Newspapers demand to be paid if you link to them

McGarr Solicitors of Dublin reports on local newspapers' bizarre demand to be paid if you direct people to read their websites. To be completely clear about it, is isn't about fair use, fair dealing, excerpts, headlines or any of that. It's about links.

"This is not a joke. ... This year the Irish newspaper industry asserted, first tentatively and then without any equivocation, that links -just bare links like this one- belonged to them. They said that they had the right to be paid to be linked to. They said they had the right to set the rates for those links, as they had set rates in the past for other forms of licensing of their intellectual property. And then they started a campaign to lobby for unauthorised linking to be outlawed."

It's as if the newspaper business was still run by clueless middle-aged white drunks, or something.


  1. On behalf of clueless, middle-aged white drunks everywhere, I resent you linking us to the newspaper business. Such comparisons are hurtful and unfair to those with no connection to the industry.

    1. Speaking as a middle-aged white drunk (occasionally) but never clueless I wholeheartedly concur.

  2. I want to be paid for every newspaper looking on my website or twitter account or… for a link to their newspaper – about double the amount they want for that link.
    After all it’s the content I *personally* created!

  3. I inveted this scheme for German.

    And named it “Leistungsschutzrecht für Presseverleger”.

    1. Having listened to Jeff Jarvis on TWiT, I giggle every time I hear “leistungsschetzrecht”.

  4. This is not that surprising really. Look at how well this tactic has worked for the clothing industry (just to pick an example). How much does it cost these days to become a walking billboard for Nike? I’ve never really understood why it works, but it seems to.

      1. That’s pretty (New Balance) harsh, don’t you (Starbucks) think? I mean, just what (Apple) do you think (Nissan) constitutes a (Fender) personality?Anyway,  I think (Samsung) you might mean (North Face), “the closest thing many people have to an identity.”

  5. Fine, then. If they don’t want me to link to their site, I’ll just scrape the article from the newspaper’s website and place the whole thing on my website.

  6. And here I thought that a business that relies so heavily on advertising and eyeball traffic for its income would be grateful they get some for free.

  7. Back in the earlier days of the web, wasn’t there a somewhat similar kerfuffle about “deep linking” – IIRC it was about some web sites complaining that other sites were linking to their order or ticket processing pages without going through their own front end.  Something about travel web sites or airline tickets, I think.  Anyway, they were calling for this to be outlawed also.

    Stil, this current case is even more ridiculous.

    1. And around the same time some search engines charged you to be included in their search results. Even Yahoo had a paid ‘priority’ rate ($79 or £79 I think) to guarantee inclusion.

      1. Yes but Yahoo didn’t claim to be complete.  Their appeal was a curated list of results.  Until Google demonstrated that the internet was about a million times bigger (and more interesting) than Yahoo’s database.

    2. Yeah, every few years there’s some business that doesn’t understand how the web works, and also doesn’t understand how their own web server works (e.g. can they just check the REFERER variable), and decides to sue somebody for linking to their site, and takes it to a court where the judge also doesn’t have a clue how the web works or that linking is like the court case citations that the entire legal field depends on.

      Wikipedia has a good discussion of the technical and case history issues, such as the 1996 The Shetland Times vs The Shetland News case from Scotland (where one paper was linking directly to the other paper’s stories.)

      I seem to remember a much more recent case of some newspaper telling Google News not to link to their articles and then watching their traffic drop radically because Google News complied with their demand.

  8. “And lo, they died not with a bang but with a whimper-like grab at your hard earned dollars.”

  9. So, I’m assuming that they’ll be coming after the depraved pirates of academia, with their “citation of sources” nonsense next?

    In addition to being a radical departure from any precedent in the history of copyright law(a web link is pretty much wholly analogous to a textual citation of the ‘see page X of Primary Source‘ flavor, only more automated, and control of citation of a copyrighted work has never been part of copyright), this proposal seems like a blatant having-our-cake-and-eating-it-too money grab.

    When you click a link, your browser sends an HTTP request, typically GET, to the target server for the target URI. The server is entirely free to return the desired item, silently refuse to respond, or send one of the various denial response codes. It’s not as though creating a hyperlink somehow creates a super-secret I-know-your-true-name backdoor that renders your server powerless to resist. There are plenty of 400 codes to choose from, along with the option of just serving your paywall splash-screen.

