As It Happens

Blacklock's Reporter goes to court over website paywall

The people behind Blacklock's Reporter - a subscription only news website based in Ottawa - are being called "copyright trolls" after launching legal action. A handful of lawsuits target users reading their content without a subscription.
Tom Korski is the managing editor of Blacklock's Reporter. (Tom Korski/blacklocks.ca)
Listen6:39

There's no such thing as a free lunch. But free news? It's everywhere.

Getting around a news website paywall is relatively easy and few people can say they haven't borrowed a friend or colleague's account to check out that must-read article. But a small Parliament Hill publication is fed up with non-subscribers reading their stuff.

Blacklock's Reporter is taking those who read their content without paying to court. They currently have nine outstanding claims against government departments accused of circulating Blacklock's articles. But the lawyers representing the government are calling the Blacklock's team "copyright trolls."

Tom Korski is the managing editor of Blacklock's Reporter. He spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about why the publication is taking legal action and what they hope to achieve. Here is an excerpt from their conversation.



Carol Off: Mr. Korski, how did you find out that people were reading your articles without subscribing to Blacklock's Reporter?

Tom Korski: We heard anecdotally from people we know that happened to work for the government of Canada. That's really how it started.

CO: Well, was there no small part of you that was happy that you were getting this readership?

TK: We weren't because we're paywalled. You have to buy an annual subscription. It's a family run business. We use subscription revenues to pay very qualified reporters to produce our content and so it's not free publicity that we're looking for, it's revenues to offset the cost of producing the material we produce in the first place. So we weren't flattered. We were sort of alarmed because it's a copyright issue, it's an act of parliament and it's our livelihood.
 

People have been trained to believe that a news story that is put together by a reporter on a day's labour literally has no value. - Tom Korski

CO: You know that the government lawyers have called you a "copyright troll" and saying that the only reason you are suing these departments is to generate revenue for your company. How do you respond to that?

TK: We're a family business. We create all our content ourselves with the people we have that are very hardworking. We cover stories others don't and we have pleaded with these people, do not distribute. They won't listen to us and in some cases they have not been truthful. I understand the government attorney wants to call us names. I understand that. But we've created this product and this is our livelihood. 

CO: If you win your cases against the government what will that change or do?

TK: What we hope is that there is some value restored to the work of reporters. I don't understand, in some of these cases, the deception or the theft. I do understand a generation of publishers in our country have given away content. I don't know why - it was a terrible mistake. It devalued the work of reporters to the point that it's literally worthless. People have been trained to believe that a news story that is put together by a reporter on a day's labour literally has no value. My hope is that that changes from these judgments because reporters have to eat like everybody else.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

To hear the full interview please click on the Listen audio link above.

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