Irish newspapers issue statement clarifying that they really are being a bit silly

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 4 January 2013

Over the last few days there has been some attention to a blog post claiming that Irish newspapers are trying to “destroy the web” by charging for the presence of hyperlinks to other sites.

I have to confess that the idea seemed so bizarre that when I first read the headline and tweets about it, I actually assumed the papers were trying to charge people for editorial links that had been placed on their own sites, not the other way around. I mean, retrospectively trying to charge people for inbound links to your websites — that’s a mug’s game, right?

Now, in the past whenever the “newspapers are trying to charge for links” story has broken in the UK, it has usually been when the NLA has been pursuing a business whose main income stream has been based on themselves charging for access to scraped newspaper headlines, although they have also caused upset amongst charities. So I wanted to find out a little bit more about the situation in Ireland.*

The National Newspapers of Ireland group, who are attempting to administer the licences to link, have issued a clarifying statement today. It appears to clarify that they really are being a bit silly. The conclusion to the statement says:

“Whilst NNI and its members welcome any discussion and debate about the way in which creative content should be viewed and shared on-line, the discussion which has taken place over the last few days has not correctly reflected our practice or views.”

Except earlier they specifically say:

“our view of existing legislation is that the display and transmission of links does constitute an infringement of copyright”

Graciously they accept that “some people do not agree with that interpretation of the law”. You could say that. Hypertext links documents together on the web. To suggest links infringe copyright is the kind of thinking that reminds me of when the IOC wanted you to fax their lawyers before you could link to the Olympics website in 2004.

I’ve no argument with newspapers trying to charge people for the business re-use of content, or for running cuttings and clippings database, but arguing that a link infringes the copyright of the material on the receiving end of the <a href=""> is laughable.

Whatever the outcome of this development, it is also another interesting dimension to the issue of how papers from the UK who also publish in the Republic of Ireland behave differently in the two territories. Don’t forget that some of those implacably opposed to state regulation of the press in the post-Leveson furore are happy to have their titles bound by Irish press laws in the Republic.

* Full disclosure: I have previously done consultancy work for the NLA in the UK.

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