Should You Have to Pay to Link?

CEN Apparently Thinks So

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This isn’t about paid links in relation to search. This is about paying publications to link to their content as if you were paying to republish it.

Do you think a publication should charge others to link to their content? Let us know in the comments.

Central European News (CEN) is a media organization that provides various services like news, images, research, and more to various media outlets, for money.

PressGazette’s Andrew Pugh ran an interesting story about the Huffington Post linking to sources like The Daily Mail, which had paid for content from CEN. CEN decided to send payment invoices to The Huffington Post, and the Huffington Post paid them. So then, CEN encouraged other content providers to follow their lead, and send the Huffington Post invoices as well. The thinking here is that other publications would be compensated for The Huffington Post linking to them.

Interesting position, but as it turns out, the Huffington Post didn’t mean to pay, as was revealed in an update to Pugh’s original post. They use CEN as one of their photo providers, and do pay for those services, and mistook these invoices as being related to that. So anyone who wishes to bill the Huffington Post for linking to their content might think twice about the probability that they’ll actually receive payment.

The real question here is: should The Huffington Post (or any site/blog) have to pay an original content creator to link to their content? Now, keep in mind: The Huffington Post LINKED to that content. It did not publish that content. It’s a link, referencing the content, not a copy of the full article.

According to the logic expressed by CEN, as conveyed in Pugh’s piece, it’s a violation of copyright if a publication even uses the original content as a starting point. So, by this logic, for example, if Publication A was the first to report on the death of Gaddafi, it would be a violation for publications B, C, D, E, and F, to report that Publication A was in fact reporting this news. Publication B could not say, “Publication A is reporting that Gaddafi is dead, but we have yet to confirm this.”

So, if one publication was able to get a source of their own with that information, but nobody else was able to, publications B, C, D, E, F, etc. would not even be able to mention that one publication was reporting on the death. The world would have to already be reading publication A to even know about the death, or at least reading publication G, H, I, J or K, which are paying Publication A for the rights to reprint.

Nevermind that it’s entirely possible that Publication A is not even a service that charges publications for reprints, because it’s entirely possible that publication A could be just a blog, or even somebody’s Google+ account. News is not only reported by traditional means anymore. That’s just the way it is.

Let’s look at one of the Huffington Post examples referenced in Pugh’s piece:

The Huffington Post article in question

You can see that while the piece is not an incredibly lengthy, in depth piece, it does link to five different pages to pull together its story. This is in and of itself an indication that the piece is not a total rewrite of one article, but is drawing on references from various sources (including the Huffington Post’s own content). If you actually click through to those other articles, you can also see that this is not a straight re-write of any one piece.

As often as the law (as least in this country) has ruled on the side of fair use, I have a hard time believing Huffington Post would be legally in the wrong here, though I am not a lawyer by any means, and CEN is obviously not based in the U.S.

It seems like CEN wants people to pay to link to their content, but if you’re paying, why wouldn’t you just post the whole article. Impeding linking would be a dangerous precedent to set on the web. If sites are required to pay every time they want to reference a piece of information, it’s bound to not only create more situations where content providers just go uncredited, but it’s also likely to stifle a lot of valuable content from being created in the first place.

If one publication has information that is indeed new, or shares some insight that has not been expressed previously, but only makes sense in the context of another piece of information that has already been published by a different publication, they need to reference that piece. It simply doesn’t make sense to have to pay to point to freely available information, in my opinion. Feel free to disagree. That’s the way the web works. The web is based on links. Without links, it’s not a web.

While the HuffPost piece in question may not be some hugely important piece of content, who decides where the line is?

Where do you think the line is? Tell us what you think.

Should You Have to Pay to Link?
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  • http://www.ssrichardmontgomery.com ron

    It is their loss if nobody links to it nobody will see the content.just dont link they will soon change their minds when advertising revenue stops as advertisers will not advertise if no body is seeing adds.The more people link to me the happier I am! what are you readers waiting for start linking! (grin)Try this one for a start!
    something for everyone here.

    • http://www.cliffordblodgett.com Clifford

      This wouldn’t even be a story if CEN didn’t accidentally sneak it past the accountant department. The whole thing is nothing is original these days but everyone thinks they came up with the latest and greatest, we are a society that builds off of each other.

  • http://www.q3tech.com Software Product Development

    I personally don’t believe in the concept of paid links.. They don’t carry real value !

    • http://www.SEO-writer.ca David Leonhardt

      You personally don’t believe in the concept of reading the article. Your comment doesn’t carry real value!

