If Andrew Sullivan offers one example of how to thrive in the confusing, difficult, exciting new media world then, by god, the Irish newspaper industry offers another. The Irish newspaper industry has hit upon an innovative means of survival in these troubled times for the ink-trade: charge folk money for linking to your copy.

Yes, for linking. Not for copying or ripping off or excerpting far beyond any fair use standard but for linking. Like, for instance, this link. Or this one. Or this one. Or this one. Or this one. Or this one. For linking to these six randomly selected stories from today’s Irish papers the industry suggests it be paid 500 euros. Good luck screwing that from the sensibly-prudent Spectator accounts department.

Ah, you may say, but the Spectator is a commercial enterprise and these links – even if theoretically and generally more useful to the linkee than the linker – go some way beyond the “personal use” to which the industry has never previously objected.  Perhaps so, says I, but the Irish newspaper industry has a quaint definition of “commercial use” too. Let McGarr Solicitors take up the story:

This year the Irish newspaper industry asserted, first tentatively and then without any equivocation, that links -just bare links like this one- belonged to them. They said that they had the right to be paid to be linked to. They said they had the right to set the rates for those links, as they had set rates in the past for other forms of licensing of their intellectual property. And then they started a campaign to lobby for unauthorised linking to be outlawed.

These assertions were not merely academic positions. The Newspaper Industry (all these newspapers) had its agent write out demanding money. They wrote to Women’s Aid, (amongst others) who became our clients when they received letters, emails and phone calls asserting that they needed to buy a licence because they had linked to articles in newspapers carrying positive stories about their fundraising efforts.

Everyone thinks this barmy.

Now it is true that online links driving traffic to newspaper websites are no more enough to save the newspaper industry than online advertising is likely to prove its salvation. Nevertheless, a website that does not allow for incoming links is not likely to be a website with much of a future. Links are what make the internet the internet.

Moreover, an industry that thinks it has the right to charge hundreds of euros for each link to its own copy is an industry so mind-bogglingly stupid that it’s hard to imagine how it mastered the technology required to produce a newspaper in the first place.

The Irish newspaper industry splutters that it does not “refuse” requests to link to its productions; that it thinks it has the right to demand that permission in the first place is but another indication that it’s not quite fit for the modern world.

UPDATE: Gotta point out that Hugh Linehan, editor of the Irish Times, says his paper does not object to linkage. Indeed it welcomes it! Hurrah!

Tags: International politics, Internet, Ireland, Newspapers