UK's Times Online Starts Blocking Aggregators Hours After Aggregators Win Copyright Tribunal Ruling Against Newspapers

from the donkeys-arguing-against-the-wheel dept

There’s been something of a battle going on in the UK over news aggregators. Obviously, we’ve all heard about the various threats by companies like News Corp. in the US to sue Google over its Google News product, but a lot of this has already been playing out on a smaller scale in the UK. Last year we wrote about newspapers in the UK threatening aggregators like NewsNow, leading some to start blocking NewsNow crawlers. This is silly in the extreme. These aggregators offer links to the news. The “issue” with NewsNow is that it sells this as a service to companies — and the newspapers claim they deserve a cut. Note that NewsNow provides just a link and a headline and the tiniest of blurbs. It’s much less than even Google News provides. The newspapers seem to think that no one can profit from advertising their own stories unless they get a direct cut.

In fact, last year the NLA (Newspaper Licensing Association) in the UK decided to start charging all such services just for linking. This is, of course, ridiculous. One of the largest services of this type is called Meltwater News, and it decided to protest this ridiculous license on linking. It was joined in this effort by the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA), who noted that there is no copyright on headlines and links — and the NLA’s license amounted to an illegal tax. The NLA responded by saying that Meltwater and PRCA had no right to protest these licenses.

Earlier this week, however, the Copyright Tribunal in the UK ruled in favor of the PRCA and Meltwater in protesting these new licenses, and it ordered the NLA to pay the costs of both organizations. Now there will be a full trial concerning the legality of the licenses.

What’s interesting, however, is that hours after this decision came out, the Times Online in the UK just so happened to update its robots.txt file to block Meltwater (along with NewsNow, who had already been blocked). Basically, it was a quiet threat: if you don’t pay, we’ll block you.

The newspapers are walking a very thin line here. They’re trying to charge for the most basic element of the web: linking and sharing links with others. I would imagine that if they actually win this fight, they’re going to end up regretting it even more — because if they start linking to other sites themselves, how long will it take before those linked sites start demanding money back from the newspapers as well. It’s an incredibly short-sited view that a newspaper takes to think that others must pay you to promote you.

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Companies: meltwater news, newsnow, nla, prca

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Comments on “UK's Times Online Starts Blocking Aggregators Hours After Aggregators Win Copyright Tribunal Ruling Against Newspapers”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Wow! Copyright sure fuels innovation and creative thinking. Don’t newspapers deal in facts? About reality? Objective and factual accounts of reality?

And their copyright is so important that one cannot even copy a headline and a short blurb and even provide a link to the original?

Copyright sure protects the progress of the useful arts.

The Infamous Joe (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The problem is that newspapers will soon be non-existent; the number of print copies is plummeting, the online pay model won’t work, and ad revenue is drying up quickly.

I’m not sure I see the problem. In unrelated news, radio shows were rendered obsolete by the television.

Pretty soon this won’t be a problem, as corporeal newspapers disappear, and are replaced by bloggers who fact check even less than current reporters.

When was the last time your local paper reprinted a paper correcting their mistakes? Never, for me, anyway. How many times does Techdirt correct their mistakes? Every time.

I’ll take crowd-sourced fact checking to what newspapers give me now, any day of the week, thank you very much.

Igor Zevaka (profile) says:


I always wondered if there is any enforcable weight in robots.txt. If the web site blocks NewNow and Meltwater just by the way of robots.txt there is nothing stopping the aggregators to disregard those directives and just keep crawling.

This will undoubtedly result in an arms race where the crawler would either need to impersonate another bot or not anounce itself at all. Such race will end when the newspaper starts blocking IPs of suspected “unauthorised” bots.

Whilst it would be fun to watch it won’t be a viable long term strategy for the aggregators. The next legal argument then will be the question if the newspaper is allowed to explicitly block a particular service from crawling its site, which is essentially restricting who can “look” at their content.

Slippery slope indeed.

Flakey says:

Blocking links?

