It’s a fact of life that legacy industries are often killed off by newer industries spawned by new inventions, so the generally worsening situation of the newspaper industry should come as no surprise as more news moves online.
What does surprise me is that some in the industry seemed determined to speed up the process and hasten the deaths of their companies. I’ve just read that the National Newspapers of Ireland has adopted a new licensing scheme where they expect websites to pay to link to one of their members.
I’m not kidding. They’ve been sending out notices, demanding payment:
The Newspaper Industry (all these newspapers) had its agent write out demanding money. They wrote to Women’s Aid, (amongst others) who became our clients when they received letters, emails and phone calls asserting that they needed to buy a licence because they had linked to articles in newspapers carrying positive stories about their fundraising efforts.
For those 3 links, I now have to pay the NNI 300 euros. Seriously. Apparently this group of 15 newspapers is under the impression that merely mentioning an article on one of websites is not legal; they think it is copyright infringement.
Don’t hurt yourself trying to understand their reasoning; it’s utter nonsense. First and foremost, let’s consider the business aspect. There’s the fact that naming a work’s title does not and cannot be copyright infringement – not under US law (I’m not familiar with Irish copyright law). A link (or the URL inside it) is little more than a name, so arguably the same rule would apply. And even if it is more than a name, the URL can be regarded as a factual statement (you can find the content here) and facts arguably cannot be copyrighted in the US (some courts disagree).
Unfortunately this is not the first time this insanity has appeared, though none have gone quite so nuts as the NNI. There’s an ongoing push in Germany to pass a law which would force Google to pay publishers for using the tiny snippets in Google’s search results, and Belgian newspapers recently settled a similar dispute with Google. France is also considering a similar law.
What’s even better is that the Belgian settlement came after Google lost the court case, and complied with the judge’s order to delist the newspapers from the search engine. That of course cost the Belgian newspapers a lot of traffic and reducing their revenue.
And that, my dears, is the true crazyness about demanding payments for links and snippets. A link from one website to another is free advertising. It’s a source of page views which the recipient didn’t have to pay for.
One commenter on the source article put it into perspective:
By that same rational….. Do the newspapers intend to pay for each link to an advertisers site that they host? Possibly ending up paying more for the traffic they drive to advertisers sites than they receive for hosting links in the first place? Surely they’re killing their own revenue model.
What we’re really talking about here is that these Irish newspapers want everyone else to pay for the privilege of giving the NNI member websites more traffic. That alone is enough to show what a nutty idea this is.