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An Ingenious Way to Own the News?

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Jonathan Silberstein-Loeb LLM ’14 managed to intertwine several scholarly passions into one book. The International Distribution of News: The Associated Press, Press Association, and Reuters, 1848-1947, published in February, combines history, journalism, and law. An article developed from the book, “Exclusivity and Cooperation in the Supply of News: The Example of the Associated Press, 1893-1945,” won the 2014 Ellis Hawley Prize from the Journal of Policy History.

“It’s a history book in the sense that it looks at the past, but the analysis is always largely—and in some places exclusively—legal,” Silberstein-Loeb says. “It’s about property told through the lens of business history.”

Making use of the AP’s newly opened institutional archives, Silberstein-Loeb investigated whether the development of news agencies such as the Associated Press, Britain’s Press Association, and Reuters stemmed from the need to exert proprietary control over news reports in the absence of any intellectual property rights that could be exerted over journalistic output.

The trick for the AP, the author explains, was to balance the competing objectives of exclusivity and cooperation while avoiding accusations of monopoly and the resulting regulation.

In the end, he concludes that newspapers’ cooperative attempts were probably more helpful than harmful. “It’s a relevant argument for the news industry now,” says Silberstein-Loeb.

“A lot of discussion about the Internet and the problems associated with maintaining property online—music, publishing, news—has people moving away from property rights, copyright, things like that, and suggesting that contracts and licenses may be a better way in which to control these rights.”

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