International Report (April 2003)
By RICHARD POYNDER
newspapers remain cautious about charging for online content. Of those that do,
two-thirds still prefer to use credit and debit cards rather than more
user-friendly - and often cheaper - payment solutions. This limits the range and
type of services they can offer.
conclusion of "The Guide to European
Content Payment Solutions" (http://www.vandusseldorp.com/publications/contentb.asp),
a report published in February by Amsterdam-based digital media strategy company
Van Dusseldorp & Partners.
themselves to traditional payment systems, the authors argue, newspapers are not
generally able to offer micro-payment solutions, since using credit and debit
cards for amounts below $5 is not profitable. Credit card companies generally
charge 3 percent of commission on sales, plus a fixed minimum transaction fee
anywhere between 50 cents and $4.
For example, the
most recent pan-European newspaper to start charging was the Financial Times. While the FT offers a multilayer subscription model, it still only accepts credit and debit
cards, and therefore provides no solutions for one-time visitors or
single-purchase customer transactions.
While the report
concedes that it’s difficult to convince users to register for and use
alternative methods, it points out that two-thirds of those who try them are
willing to do so again. Possible alternatives include prepayment to virtual
accounts, charging linked to cell phones, or billing via premium rate-fixed
The low adoption
rate of alternative solutions, the report argues, is based on a mistaken belief
that implementation is prohibitively expensive. In addition, there’s
continuing suspicion about these methods.
Actually, in the
current economic downturn, payment solution providers (PSPs) are more willing to
negotiate on price. For instance, when the Dutch newspaper Nederlands Dagblad installed technology from German PSP Firstgate,
implementation costs were just $7,000. This allowed the paper to offer new
paid-for online services at a relatively low setup cost. For users, this means
that in addition to taking out regular subscriptions to print and online
editions, they can now buy individual Adobe PDF copies of the entire paper or
browse the archive for a time-based fee.
newspapers that currently offer PDF versions online include the Spanish El
Mundo and the Italian
La Repubblica and Corriere
della Sera. The German Rhein Zeitung and Dutch Telegraaf also use PDF-like
software that allows users to read individual articles.
all those papers that supply PDF solutions provide user-friendly payment
alternatives. Beyond card-based systems, for instance, La Repubblica offers only postal payment.
has slipped from first to second as the country best placed to reap the
economic and social benefits of the Internet, according to this year’s ranking
of 82 nations by the World Economic Forum (WEF), a Geneva-based independent
slot goes to
(up from third place last year).
is in third place (eighth last year), followed by
(second last year), and
is ranked ninth,
is 43rd, and
is at the very bottom.
assesses economies’ network readiness by three criteria: the environment for
information and communications technologies (ICT), including market conditions,
political and regulatory framework, and the infrastructure for ICT; the
readiness of individuals, the business community, and government; and the actual
ICT usage by these three groups.
continues to offer the best market environment for networked readiness, but
slips from first to second place due to less competitive performance in terms of
connectivity and diffusion of ICT,” according to the WEF. “
ranks first in the Networked Readiness Index (NRI), boosted by the best
performance in terms of technology usage by its citizens, businesses, and the
rates of mobile phones and wireless data services in
(which has a population of 5.2 million) are among the highest in the world.
is also home to Nokia, the world’s largest mobile phone manufacturer.
Judging by the
degree of oversight that Finns give to new Internet-related laws, the country is
also highly sensitized to the legal issues that are raised by the global
For instance, the
Finnish government’s recently published proposals for a new law on
“liabilities in public communications” sparked a vocal lobbying campaign
that saw a coalition of Finnish telecom and media companies find common cause
with consumer groups like Electronic Frontier Finland (EFFI).
The proposed new
law raised concerns about freedom of speech, privacy, and the legal liabilities
of Web site owners and ISPs. For
example, says EFFI, publishers and service providers would have been required to
log practically all Internet traffic, archive all publications for up to 3
months, and monitor electronic discussion groups.
The law passed by
the Finnish parliament on Feb. 17, however, was very different from the original
proposal. The scope of retention is narrower than intended and archival time is
significantly reduced now to just 3 weeks. In addition, any communication that
has not been edited by a service provider or Web site owner will not fall within
the law’s domain. And in an important modification of the proposal, ISPs will
not have to police chat rooms and newsgroups. Also, the logging of Internet
traffic is no longer required.
“There were a
number of serious problems in the government’s [original] proposal,” says
Kai Puolamäki, an EFFI board member. “Luckily, the parliament heard us and
took our comments into account.”
“This is a
second huge victory for us in a short time,” adds EFFI chairman Mikko Välimäki.
“Just 2 weeks ago, we persuaded the parliament to return the local EU
Copyright Directive implementation for redrafting.”
government’s proposed implementation of the Copyright Directive was rejected
by the legislature after heavy criticism from consumer groups like EFFI. Since
remains under an obligation to implement the directive, the onus is now on the
government to propose legislation that parliament can find acceptable.
is not the only country struggling
with the Copyright Directive. Most of
’s legislators are having difficulties implementing it, partly as a result of
the controversy surrounding the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
The hope is to avoid DMCA’s perceived excesses.
In order to reap
the economic benefits of the Internet, the Vietnamese government will over the
next 2 years commit $100 million to the information technology sector, with the
aim of quadrupling the number of Internet users to 4 million by 2005.
