Is Linking Something That You Should Have To Pay For?

The web as we know it could be in jeopardy

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Is Linking Something That You Should Have To Pay For?
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Should you have to pay to link? Sadly, it’s a question we keep having to ask, because organizations and lawmakers keep giving us reason to. If you’re a longtime reader, you probably already know my stance on this: the web is based on pages freely linking to each other, and when barriers are set up that impede that, it makes for a broken web.

Should any person, organization or aggregation service have to pay to link to content for any reason? Let us know what you think in the comments.

In October, we ran an article with the very title: “Should You Have To Pay To Link?” Back then, it was about Central European News (CEN), a media organization that provides news, images, research, etc. to various media outlets, for money. CEN had sent payment invoices to The Huffington Post, simply because the site was linking to sources (such as The Daily Mail), which had paid for CEN’s content.

A couple years ago, there was the whole thing with News Corp. blocking search engine/news aggregator NewsNow.co.uk from using/linking to its content. NewsNow founder Struan Bartlett had this to say at the time:

It also led to the creation of the “Right To Link campaign“.

A more recent example of some interesting linking policy would be this one from Lowe’s. They require sites that link to Lowes.com (I’m not sure what the legal grounds here are) to fill out a form and get permission first. This is done by fax. Yes, fax.

The latest incident comes in the form of proposed legislation from German lawmakers, who reportedly seek to enable content creators to charge aggregation services for using snippets, for as long as lone year. The Register points to an official document about the proposed law (in German).

It’s unclear whether we’re only talking about the actual snippets, or if that includes the titles. According to the Register’s report, aggregators may be forced to pay license fees, but if if the titles (which are essentially links), aren’t included, aggregators should be able to display titles/links without snippets, without having to pay. If such a law goes into effect, it would probably make more sense to do this, for most aggregation services, though user experience could be damaged.

Of course, there’s one news aggregation service that we know is all about user experience (at least at the PR level) – Google (and Google News). Would Google pay to provide snippets? If titles/links are included, that’s a whole different ballgame, and in fact is really where the bulk of this threat to the web comes in.

If we’re talking about titles, which are essentially links, we’re talking about having to pay to link to something. Even if this is only at a news aggregation service level, it’s a dangerous precedent to set, given that the web at large is based on linking. There are no clear lines when you’re talking about the subject of news aggregation – particularly in the age of user-generated content and social media. I mean, what if you create a Twitter list of accounts from news agencies, and share that with your friends, for example?

For that matter, the lines between what should actually be considered a news source are pretty gray too, when you’re talking about blogs, social media and citizen journalism. Laws like this would have to be governed by interpretation, and any interpretation – right or wrong – could have tremendous effects on the web, and really, society.

And let’s not forget, that while a law may be designed to govern the people and companies of a country, the web is worldwide. Linking knows no geographical boundaries.

When you’re talking about how an aggregator like Google News delivers results, how is it any different than how Google itself delivers results. It’s still about snippets and links. Such government control could not only jeopardize current news aggregation practices, but how search, as we know it, works.

Matthew Ingram, who writes for GigaOm these days writes a lot about this kind of stuff, and often makes great points about the state of journalism, and the whole citizen journalism/traditional media debate. As he presents it, aggregation and curation are synonyms, for all intents and purposes, and I agree. But curation can not only come from a system like Google News or a Techmeme. It can come from a news publication itself. It can come from a single person using any publishing format on the web. That means it could be a blog, a Google+ account, a Twitter account, a Twitter list, a Facebook account or whatever. Facebook even has a new interest lists feature.

The point is, it’s all about the following you have, as to how much that contributes to content being consumed by its audience.

So laws like this could jeopardize how we use social media too. But more than that – they could jeopardize how people use the web. It’s why the publishing world wants the paid app model (like The Daily) to succeed so well, but that model will never pan out to its full potential as long as that pesky web is around – a tap away via your phone or tablet’s browser. Perhaps news organizations should start lobbying for the death of the web browser. That would go over well.