      • http://docsheldon.com Doc Sheldon

        Don’t be so harsh, David. He only wanted to drop his “name”. ;)

  • http://www.SEO-writer.ca David Leonhardt

    This is awesome! Now when I see a billboard as I am driving down the highway, I will get to pay to point to it. And when I get home and recount the funny thing the DJ said on the radio, I can pay the radio station to do so. And if I send a link to this article by email to a friend, I could pay for that, too. And if I mention “eggs” in a conversation this evening, I’ll send a check to…to…oh, my God! How will I know where to send the check?!?

  • http://docsheldon.com Doc Sheldon

    I think this is one of the stupidest notions I’ve heard in some time (and we all know – stupid notions arise on the ‘net by the bushel).

    The internet isn’t owned by anyone, and a hyperlink is no different than a line on a map depicting a highway, IMO. CEN would have a difficult time enforcing an invoice for “fair use” excerpts of their articles… why should a link to them rate more consideration?

    If any brain-addled judge gives credence to such a claim (and if one does, you can bet it’ll be a European judge), it will unleash a storm of protest.

    What’s next? Invoicing for non-link citations?

  • Chris54

    Might be the wave of the future. To publish, you have to actully cover things first hand. Like that is going to happen.

  • http://www.webmarketingtips4u.net TPJaveton

    Hey Chris,

    I can’t delete or edit the previous TPJaveton comment, but perhaps you can and I would appreciate if you would. Instead of the entire comment being italicized, it should appear as follows:

    This whole idea of pay-to-link is absurd. David L. is right: “How will I know where to send the check?!?” The Web is based on linking and if we’re going to start paying one source for linking to an original story (if we can determine the true source of the story), then sooner or later this entire system will be fraught with plagiarism claims, legal battles, and content freeze. This defeats the whole purpose of the Web.

    I’m tempted to say that this lunacy is being given more serious thought than it deserves, but the fact that the folks at CEN actually sent the invoice and EXPECTS TO GET PAID requires serious opposition to this absurdity. If NY Times hasn’t requested payment for linking to its content, no one should – as far as I’m concerned. Anyway, thanks Chris, for shedding light on the subject.




    • http://www.webpronews.com/ Chris Crum

      No problem.

  • http://www.rescueddoggies.com Brian Grove

    Everyone should boycott buying photos from CEN – they tricked money from one of their own clients then tried to get others to rip them off too.

    Let’s ALL post links to CEN content and NEVER EVER PAY TO LINK

  • http://www.nortoncreative.com/rubberchicken/ Brad Norton

    I am a fan of the Huffington Post. I like to see articles with back-links to source materials to see the different take the writer has on the idea.

    I try to avoid sites don’t back-link to the original article site. So, it looks like CEN may be making itself a backwater if it bans links.

    It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

  • http://www.laymanwebdesign.com Obdurate

    If their content is that great then they should be paying the Huffington Post for sending them customers. If someone wants to pay for it, they can.

    There’s really not much out there, and hasn’t been for years, that’s an “original thought” these days. Sure, there are a lot of opinions, but new ideas? Come on!

    If they’re publishing new ideas, maybe they should apply for a patent first.

    • http://www.texaslightsmith.com Saffron


  • http://www.texaslightsmith.com Saffron

    Am I missing something? Shouldn’t CEN be grateful that the Huffington Post linked to their content? I bet their traffic jumped from that link. Aren’t all these little buttons and social tools designed so that people and publications will hopefully share and publicize your content?! Good grief! Um @Brian… do you work for CEN? There are people out there that pay for links to them, not charge to get a link.

    • http://www.peppermaster.com/ Tina

      I went to their website as a result of this article’s link!

      Chris, you’re going to owe this numbskulls at CEN some moolah! If they invoice you, that is.

      Here’s my advice… Don’t pay the invoice, simply break the link. Easy.

      I’d like to hear the answer to the question; “what are the folks at CEN smoking”.

  • Ladie Dame

    CEN should be happy to have the extra links to their content. They are just being greedy. If they keep doing that crap people are going to stop linking to their content and it is going to be their loss in the end.

    Seriously, if people have to start paying to reference content in any type of publication…lets just say school papers for example, that are published online etc…are companies like CEN really going to charge them? Ridiculous…

  • http://www.eyeflare.com/ Jack Norell

    What are they smoking in their pipe over at CEN?

    This would basically not only go against the whole functioning of the internet, but also how newspapers have got much of their news since their inception…

    The sooner these clueless fossils of organizations drop dead, the better. We’ll get more quality reporting by that happening.

    And you guys at WebProNews, you did send them some money for that link at the beginning, right?

    • http://www.webpronews.com/ Chris Crum

      Haven’t received an invoice yet.