Now ain’t this a riot. It’s like they are being spiteful to their nose to prevent the eyeball from bringing them business.

There’s many a way to ruin a business. This has got to be a really stupid decision that does not take into account the idea that eyeballs are money when it comes to ads.

It’s not like the aggregates are stealing their news, crap they are providing teasers and where the story can be found.

There are crawlers that don’t play fair and totally ignore robot.txt. If you don’t ban them both by name and IP they will be back again and again. Many of them work on IP ranges or selected multiple IPs. If you ban the current IP range, they come back again with a different IP not in the last range. If you want them off the site, robot.txt isn’t the way you will have to go.

Storm (profile) says:

It's a joke

I’m a long-time Newsnow reader. The papers are missing the big picture here… sites such as Newsnow DIRECT traffic to the papers…. those people see the ads on those news sites and are exposed to the brand of the paper constantly. Sure, newsnow may make a bit of money, but the papers stand to make alot more by impressing new viewers every day. I would never have discovered some news sites (commercial and blogs) if it hadn’t been for newsnow.

Michial Thompson (user link) says:

Laws of unintended consequences

The law of unintended consequences will solve this one pretty simply. Stop linking to them in any form. Their search engine results will fall by the wayside and their hit counts will drop off and eventually so will their advertising revenue etc…

Pretty simple, in no time they will either be suing the search engines trying to force them to move their stuff to the top, or they will be paying people to link to them through banner ads, or begging people to link to them however they want.

Either way simply giving them what they wish for is the solution rather than standing behind fair use and forcing your will upon them.

But then again in little mikee’s world it’s all about doing whatever in the hell you feel like and totally disregard the creators wishes.

The Infamous Joe (profile) says:

Re: Laws of unintended consequences

Holy cow, dude. I really don’t get you.

You made a reasonable and seemingly well-thought post that I agree with completely, and then at the very end you throw an irrelevant and unprovoked attack on Mike that has no basis on reality. I don’t see anywhere where Mike says that suggests the answer is to go against the Newspaper’s wishes. Are we reading the same article?

Allow me to distill it, since I’m not sure you bothered to read it.

Aggregators link to newspaper. Newspaper require a license to link, attempts to charge aggregators. Aggregators refuse to pay and claim that linking with a blurb is perfectly reasonable. Courts agree with Aggregators. Now newspapers use robots.txt to block aggregators.

Mike surmises that this is a bad idea, not only does it make no business sense when your business is based solely on how many people read your news, but it is bound to come back and bite the newspapers in the ass when they attempt to link elsewhere.

Please, *please* point out where your final sentence fits in.

On an off-topic side note: You come off as a complete douche when you attack Mike. (Mikee? Really?) Do your children read what you write here, and how do you think they’d respond? Would you be proud for them to read it?

Beta says:

"...or I'll take my baseball and go home."

“…Hours after this decision came out, the Times Online in the UK just so happened to update its robots.txt file to block Meltwater (along with NewsNow, who had already been blocked). Basically, it was a quiet threat: if you don’t pay, we’ll block you.”

The times has every right to do this. As I understand it, the robots.txt protocol is a matter of convention and courtesy; a robot could ignore the file, and a site could use other methods to break links, but it doesn’t really matter. If the Times wants to block links, they can. If they want to offer linking privileges for money, they can. It’s their site. They’re being foolish and childish, not evil.

Tyanna says:

“…because if they start linking to other sites themselves, how long will it take before those linked sites start demanding money back from the newspapers as well.”

Haven’t we already discussed many times about how they don’t link, and treat every story as their own? I don’t think this will be too much of a problem for them 😉

Anonymous Coward says:

really funny…Copyright, eh?
What about a PR person sending a press release to a newspaper, which prints the exact release or parts of it and the PR person using an aggregator to find out where the press release has been published?
Is it the PR person holding the copyright (as he created the text) or the newspaper?
And why should I as a PR person pay a copyright fee for MY OWN texts just because I want to check on the results of my own work?
Don’t get it…

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