At the same time,
however, the country is tightening control on Web usage; introducing new
regulations on how the Internet can be accessed; and blocking many foreign
sites, including those containing pornography, violence, and criticism of
Vietnam’s communist, one-party system.
According to the
Associated Press, among a number of new regulations proposed by the Ministry of
Culture and Information is a requirement that Vietnam-based Web sites obtain
licenses and seek approval each time content is changed. Additionally, ISPs and
owners of the country’s estimated 5,000 cybercafes would become responsible
for monitoring customer activities.
The Internet has
become an increasingly popular medium for pro-democracy critics of the regime.
Last year, four Vietnamese citizens were arrested for utilizing it to
disseminate unwelcome views and information: a former reporter for a communist
journal who used the Web to advocate democracy; a doctor who translated and
disseminated via the Internet a U.S. article titled “What is Democracy?”; a
military veteran who got 12 years for espionage when found guilty of e-mailing
information to “reactionaries” abroad; and Le Chi Quang, a lawyer who was
sentenced to 4 years last November after being arrested in an Internet cafe in
Le Chi Quang was
charged with “offenses against the state and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” for circulating via the Internet information condemning the
government’s recent border agreement with
. Since he suffers from kidney disease, Amnesty International is concerned about
his health. In January, the organization called for Le Chi Quang’s
“unconditional release and access to appropriate medical care.” It also
invited health professionals to write Vietnamese officials to express concern.
International’s call to action has itself been widely disseminated over the
Web, not least on the U.S.-based Web site Thông Lun. Run by the Rally for Democracy and Pluralism, a Vietnamese
pro-democracy group, Thông Lun is a
monthly magazine whose motto is “there are no ideas that are forbidden, no
subjects that cannot be discussed.”
is ranked 71 on the World Economic
In early February,
the public prosecutor in Düsseldorf ordered Joker.com, a German domain-name
registrar, to remove the Ogrish.com domain name from its database on the grounds
that the site glorifies violence and death.
Run by Dan Klinker,
who is based in
, Ogrish.com features photographs and videos of autopsies and medical procedures
as well as links to stories with headlines like “Woman Takes Bite Out of
Langenbach, CEO of Computer Service Langenbach GmbH, the company that runs
Joker.com, was reported to have said: “We received a letter from the public
prosecutor telling us to delete the Ogrish.com domain name. The letter cited
paragraph 131 of the criminal code against the dissemination of violent
However, while the
domain name was registered in
, the content is hosted in the
by Virginia-based Pro Hosters. Klinker, along with Pro Hosters CEO Ted Hickman,
immediately transferred Ogrish to the new domain name Ogrish.prohosters.com.
They also began a campaign aimed at encouraging Joker.com to unfreeze the
Ogrish.com domain and transfer it to Network Solutions in the
owned by an American, therefore, the American First Amendment of free speech
applies, so there’s no legal reason to ban the Ogrish.com domain name,”
Klinker commented on the Ogrish site. A similar statement was posted by Hickman
on the Pro Hosters site.
Hickman e-mailed his comments to journalists. After several days of protest,
media attention, and legal discussions, Joker.com relented and released the
Ogrish.com domain, which is now once again engaged in its ghoulish activities.
This isn’t the
first time that Klinker and Hickman have locked horns with the authorities over
Web content. Ogrish.com was briefly infamous in May 2002 after posting the
4-minute video of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl’s murder in
by a radical Muslim group. When the FBI ordered Pro Hosters to remove the
video, Hickman initially complied. However, following the intervention of the
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and considerable media attention, he
subsequently reposted it.
The FBI claimed
the video was obscene, but the ACLU disagreed. “I’m sure it’s macabre and
horrible, but it’s not obscene,” ACLU associate director Barry Steinhardt
told Wired News. “The publication on
a Web site of this videotape is protected under the First Amendment. Whether
it’s wise or not, I’ll leave for others to comment.”
Wisdom aside, the
activities and statements of Klinker and Hickman are not always honest. When I
asked Klinker for clarification on the assertion made by both men that
Ogrish.com was owned by an American, he replied by e-mail that the false claim
had been made to put pressure on Joker.com. “I’m born in
and reside in
, and have always been the owner of Ogrish.com,” he said.
is ranked 10 on the World Economic
’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport has published “Framework for the
Future” (http://www.culture.gov.uk/heritage/pl_framework.html), a report on
the future of public libraries in the
It outlines the government’s vision for public libraries over the next 10
years and aims to provide them with a “modern mission.”
libraries already deliver basic access to the Internet, the report believes
their role could be expanded with services to host Web sites for local community
groups, facilitate online community discussion groups, publish local authors and
poets, and guide people on the vast array of information available online.
explained Arts Minister Tessa Blackstone, is that libraries should play “a
central role in helping people from all walks of life to be part of the
communications revolution sweeping the world.”
showcases libraries it considers to be leading the way, including those in
. It also highlights the work being done by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets,
which is creating the Idea Store, a new kind of library (http://www.ideastore.co.uk).
reinvent the public library, the Idea Store envisions providing drop-in IT
facilities, a cafe with a video wall, art performance areas, and child-care.
With plans to create a network of seven Idea Stores across the borough, Tower
Hamlets launched a prototype at Bow in May 2002.
is ranked seventh on the World Economic Forum index.
article has been reprinted in its entirety from the April, 2003 issue of
Information Today with the permission of Information Today, Inc., 143 Old
. 609/654-6266, http://www.infotoday.com.