    Apparently, these guys want all the benefits of being linked to(or they’d just start 403-ing requests, which is simple enough); but also want to be paid for it. I hope, for their sake, that paper subscriptions are still doing ok; because the internet might get a lot quieter for them in the immediate future…

  10. Yeah, what’s that about? I like it when sites like boing boing copy and paste the content from the original site. it saves time clicking to the site upon which the content originated. Like the other day,  instead of going to xkcd to see their new year’s resolution strip, I could click on the boingboing link instead, and see it there! So much easier. 

  11. Hello, 

    Thanks for posting this. 
    If you’re interested in reading the letters we wrote in response to the demand for money on behalf of Women’s Aid you can see them 


    and here:

    No fees or permissions required!

    1. Thanks for posting these links.

      our client was told that “a licence is required to link directly to an online article even without uploading any of the content directly onto your own website”. We would be grateful if you would specify the statutory basis of this claim by return of post.

      And that’s just the warm-up.  I can’t stop chuckling.

    2. I love the part where they apparently didn’t notice that their own ‘Terms and Conditions’ boilerplate explicitly grants permission to link, so even if their… legally novel… theory of copyright were to hold up, their schedule of fees still wouldn’t.

      That is some really impressive work on their part.

  12. I wonder what the conversation was like in the board room when they decided to go down this road. 

    Was it one of those situations where they know they are doing the wrong thing, feel completely crappy about it, but knew that failure to do something would result in their demise?

    Or was there actual indignation in the air, anger that people are using the web in the manner it was intentionally designed for?

    1. I’m going with flat-out cluelessness.  They don’t understand the size of the web, and that web sites will simply go other places for content rather than pay to link.  That’s the challenge with the internet — there is so much competition, that old school newspapers just don’t have anything exclusive or unique anymore.  Two-headed calf born outside Dublin?  Cool, but I can link to a story about a two-faced cat born in Indonesia the very same day, and for free.

      This strategy will cause them to be ignored and isolated.  

  13. I saw Irish newspaper people discussing this issue an a panel show about a year ago, and came to the conclusion they literally didn’t understand the internet.  It’s embarrassing.  It’s like YOU should should have to send a check to AMC every time you tell someone that Breaking Bad is awesome.  After all the effort we made re-branding the documentary series Father Ted for foreign markets as a “surreal sitcom”, something like this will just blow the whole thing wide open.

  14. I was once faced with similar madness from a merchant. I had posted an article which encouraged people to go buy his awesome things. Each time I mentioned them by name I linked to his site where you could buy them.

    Then I received an email from the merchant threatening legal action unless the names of his product and links to his site were removed. I responded, basically “Send the lawyers!” He never did. A few months later I realized I didn’t want to drive traffic to a litigious jerk, so I pulled all links and references. Which now makes the whole article seem like I had a great idea, since I removed credit from the original creator.

    No good deed and all that.

  15. “Thank you for your letter informing me of the price you demand for linking to your website.

    Perhaps you are not aware, but sending me a letter has infringed on my copyright to my address.   The license fee is $500,000 (Canadian), which I normally waive for noncommercial content, but since we’re clearly two business people transacting business, I will send you an invoice.

    In kindness, I have deducted the 1,350 (pounds) price for 50 links to your site, even though I have only used the one, you never know, I might decide to do so in the future.  You have two weeks to pay the remainder, or I will be forced to turn this over to collections.”

  16. Since the Terms and Conditions of the newspaper are presumed to be agreed to by reading the content of the newspaper’s website. In other words the ‘terms and conditions’ appear to be simply content on the web. I’m curious as to whether the content of the Terms and Conditions is substantially similar to other Terms and Conditions with a copyright earlier than that provided on the newspaper’s website, and whether the creator of those terms and conditions were consulted, and independently agreed to allow the Irish Times to make use of that content. If not, they may wish to arrange terms related to their copyright. Granted you may be subject to someone presenting evidence of an earlier version of this, but since the content is not presented to readers of the website before they see other content on the web site, and requires the user to agree to the terms and conditions first, it would not be considered a binding contract or EULA.

  17. I used to write for one of those papers, back when it could pay me. The whole industry is in a process of collapse. Print news everywhere is in deep trouble of course, but the Irish media effectively face competition from the entire English-speaking world so it’s hitting harder here than most places.

    That should spark innovation, and in rare cases it has. This though… Well it’s inventive. In the same way that escapist fiction is inventive. They seem to be suing reality itself – and using imaginary law to do so.

    You can smell the cold, manic sweat.

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