Wrong-Headed Newspaper Biz Tries Again To Charge For Links

You’d think the newspaper industry would be doing all it could to encourage links to its websites. But now it’s launching the latest attempt to tell people what they can do with hyperlinks to its stories.

The Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA), which charges news monitoring and PR companies to reproduce printed articles from 1,400 member newspapers, says it will from September extend its licenses to cover web links. Uh-oh

There will be no regulation of free aggregators like Google (NSDQ: GOOG) News, but we say the distinction is meaningless – a public URL is a public URL. NLA may be justified in continuing to charge for reproducing copyrighted printed content – but a URL isn’t content, it’s a resource locator. As my colleague Patrick tells me, this is “applying 19th century laws to 21st century media”.

NLA is trying to hold on to the revenue it could charge on newspapers’ behalf in a time when the tangibility of content was the chargeable asset. It’s sad that newspapers might lose this revenue but, on the web as set up by Tim Berners-Lee, online media monitoring services are quite justified in freely gathering links to freely available pages.

NLA prices range from £15 to £150 a month. The organisation claims over 150,000 customers and was formed by Associated Newspapers, Financial Times, Guardian Media Group, Independent News & Media, Northern and Shell, News International, Daily Telegraph and Trinity Mirror (LSE: TNI), but News Int and FT are opting out of the new scheme (the latter operates its own semantic news aggregator).