The body representing Ireland’s main newspapers is demanding a minimum of $400 for third parties to directly link their articles, sparking an unprecedented copyright row which strikes at the very heart of sharing content on the World Wide Web.
The National Newspapers of Ireland (NNI) – which represents 16 national daily, Sunday and weekly newspapers, and 25 regional newspapers – defended their contentious position on Irish newspapers being linked to by third parties.
The union argued that "that display and transmission of links does constitute an infringement of copyright" under current Irish law if done for commercial purposes without prior consent and payment.
The NNI claimed it is not attempting to crack down on private persons sharing links on social media websites like Facebook or Twitter, saying "there is a distinction between the sending and receipt of links for personal use on the one hand and the sending and receipt of links for commercial purposes on the other."
Opponents of the move have argued that there is no legal basis to view the publication of hyperlinks as a copyright infringement.
The NNI said that the move was prompted by an ongoing review of existing copyright law by Ireland's Copyright Review Committee, which recently issued a consultation paper requesting that “interested parties” forward submissions on the issue.
In response to the consultation paper, the NNI is currently lobbying to have Ireland’s copyright laws classify the act of linking as copyright infringement.
“We understand that some people do not agree with that interpretation of the law,” the NNI said in a press release on Friday. “Equally, there are others who do agree with it. As already indicated, the Committee itself acknowledged that there are divided views on this. We await, in due course, the final report from the Copyright Review Committee and await sight of whatever they might say or recommend on the point.”
Debate over the issue came to the forefront when domestic violence charity group Woman’s Aid was told by an NNI subsidiary it must pay $400 to display between one and five hyperlinks to newspaper articles on its site.
Simon McGarr, the charity's lawyer, decried the move in a scathing op-ed titled '2012: The year Irish newspapers tried to destroy the web.'
McGarr argued that the “web is built on links,” as “links are what has made it so powerful and so threatening to established institutions of power.” He further derides the NNI’s contention that the right to link or not to link “is within the grace and favor of newspapers to grant – or by implication to refuse.”
McGarr was particularly scornful of the NNI’s price list, which outlined a $1,760 fee for publishing 26 to 50 hyperlinks, while 50 or more was designated as “negotiable.”
Writing for The Irish Times – an NNI member often considered the country’s newspaper of record – the daily’s online editor Hugh Linehan said they supported “the NNI position that copyright over newspaper content should be protected.”
However, “We recognize that linking is the lifeblood of the online world and we encourage our digital community to share links as widely as possible,” Linehan wrote. “Therefore, The Irish Times does not see links as copyrightable and will not attempt to impose any restrictions on the posting elsewhere on the Internet of mere URLs that refer to its content.”
The NNI has maintained that the unlicensed publication of hyperlinks is often symptomatic of greater copyright violations.
“Whenever NLI (Newspaper Licensing Ireland Limited) has required as an organization to take such a license, the organization has also engaged, for commercial purposes, in some other ‘copying activity’ in addition to the display of links (for example, where the organization has reproduced either the text of the article itself or an extract from it alongside the links).”
The NNI’s attempts to bolster control over the dissemination of its newspapers’ content mirrors broader efforts throughout Europe to force search engines like Google to share the profits generated by the online information industry.
Draft laws are currently being considered in France and Germany that would require Google to pay a licensing fee, to compensate domestic news sites for the use of their material.
Google has responded aggressively, threatening to stop linking to certain European news sites if they are forced to pay.