always needs to be embedded in a set of favorable arrangements in order to survive. It is a useful corrective to today's bromides about the promise of new forms of market support for news, at a time when its economic base has severely eroded."

—Nicholas Lemann, Columbia Journalism School

"A gripping tale, mixing the high principle of Supreme Court opinions with the low subterfuge of editors concocting fake news to expose pilfering rivals. At a moment of peril for both the news industry and the culture that depends on it, there could be no better demonstration of our need for a historical perspective on the most pressing issue of our time."

—Adrian Johns, University of Chicago

"Slauter spins stories of information-gatherers who bundled [the news], monetized it and tried (by means legal and extralegal) to protect their hard-earned labors. Who Owns the News weaves these strands into a magnificent narrative....Who Owns the News? is an entertaining and well-written reminder of the need to examine the history and first principles of copyright."

—Raymond J. Dowd, New York Law Journal

"This is a well-written, thoughtful book, demonstrating how copyright law has struggled to keep up with the development of news culture, setting out the historical context in great detail and supported by much research, and with interesting conclusions and predictions for the future. It is unreservedly recommended."

—Charles Oppenheim, European Intellectual Property Review

"[Slauter's] gripping history, which stretches over four centuries of the development of claims to legal control of news, refuses to succumb to simplistic or monolithic accounts....Slauter weaves an account rich in both details and perspectives. One finds in it a masterful synthesis of law, technological development, political context and ideals, economic practices, and the everyday norms of people working in the relevant industries."

—Oren Bracha, Critical Analysis of Law

"[It] would be a mistake to underestimate either the ambition or the accomplishments of Who Owns the News? By pursuing copyright questions that arose in contests to profit from news, Slauter (as he says) 'sheds light on the history of both.' The wisdom of this polynomial approach to history—solving for two variables at once—lies in the way it avoids consolidating either of its objects arbitrarily in light of what eventually happened, in order to see them in ongoing relation with one another."

—Lisa Gitelman, Critical Analysis of Law

"Slauter's thoughtful and detailed narrative of the battle among newspaper publishers to secure legal and other protection for their work product is inseparable from questions about what it means for something to be "news" in the first place—and, indeed, whether "journalism" is something different from 'news'....Slauter's carefully researched history doesn't put this question at its center, but it is certainly an undercurrent."

—Laura A. Heymann, Critical Analysis of Law

"A history of how copyright got to be property risks being a just-so story, per Kipling: a careful arrangement of moments suggesting that the result could not be other than it is. Who Owns the News?, Will Slauter's excellent account of copyright conflicts through history...nicely avoids that trap. The law of the news is a messy affair, like the news itself, and Slauter navigates its history elegantly."

—Michael J. Madison, Critical Analysis of Law

"With striking contemporary relevance, Who Owns the News? explores what happens when those involved in timely fact-based publishing, or news information, pursue copyright....Rather than providing a set of solutions to the strange time for truth that consumers of information find themselves in, Who Owns the News provides a history of copyright that gives readers an extensive and accessible story of possible paths to take, alongside ones to avoid."

—Nora Slonimsky, Critical Analysis of Law

"Slauter's work...can help us recognize the role that law and legal history play in structuring the political economy of copying....[It helps] us understand why permanent answers to copyright issues are, and will likely remain, elusive."

—David Suisman, Reviews in American History

"Who Owns the News? will be indispensable reading for anyone who engages in journalism history and will play an important role in shaping future research on this subject....[Slauter's] scholarship is a tour de force that has set the agenda for how to approach this essential and timely topic."

—Stephan Pigeon, Victorian Periodicals Review