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Dinosaur alert: Irish newspapers desperately trying to charge for links

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There’s plenty of experimentation going on in the media business when it comes to finding new methods of monetizing content: leaky paywalls at the New York Times and others, API licensing at The Guardian, membership models like the one Andrew Sullivan just launched, and so on. Irish newspapers, however, would apparently prefer to just charge people for linking to their content — as much as 300 Euros for each link. In a statement released on Friday, the country’s newspaper industry also confirms that it is lobbying to have Irish copyright laws define links as copyright infringement.

This fight has been going on behind the scenes for some time, but recently came to light when Irish lawyer Simon McGarr wrote about attempts by the Irish newspaper industry’s licensing body to charge one of his clients (a charity called Women’s Aid) a fee for linking to newspaper content. According to McGarr, the newspaper licensing group told the charity it had to pay an annual license fee: 300 Euros for one to 5 links, 500 Euros for 6 to 10 links — with a sliding scale extending all the way to 50 links, which would theoretically cost the charity 1,350 Euros. According to the licensing body:

“a licence is required to link directly to an online article even without uploading any of the content directly onto your own website.”

Not surprisingly, this position has been ridiculed by a number of media-industry observers, including journalism professors Jay Rosen and Jeff Jarvis, as well as George Brock of City University in London — some Irish journalists have even apologized on Twitter for their country’s behavior. But in a press release on Friday, the group that represents most of Ireland’s papers maintained that it has every right to charge websites for links, and that it believes linking to newspaper content for commercial purposes should constitute copyright infringement.


In the release, the National Newspapers of Ireland — which represents 16 national daily, Sunday and weekly newspapers and 25 regional newspapers — tries to differentiate between links that are for “personal use” and links that are for commercial purposes. The statement says none of the group’s members have ever objected to people who hyperlink to newspaper stories, and that the licensing arm of the NNI usually only goes after sites that also engage in other forms of “copying activity” in addition to links, such as reproducing the article “or an extract from it.”

However, the industry group’s statement also says that it has made a submission to the Irish government’s copyright review committee — which is considering changes to the country’s copyright laws — arguing that a simple hyperlink by any commercial entity or for commercial purposes constitutes infringement. The committee is considering a clause that would specifically state that hyperlinks don’t constitute copyright infringement, and the NNI says it is opposed to such a change:

“The NNI made a submission to the effect that our view of existing legislation is that the display and transmission of links does constitute an infringement of copyright.”

Irish newspapers aren’t the first to try and monetize links, or to try and draw a distinction between commercial linking and any other kind: Britain has a newspaper licensing body that fought a long battle with Meltwater — a commercial clipping service that provides summaries of newspaper stories along with links to the original — and recently won a court decision (the Associated Press newswire has also sued Meltwater claiming copyright infringement). And the German government has said it is considering a similar licensing scheme that could even apply to Google News. Most of those cases involve excerpts as well as links, however (which is permitted in the U.S. under the “fair use” principle).

If the Irish industry’s position sounds like a throwback to the early days of the web, that’s because it is: lawsuits over what was called “deep linking” were fairly commonplace in the late 1990s, and some companies even tried to specifically forbid linking in their terms of service. It seems Irish papers would rather turn back time instead of trying to adapt to it. Update: The Irish Times has said that it “does not see links as copyrightable” and encourages readers to share its content, but does take issue with “scraping, summarisation and aggregation of its content.”

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Flickr user Denise Chan

14 Responses to “Dinosaur alert: Irish newspapers desperately trying to charge for links”

  1. richardjulius

    Yes, the NLI is misguided, but the NLI is not “Irish newspapers.” It is a central content licensing company that handles article reprints. I work with several forward-thinking and Internet-savvy Irish regional newspapers; they want sites to link to them because they recognize the value of inbound links for SEO. They would think it absurd to charge for links.

  2. steve white

    The Irish Times still has been at pains not to contradict to the NLI or the NNI, the Irish Times dosn’t charge for links it pays someone else to pay for links

  3. Mike Larkin

    The Papers should by happy to get the referrals (links to them), and if anyone should be paying anything, maybe it should be the Papers to thank the linkers.

  4. Gigaom is a near-zero cost aggregator and url scraper itself. Look at the free illustration at the top of the article from Flickr. The bias of Gigaom’s writing on these topics is quite intense. Consider the source. Mr. Ingram is their certified blow-hard on this topic.

    You can also see that much of Gigaom’s content is labeled as “paid content”… So even though there are some fantastic articles, the lines between fact and fantasy can get smudgy. You always have to look for the “paid content” label. Of course one always wonders if there is a real firewall between the paid content side and the non-paid content side. Who knows?

    I read his stuff and Mr Ingram doesn’t like pay-walls, SOPA efforts, walled gardens, you name it. It seems Matt would rather get everything free than adapt to paying for it, but Gigaom got paid to write this article.

    This is a bogus publication.

      • Laura Hazard Owen:
        Might you or Mathew Ingram relocate the VERY crucial update from its current place at the bottom (where it is at risk of being overlooked entirely) to a more prominent position? I refer to the following:

        Update: The Irish Times has said that it “does not see links as copyrightable” and encourages readers to share its content, but does take issue with “scraping, summarisation and aggregation of its content.”

        It helpfully includes an inline link to The Irish Times, using “has said that” as anchor text.

        I read this post when it first appeared a month ago. I realize that there are exigencies to reporting in timely fashion. However, the update is vital, and deserves more visibility given the subject matter, or so I thought. Thank you for considering my request.

  5. Information Age that we live in now … Where Data is the new currency,we will see more businesses trying to monetize the information …following the models of google, Facebook who do the same without sharing the profits with the folks who share the content on them.. Helping folks make Intelligent use of Technology (aka IT)..Just my 2cents–KP(Co-CEO

    • That’s slightly less likely than NNI officers facing fraud charges, and near infinitely less likely than the few big players that still care about Irish newspapers cutting them off completely.