Free Linking Q&A

Wednesday 28 October 2009

Q: What is

A: (aka NewsNow) has been aggregating links to Internet news since it was founded in 1997. Today it is the UK’s largest homegrown news aggregator. It has 20% of the market, second only to Google.

Q: Who is threatening action against NewsNow?

A: The publishers of all the newspapers named in our open letter — The Times, The Sun, The Guardian, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, Daily Express — are putting pressure on us, plus publishers of regionals such as Johnston Press and Northcliffe Media.

Q: What are they taking issue with?

A: News International (publisher of The Times, The Sun and the News of the World) is taking issue with our linking, full stop. The others are demanding money and intrusive control over how we conduct our business.

Q: Why are they demanding this?

A: Only they can answer this, however economic conditions are hard and we understand big media owners are keen to find new revenues. They perceive us as exploiting their content commercially, and they assume that they have the right to impose charges and controls on what we do. They claim copyright law as a legal justification.

Q: As a headline link aggregator, displaying their headlines, aren’t they justified in seeking to charge and control your linking?

A: No. Our business is not in reselling content, but quite the reverse. Our business is in enabling people to find others’ content, then driving them through to it — similarly to most other search engines. We should no more be paying them money, than Google should be paying every website it links to.

Q: What does the law say about this?

A: Unlike some other European countries, there are no explicit statutory protections for the operations of search engines, intermediary hyperlink providers and ‘location tools’ under UK law.

Nevertheless, there are various provisions of UK law that we believe allow us to operate our services legitimately. UK law provides for a balance between the rights of content owners and the freedoms of users to access and communicate information. For example, the law provides for the freedom to reproduce small amounts of content, which it is generally accepted covers the quoting of news headlines and web addresses.

Some publishers clearly have a different view and it has not been tested in court how certain aspects of the relevant law apply.

Q: Are they seeking to impose these controls and charges on Google?

A: To the best of our knowledge, not at the current time. However there is nothing to suggest that in principle Google is any more immune to these threats than NewsNow.

Q: You sell paid-for services. Isn’t that different to free services?

A: No, it’s an artificial distinction. ‘Free’ services aren’t really free. We use our paid-for services and advertising revenues to subsidise our ‘free’ service, in much the same way that Google does. Even on our paid-for services, which purely offer personalised selection criteria, we don’t distribute more than a headline link and, except where publishers object, a short extract. Free or paid-for, we’re not reselling content, we’re only providing links, and the links you get are exactly the same. Free or paid-for, what we’re charging for is the result of 12 years’ worth of investment in our own filtering technology.

Q: What’s the state of play?

A: Right now a number of publishers are threatening to seek a court injunction that would stop us linking if we don’t accept their imposition of charges and controls.

Q: Have they demanded compensation for links and, if so, how much?

A: In terms of charges, what’s being demanded is compensation for circulating links to their websites, regardless of whether people click on them or not. Right now it’s unclear how much accepting this would cost us.

But this isn’t about the levels of compensation. It’s about what deserves compensation. It’s the principle of publishers restricting and levying fees on link aggregation and link circulation we’re bothered about, and the long-term consequences for the web, freedom to link, freedom of expression and access to news, and our right to go about our lawful business without being threatened.

Q: Are there any broader issues?

A: It is true that news providers perform a critical public-interest role, something we are dedicated to supporting. But the role of news aggregators, as platforms that enable people to locate news and that support a competitive market in news providers, is today equally critical to the public interest.

The impact of the publishers’ proposed charges and controls on link aggregation services like ours is not in the public interest or compatible with newspapers’ stated desire to safeguard journalism and to protect freedom of expression, freedom of communication and access to news.

Q: What are the alternatives to link charging?

A: Link charging aside, NewsNow is neutral on publisher revenue models. With free-to-web content, NewsNow delivers traffic. With subscription or pay-per-view content, since we respect access controls, NewsNow delivers sign-ups.

Want more information? Read our Open Letter.

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