On the Media Culpa blog today comes news that the British newspaper industry is going to start charging websites that link to newspaper’s online articles as part of their services.
The British High Court ruled in favor of the National Licensing Agency — a co-op owned by eight newspaper publishers — against Meltwater, saying that aggregated web links from newspaper’s websites are protected by copyright law.
In this particular case, Meltwater News acted as a news monitoring service that was paid by end users who consumed the aggregated headlines that Meltwater put together. The NLA said that Meltwater was infringing on their copyright because they were providing the service without having an NLA license. (Actually, it was a “licence,” since they’re British.)
While I can see the argument from the NLA because another company was making money off their headlines, it seems like the NLA is cutting its nose off to spite its face. Meltwater is helping the newspapers gain readers by clicking them through to the news articles, where they can see the ads, be counted as readership, which helps sell more ads, etc.
Yes, the headlines are copyrighted. But they’re also public. What Meltwater is doing is no different than an RSS feed. The only difference is they’re charging people to access their RSS feed. But I could just as easily set up an RSS feed on my own reader or My Yahoo, which I used to create my own online newspaper.
While I’m conflicted about whether Meltwater should profit by providing stuff that’s available for free if you’re the tiniest bit clever, I think the newspapers are hurting themselves. Charging people to refer people to your websites will only hurt you as those people will stop referring people to your sites.
Fewer people means fewer visits, which means you have to tell advertisers viewership is down. Which means you will have to charge less for ads, which means your revenue will drop until you either get smart or go out of business.
But, hey, you keep doing what you think is best. Good luck with that.
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Photo credit: DanBrady