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.

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9 Comments on “The un-networked internet”

  1. no-name Says:

    Without the links, web traffic to the newspapers will fall off, and so will advertizing revenue.

    The Belgian press made this mistake not so long ago, too:

    “Of course, the reality is that these newspapers totally miscalculated. They wanted to have everything, which meant Google sending them all sorts of traffic… and they wanted Google to pay them for the privilege. Of course, after these complaints, it appears Google had a chat with Copiepresse, the organization representing these newspapers, and has “received permission” to put the newspapers back in the index, along with promises that they won’t be sued again for copyright infringement for doing so. So what has Copiepresse accomplished? It spent five years fighting Google… and won… and then let Google immediately go back to doing what it was doing before. Nice work, guys.” (Mike Masnick, July 19, 2011, TechDirt; — last verified, Jan 8, 2013)

  2. V.H Says:

    Yes, I was thinking like No-Name, in that vein anyway. Is it not a bit rich that Google WordPress and the like. Including the blogger in some cases, can use by reference content generated by commercial entities. Yes, traffic is driven under the ad’s at the newspapers site when the URL is activated. But at the same time the referrer is using the content to bolster their site and being used by the much vaulted algorithms we heard so much about via Mags Hodge’s Public Accounts committee at Westminster to generate cash for offshore entities.
    Still, I don’t think this has a leg to stand on, and it smacks of someone looking for sprinkles on the ice-cream they got as a present.

  3. Anna Notaro Says:

    On Twitter yesterday I came across a comment by McGarr Solicitors which welcomed an ‘evolution of position’ on the matter you can read at
    although it looks to me as if this is just that, an ‘evolution’ and not a ‘resolution’.
    Irish readers of this blog in particular might find interesting this article in The Guardian ‘The moral panic over social media in Ireland is a convenient distraction’

    The Irish Newspaper decision has attracted incredulity and derision however it should not have come as a surprise, at a time of economic crisis and cultural transition media is the perfect battleground for economic and political power struggles.

  4. Jay Says:

    Have you noticed the text in the ad on the NNI site linked to in this blog entry? It says, “Make sure your (sic erat scriptum) covered with an NLI License”. It seems fitting that the entity that these particular newspapers pay to argue their interests is also staffed by people who engage in behaviour patterns that are consistent with dyslexia. The papers, too, have a chronic inability to demonstrate mastery of language. It is sweet of Professor von Prondzynski to support the Irish press. However, notice that he states that it includes only “some really good newspapers”, and not “many”.

    The NNI text alongside the NLI advert appears to be wholly ignorant of the concept of “fair use”, as its author indicates that quoted excerpts are somehow an issue: “Whenever NLI has required as organisation to take such a license, the organisation has also engaged, for commercial purposes, in some other `copying activity’ in addition to the display of links (for example, where the organisation has reproduced either the text of the article itself or an extract from it alongside the links).” Was the quoted sentence produced by a professional bean-counter or a beanhead? They must not have considered what will become of the revenue of newspapers when they have to pay for every direct quotation they include in articles, apart from the 7,000 euro owed to Professor von Prondzynski for mere links. Foresight is not their strongest suit, either.

    Maybe it is time for the Irish newspaper cartel to reconsider who they hire to argue their interests.

  5. Eddie Says:

    “since we have Australian readers here..”

    Really? You could do with a few Aberdonians though!

  6. cormac Says:

    NNI have simply got it wrong, and each pronouncement they make on the issue shows how little they know of the online world (ditto for the recent statements by the online editor of The Irish Times).The designers of the web (including Tim Berners Lee) made this point very clear years ago; you are free to link to any website you choose.
    Whether the reader can progress further is up to the hosts of that particular site. Of course it may have restricted access (via password-protection) or not, but that has nothing to do with the link.
    Conversely, there is nothing you yourself can do to prevent others accessing your own website – even if you block access from certain urls, links will proide a simple way around the obstacle

  7. Dan Says:

    Ferdinand, I enjoyed reading that blog post. In fact, here’s a link to it I presume now that although the blog post is free, I owe you money for copy and pasting the URL? Where do I send the cheque or do you use Paypal? Dan

  8. no-name Says:

    Reverting back to one of Ferdinand’s observations:

    “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)…”

    …one is compelled to wonder why the NNI took action against an organisation that advocates for abused women, of all the organisations and individuals who also have linked to the Irish newspapers. Does anybody know if there are any other (non-URL) links between the NNI and Womens’s Aid, which might have prompted the action?

  9. James Fryar Says:

    What happens if you use something like TinyURL? Does that now shift my culpability? Or suppose you put a link like:

    and leave out the final ‘m’?

    It sounds like some intern suggested this would be a good idea, everyone in the office was bored and agreed, and are only now realising the difference between ‘what may legally be possible’ and ‘things that won’t work and only make you a laughing stock’.

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