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.