The un-networked internet
Here’s an interesting – and crazy – development. If you were to scroll through the posts in this blog, you would find that in many of them I have linked to newspaper reports relevant to the topic. What I didn’t know is that my doing so may have exposed me to a very significant financial risk. Why? Because the newspapers, in Ireland at least, have decided that they own the copyright to the URLs of any articles or items in their publications, and that they are entitled to charge anyone who publishes the URL. Let me be quite specific: this is not about an unauthorised reproduction of a newspaper article or any part of it; this is about mentioning the URL link only.
So for example, yesterday morning one Irish newspaper published a report on a heatwave in Australia. If you want to read about it – or since we have Australian readers here, if you want to verify its accuracy – you can find it right here. Go and have a look. But because I have just given you the link, I have, apparently, infringed that newspaper’s copyright and am now liable to be sued. More particularly, they may claim I should pay them €300 for providing the link. How do I know all this? Because the body representing Irish newspapers, National Newspapers of Ireland (NNI), recently decided to take action against the charity Women’s Aid (of all people) because the latter had on their website linked to newspaper articles about them. Thankfully the charity is being supported in its defence pro bono by Dublin solicitor Simon McGarr.
If you think this is mad, then you are absolutely right. If we all have a copyright to URLs of sites we control – and it’s not just newspapers, obviously, who have websites – and if we can prevent others from mentioning these URLs by demanding stupid money before allowing them to do so, then we can bring the whole internet crashing down. The URL link is the heart of the world wide web; take it away, and there’s nothing left. This could become a particular issue in the academic world, in which the free exchange of internet links has become an important tool.
For the record, NNI have claimed that they would only want to prevent the commercial use of such links, but that’s nonsense because their chosen target, Women’s Aid, clearly was not in the business of commercial gain; and the charity did not reproduce any of the content of these newspaper articles, just the URL. NNI say they have no objection to the ‘personal’ use of internet links, but what on earth does that mean? Is my blog post here ‘personal’? In any case, on what basis would anyone think that they owned a copyright to a URL? Or do I also have rights in relation to my postal address? Can I charge anyone who lists my address for whatever purpose, or indeed those who put it on an envelope? Or can I charge anyone who sends me an email for using my email address without my permission?
Of course, maybe I’m going at this the wrong way. I’ve just calculated that there have been, since June 2008, just under 6,000 links on other websites to this blog. Should I perhaps be writing out bills to the tune of €1.8 million? And by the way, roughly €7,000 worth of those bills would be going to newspapers who linked to my blog, in the run of their commercial business.
I am a genuine supporter of the quality Irish press, who do a great job and maintain some really good newspapers. But this particular move is beyond silly.