News of the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) pursuing litigation against companies that distribute copyrighted articles has raised questions about the PR industry's widely accepted practice of disseminating press packets.
While protecting copyrighted information is a reasonable endeavor, SIIA's approach is all wrong. By concealing the identity of its informants - and offering them a cash reward - the association is not conducting transparent and necessarily well-intentioned investigations. And many in PR would be willing to voluntarily comply if the SIIA gives them clear guidelines on how to do so.
Some have even wondered if the SIIA has inadvertently stepped on a minefield that threatens many of its members. If the SIIA fully grasps how pervasive this practice is, the association should know its own members could also be in violation. That the first settlement happened with a company outside the SIIA obviously won't fan those concerns.
Others have criticized the investigation as unfeasible and unfairly targeting a few companies for a common practice. But the SIIA insists that it is targeting instances when a single subscription is being copied and distributed around an entire office without the license to do so.
Considering print journalism's troubled state, those in the business or those who work regularly with the media should do their part to contribute to the health and vitality of the news business. Paying for copyrighted materials - especially for business use - helps sustain the viability of news and affirms its relevancy. Further, a vibrant news culture helps PR more easily reach its audiences.
Content providers rely on their words and stories to make a living, and in a way, the SIIA is trying to protect the integrity of that work. But this good will could fall to the wayside if the SIIA is reckless and unreasonable in its pursuit.