Old Media’s New Shakedown: Charge the Internet!

screen print of SpectatorIn the same week that saw the founding anniversaries of the London Times (1788) and Denmark’s oldest newspaper the Berlingske (1749), the Irish newspaper lobby drew on its 18th Century understanding of the internet to come up with a plan to charge others for linking to its members’ websites.

Asserting that links — just links with no content reproduction, mind you — is copyright owned by the papers, Newspaper Licensing Ireland (NLI) said it should be paid whenever other sites link back to newspaper websites.

They then showed real class by sending legal letters to Women’s Aid, a charity that protects women and children from domestic violence, and demanded payment.

For the charity’s convenience, a schedule of payments was included. Prices started at €300 for up to five links and rose up to €1,350 for up to 50 links. Prices were negotiable after that.

A legal firm in Dublin, McGarr Solicitors, agreed to take on the case pro bono and then blogged about it. The feedback from the internet was one of intense mockery.

  • The New York Observer asked if this was the “ultimate in copyright trolling?” linked to NLI’s website and said “come and get us!” They then wondered cheekily if all the links on NLI’s own site were paid for. I could be mischievous and link to NLI’s website, too, but I won’t because they are dickheads.
  • An English writer (more on him later) for Forbes called the idea “insanely stupid.” Google that phrase now and the article shows up second in the results.
  • TechCrunch wrote about it earlier this year and the photo accompaniment was of Monty Python’s famous Spanish Inquisition skit — because no one expects it.
  • “From the uh,-no dept,” techdirt called it a “ridiculous situation.”

Meanwhile, feedback on Twitter was almost uniformly negative. The Irish Times’ — no link because I don’t want to send them any traffic — online editor is Hugh Linehan and his Twitter feed shows some of the comments he got.

The only reason I can see for NLI’s attempted shakedown is that their understanding of tech is sketchy at best, and that they are hoping others are equally clueless. More likely, perhaps, is that they sent out 100 demands secure in the knowledge that a certain percentage would pay up because it would be cheaper than engaging with lawyers.

More Class

Amongst all the reporting, it was evident that lack of class was not confined to just the NLI. Despite their PBS reputation in America, our next-door neighbors in Britain can be as crass as the worst of them.

Forbes’ writer, Tim Worstall, clearly hankers for the day when it was OK to tell racist, anti-Irish jokes on British TV. “It would have to be the Irish trying something insanely stupid,” he says.

Even more crass was the Spectator’s take. Although the article was fine, the photo was a screen shot of an Irish newspaper from the day after Bloody Sunday in 1920. That was during the Irish War of Independence when British forces rolled in to a packed football stadium in Dublin, shot up the crowd and killed 14.

The phrase, WTF, doesn’t even begin to do that justice. Are they mean spirited, incredibly stupid or just unlucky?

Nor should  they get complacent in Britain. Their own newspaper licensing group has a questionnaire here. The first question asked is: “Does your organisation monitor newspapers (even if infrequently) for articles relating to your business, industry, Competition etc?”

Thinking of Google Alerts, I answered “yes” but answered “no” to the other five questions.

They told me I needed a license.

[Edit: added Jan. 6] Meanwhile, the German legislature wants to let newspapers charge Google for linking back to media sites, and publishers in Italy, Belgium and France have jumped on the bandwagon.

The stupidity isn’t confined to Ireland.


4 thoughts on “Old Media’s New Shakedown: Charge the Internet!

  1. Forbes’ writer, Tim Worstall, clearly hankers for the day when it was OK to tell racist, anti-Irish jokes on British TV. “It would have to be the Irish trying something insanely stupid,” he says.


    No, the point was that in recent decades we’ve got over the telling of Paddy jokes. At which point we end up with this sort of stupidity which revives the possibility of people telling them again, giving them a target. That’s what “It would have to be the Irish” was about.

  2. Tim,
    I appreciate your exasperation, especially with the amount of feedback you are getting on the Forbes site, but the kindest thing I could say is that your original statement “did not come out right.”
    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  3. Best response to the ignorance of NIL and the Irish Times is to make donation to the women’s refuge.
    See some good out of this story.
    I did.
    Happy Sunday.

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