Murdoch Paper Blocks UK Aggregator Before Paywall Goes Up

An interesting development in the battle over free content… Times Online, Rupert Murdoch’s flagship quality UK paper, has blocked UK web aggregation service NewsNow from linking to its content.

The background: Eight national UK newspaper publishers, through their Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA), on January 1 began requiring license payments from news monitors who copy their articles in order to provide alerts and links to PR firms…

Though Murdoch’s UK subisidiary News International is part of the NLA, it had not joined its web licensing scheme – but it’s now effectively taking the same action, choosing to strike its own syndication deals, as News Corp.’s wider paid content mission steps up.

Does the move herald a more aggressive stance toward aggregators in general? Rupert Murdoch is on record as saying all such operators will no longer get to “steal” its content, and has been linked with unconfirmed attempts to leverage Bing as a distributor instead of Google.

NewsNow managing director Struan Bartlett writes on his site that “the blocking has been technically implemented via the robots.txt protocol” – the same method observers, including Google (NSDQ: GOOG), have been saying for months that publishers like News Corp (NYSE: NWS) could easily use to block the likes of Google News.

Times Online will be one of the first News International sites to go behind the paywall this Spring, with a spin-off Sunday Times site to follow. The coming months may well see News International block more paid aggregators, though the NLA’s parallel licensing stipulation does not apply to free consumer aggregators because they do not charge users, the NLA earlier told paidContent:UK.

“NewsNow has been using Times Online content as part of its paid-for, commercial as well as free services. They have continued to do so despite our direct requests for them to stop. As a result, we have taken the decision to disallow their indexing of our content,” wrote a spokesperson from The Times in an email to paidContent:UK today. “News International makes a significant investment in journalism and we believe that it is entirely appropriate for us to ask that our rights are respected. NewsNow has acknowledged that they require our permission to use our content and, in the absence of our permission, has ceased to do so.”

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