News Analysis – Nielsen Media Research’s DMCA Request to Wikipedia


If you read Slashdot.org, you may have caught this news story. In short, Nielsen Media Research sent a DMCA takedown order to Wikipedia, asking them to takedown a series of catagory boxes and templates for organizing radio and TV stations by city, stating that it infringed on their copyright on the practice of organizing television and radio stations by market. Consequently, the Wikipedia foundation was forced to delete all the relevant templates, leaving the userbase scrambling to find a way to organize media articles without getting sued.

To be frank, the actions of Neilsen Media Research are a crock of bullshit. The copyright in question is no better, and in fact is almost worse then some of the bogus submarine patents that you read about weekly, and the copyright in question essentially gives the Nielsen essentially a monopoly on the classification and organization of broadcast stations by geography.

As background, here’s the chain of events, according to what information has come out of Wikipedia at the moment – the Wikipedia Foundation’s lawyer, Mike Godwin, is currently out of the office and hasn’t had a chance to weigh in yet. So, what I have gotten has been from the discussion at Wikipedia on the deletion itself, and on the talk page for admistrator MBisanz.

Yesterday, the Wikipedia foundation was served a DMCA Takedown Notice by Nielsen Media Reaserch, asking them to take down over 300 templates and catagory pages. The justification for the takedown was that they infringed on NMR’s copyright on classification of stations by market, by broadcast type, etc. Specifically, according to MBisanz the method that they own the copyright on is dividing stations by, for example, the Portland-metro area, and then breaking those stations down by what broadcast type they use (Digital or standard, or cable only) as well as by outlying areas (Salem, the coast, etc.)

This copyright, if MBisanz’s description is accurate, makes it impossible to create any sort of template or classification or catagorization of stations by area, even if that list uses publically available information obtained from the FCC or even by the simple “research” of turning on the TV set and flipping through channels to see what you get and writing that down, as well as going to the library and seeing what stations used to be in the area. Presumably, TV listings have this information as well, though I currently do not know if the Neilsen organization recieves royalties from local newspapers and TV Guide for the publication of the local TV listings. I am contacting the Oregonian (my local paper) for comment on this story and general information on how the TV listings are put togeather. However, in theory, creating templates to organize television stations by region and broadcast type, while not getting into the demographic information that is Nielsen’s real bread and butter, would fall into the catagory of fair use.

I have been, for the long time, of the opinion that Knowledge (which is different from Information), at the very least, should be free. This applies to street maps, bus listings and routes, laws and building codes, and what TV stations and radio stations you can listen to and watch in your city (or in a city you’re going to). This copyright takes useful knowledge, knowledge that by all rights should be publically available, knowledge that hurts no one and even helps the stations in those broadcast areas, out of the hands of the people. That’s bullshit, and it needs to be stopped.

I urge you, dear readers, to contact the Electronic Frontier Foundation (http://www.eff.org/) and alert them to this infringement of your rights, as well as contacting your local federal senator or representive to either let them know that action can be taken (or at the very least, for a polite message saying you need to contact the FCC, FTC, or Copyright office).

I will endevour to keep an eye on this story and will post any updates (and a response from the Oregonian once I get one) as soon as possible.

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