Links are the web. The web is links. Links are what keeps the web alive, and are the reason we have not all been completely consumed into closed app ecosystems (though we certainly spend more of our time there than ever).

One thing that continues to baffle me, is that so many publishers and news organizations are still so opposed to how the web works. Links gain you more exposure. There are legitimate points on the other side of the argument, but the fact is that links give more people more opportunities to read your content, and if they’re not reading your content, they’re just going to read someone else’s – someone that has figured out a better way to monetize their content – perhaps someone that doen’t care about monetizing their content. Regardless, it’s not benefiting you.

Of course, all efforts to see “aggregators” paying to link aren’t being driven by governments. News organizations (The AP, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Gazzette, McClatchy, and numerous others) have banded together to form NewsRight, a collaboration designed to find ways of getting aggregators to pay. I haven’t heard a lot of success stories about that one yet.

Do you think news organizations should be charging “aggregators” for linking? Even snippets? Let us know what you think.

By the way, if you’re a content creator, curator or aggregator, and you feel your audience is or could be interested in this topic, please feel free to link to this article. As a bonus, we’ll even let you throw in a snippet.

Is Linking Something That You Should Have To Pay For?
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  • http://www.d-i-jonline.com/paypertalk/ paypertalk

    linking to other sites that have no ranking or traffic and paying is ridiculous,but if it is a high ranking website off course the website owner or organization would want some kind of payment

  • Martin

    Here is how Google could handle it, should they wish:

    “Dear XYZ company. We note your request for payment for Google providing you with a free service to promote the commercial interests of you and your clients.

    “Having given the matter due consideration we have decided that, in order to indemnify ourselves from any potential future legal complications, that we will remove in their totality ANY mention of ANY kind whatsoever of your firm and ANY of your clients from the Google search engine.

    “The effect of this will be to render you and your clients completely and utterly invisible to the 1 Billion+ people who visit Google every month.

    Have a nice day!

    Best wishes,

    the Google Team.”

  • http://www.LAokay.com Steve G

    I think those sites that are on the “pay me to link to me” bandwagon should have invoices sent to them by all the websites that they are linking to. I wonder if they then will think it’s a good idea not to let people link to them for free.

  • http://www.crushermaker.com/ Crusher

    “No payment for linking! We pay enough for everything else the way it is!”

  • http://www.Netcommercial.net Simon

    Let me be clear when I say NO! The Government has screwed enough things up… Please do not let them in to screw things up on such a functional business tool.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=McZWgIFg604 Dev

    Why would anyone have to pay for links, where there are a bunch of sites out there that are more than happy to link to you for me?

    I don’t mean anything by, but this is nonsense, and out of question to pay for something that is already free:(


  • http://www.alda-architects.com Alan

    You are actually doing them a favour by linking as you are promoting traffic to them.

  • http://danatanseo.com Dana Tan

    Excellent post. No, absolutely not. News organizations shouldn’t be charging anyone for linking or snippets. Think about the implications of that. Would this then mean that everyone writing a paper for school, a research piece or a presentation have to pay their sources for the ability to quote their content? Am I going to have to pay a fee to the Washington Post when my 5th grade son writes a paper and wants to use quotes to back up his research. Ridiculous. I like your comment about praying for the death of Web browsers. I think that day is coming sooner than we all may think.

    Fortunately, since government tends to move at the speed of sludge, the technology will probably be obsolete by the time they actually write a law to address it.

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/white-hat-link-building Nick Stamoulis

    “links give more people more opportunities to read your content, and if they’re not reading your content, they’re just going to read someone else’s”

    Couldn’t agree more! Why would I want to link to a site that is going to make me pay to do it? Even if I think it’s a good article/source, I’ll give my link to the #2 site that isn’t charging me.

  • http://www.yoursolargenerator.com Glen Jones

    No way should the links have walls set up to break linking to other sites or directories.

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