Monday, April 30, 2012

Life terms

The New York Times has long been arrogant. (Wingnuts and I can agree on that.) If you've ever seen executive editor (now emeritus) Bill Keller interviewed, you know he's completely buried in a Timesman's self-importance. The scenes in The Paper where Michael Keaton's tabloid editor interacts with Spalding Gray's thinly disguised Times editor don't seem exaggerated at all.

The Times has long had a reputation as slow to pay stringers, assuming it doesn't merely assign a staff reporter to your story idea for the price of an insincere thank you. This is a paper that has persistently tried to screw its freelancers out of any share whatsoever of the digital rights to their work.

Still, the Times is the best news provider in America, and it's incumbent on me to read it to stay well-informed. I'll still notice the bullshit that Keller would defend to hair-splitting lawyerly exhaustion - say, Judith Miller on Iraq or Jeff Gerth on Whitewater. Even though the brand is more important to management than the truth, the Times still does reporting and finds the truth often enough to be worth reading - assuming you keep your bullshit detector tuned up.

The new attempt to erect a paywall has been a challenge for me. At first, I had enough computers and enough browsers to read all I wanted, but that window is closing. I've long argued - following many others - that subscribers never paid for the news, they only paid for the newsprint, why should we now pay for pixels? Our subscription fees used to pay for printing and distribution costs alone, and those costs on line are drastically smaller now than they were in the dead tree era.

Yet just as the media need to change their business model, I probably need to change my expectations. Ad revenue, the traditional honey pot of journalism, has shrunk due to the Internet. Keller may think blogs are the problem. Instead, print media companies have utterly failed to notice that their competitive advantage is not opinion - blogs do that free and often without the strange taboos and Village fealties of mainstream outlets - but rather factual news reporting. Those of us who want facts, not the latest bullshit from seldom-right but often right-wing pundits, will just have to buy them. God knows the advertisers have no interest in any truth that might possibly inconvenience them in selling their wares.

Facts are hard. Facts take work to unearth. Facts are worth paying for. Opinions? Shit, I've got way too many of my own to need to pay for anyone's. Except for Paul Krugman's.

All in all, the Times has a quality product, and that justifies some of their arrogance.

But the terms of their agreement are onerous and one-sided:

The New York Times reserves the right to modify the content, type and availability of any digital product at any time.
Only one person may use each account or accounts (user name and password) associated with a purchased product, unless we agree otherwise.
There's an adjustment to a new age! No leaving your iPad on the coffee table as if it were a paper edition.

The Times won't even tell you the price up front. You have to start ordering before you can be sure what it costs:
When you purchase a digital product, the price will be made clear during the order process. You agree to pay the price that is stated at the time of your order, as well as any applicable taxes. You also agree to the billing frequency stated at the time of your order.
Your subscription is permanent:
All NYTimes digital subscriptions are renewed automatically. ...
If your credit card expires or your payment method is otherwise invalid, your subscription or product will not automatically be terminated. You will remain responsible for all charges.
You will be responsible for all costs we incur in connection with the collection of unpaid amounts, including court costs, attorneys' fees, collection agency fees and any other associated costs.
You have to call them to terminate. They, of course, accept no obligation to answer the phone.

The Times incurs no obligation whatsoever:
We reserve the right to suspend or terminate your subscription or product for any reason, with or without notice and without further obligation. You will not be entitled to a refund in these circumstances. If any or all of our digital products are temporarily unavailable, you will not receive a refund. We reserve the right to issue refunds or credits at our sole discretion. ...

We reserve the right to make changes to our digital products at any time. If we temporarily reduce or eliminate the charge for content or access that you are currently paying for under different terms, you will not receive a refund.

If any or all of our digital products are temporarily unavailable, you will not receive a refund. We reserve the right to issue refunds or credits at our sole discretion. If we issue a refund or credit, we are under no obligation to issue the same or similar refund in the future.
Included in the terms is a sly attempt to expand copyright protection to prohibit fair use, much as the AP has tried to forbid quoting of their stories:
The Services and Contents are protected by copyright pursuant to U.S. and international copyright laws. You may not modify, publish, transmit, participate in the transfer or sale of, reproduce (except as provided in Section 2.3 of these Terms of Service), create new works from, distribute, perform, display, or in any way exploit, any of the Content or the Services (including software) in whole or in part.
The law guarantees me the right to quote the Times when I comment on it, but the Times wants a more restrictive contract with me. That's legal of course. Let them try to enforce it.

The "privacy" policy requires that you provide information which the Times cannot possibly justify requiring:
Registration for the NYT Services requires that you supply certain personal information, including, in most cases, a unique e-mail address and demographic information (ZIP code, age, sex, household income (optional), job industry and job title) to register. [emphasis added]
And if the corporate structure changes, information about you is an asset - no mention of that asset being constrained to the existing policy:
In the future, we may sell, buy, merge or partner with other companies or businesses. In such transactions, we may include your information among the transferred assets.
The Times is part of the American oligarchy, which permits them to get away with this sort of one-sided, albeit legal, abuse of the legal system. They can hire the sharpest New York intellectual property lawyers to write tens of thousands of words into an adhesion contract that edges right up to unconscionability in its limits on what customers can do with a simple product, when we as individuals can't even sanely read and understand those terms without hours of investment and hiring our own lawyer.

The law is supposed to be even-handed. Obviously, as O.J. Simpson, Wall St. bankers, and the New York Times know, it isn't.


Anonymous said...

another big, bad corporation will stand up for you: the credit card company would NEVER let you get screwed out of even a month of charges if you call to complain. "That's a fact, jack," to quote Bill Murray

lovable liberal said...

Ah, right, have you tried that lately. They have a resolution process, and the Times's adhesion contract would end that process in favor of the vendor.

Bill Murray's character in Stripes was fun and the hero. Maybe you didn't get the whole anti-establishment theme.

Anonymous said...

Then threaten to cancel.
christ they die when you do that

""Where's your sargeant, men?"
"Bloooowed-up, suh!"