  • Garret Wong

    Hell no! But this is America, free enterprise you know. So here’s the deal, vote with your money. It’s the real vote in America.

  • SimcoeMuskoka

    The obvious question here is who is benefiting, and who is benefiting the most. Usually it is the article being linked to that obtains the greatest benefit, therefore charging for a link to an article makes little sense.

    Typically the vast majority of any benefit gained by a link, is the one who owns the content referenced within the link.

    One can still quote the article, and provide reference back to the original source as would be done in print at no cost. The only reason for the link typically is an easier way for reader to get back to the original source.

    Links allow more users to easily access your article, and typically may cause Google to rank that particular article as a higher rank on relevant searches.

    One might also ask, if enforced, how one would monitor and actually collect on any fees (especially if the site linking was in a different country).

    Furthermore, this kind of goes against the grain of what the internet is and was all about from the beginning.

  • http://NA Ryan Kempf

    this just doesn’t make any sense why should you have to pay to link websites so let me get this straight so every time I share a link on Facebook from somewhere else I would get charged for the link

  • http://www.alda-architects.co.uk Alan

    If a site believes it has opinion or information so unique and valuable that it has value then they should test that view by restricting linking, to those who pay and see how well they prosper.

    If however I can freely link, then free it should be. By linking am I not promoting them? Who gains most value?

  • John

    That is ridiculous, everyone should be thankful for a free link. Anyone that even thinks that they should get paid for a link to their site will not ever be on any of my sites, I will just remove you so darn fast.

  • http://www.lifecoachaustin.com David Cantu

    It’s silliness, the person with the bill decides whether to pay. The Huffington Post won’t pay, and they shouldn’t. I can bill WebProNews all I want because I’m linking to articles, are you going to pay me? Haha.

  • justageekboy

    Linking is not publishing. A link is just a pointer to content. If someone on the street asks me where the nearest newstand is, and I point to it, do I have to pay them a fee? I’m giving them free promotion and sending them customers. It’s in their best interest that I direct people to their newstand. Completely illogical and I’m guessing an idea hatched by marketing idiots.

  • http://hypoprotein.blogspot.com Daniel

    I think sites who get links back to them are already getting a payment of sorts: Traffic. I only run a few blogs, and it would be fine with me if the huffington post or any other site wished to link to my sites. (we are talking links here, not full length total articles). I would even allow the snippit-post with the link to help readers determin if the content is something they wanted to read further. No, I don’t like the idea of paying to link back to other site’s content.

    There are plenty of content providers out there whose existence relies on link backs for ad-traffic, right? So isn’t that traffic valuable? Sure I get to refer to their content, but they get the traffic. Which is more valuable? I say the traffic… maybe they should have to pay the folks linking to them.

  • http://www.guisemarketing.com Roberta Guise

    This reminds me of my paying for the privilege of promoting a company by wearing their logo clothing or accessories (which I try hard not to do). CEN got free exposure, yet they charged HuffPost for the privilege.

    It’s chutzpa thinking with a price tag, and sets a dangerous precedent.

  • Athlete

    I agree with others that this notion is absurd. However, a way to get around it in journalism is, instead of saying “Publication A is reporting that…” one could just say “[Description of Sources] are reporting that.” So that could be as generic as “Sources are reporting..” or more specific such as “Britain’s daily news outlets are reporting..”

    Doubt that will be necessary however, and that this will be much ado about nothing.

  • Sharyn Greberman

    If this is meant as paid subscription, then there are plenty of those out there already. My question is and would be, “Is it worth paying for this?”

    A policy like this would discourage people who may check out a site before paying and would definitely result in a significantly lower number of hits and subscribers.

  • Kenneth Gross

    Short answer: NO!
    Long answer: The question is not completely clear. No one should be asked to pay to link to an external site. A publication can post an advertisement with an “information” link and ask for payment for subscriptions on their own landing page; however it’s rude for a site to include a link to an external site which asks for payment.

  • Vlad Hristov

    Imagine that: I saw the Daily Mail article in google snippet. Should Google pay them too for quoting Daily Mail? Moreover — I saw in Google results the article from WbProNews quoting Huffington Post qoting Daily Mail… Wow! That’s a MLM scheme for CEN. Absurd.

  • http://www.CaptainCyberzone.com CaptainCyberzone

    If I pay them to link to their content (send them traffic) are they going to share their advertizing revenue with me …?!
    I should be able to bill them for each “hit” something like Adsense or Adwords.
    Loser idea! No understanding of how good “capitalism” works for all parties involved.

  • Steven

    I wouldn’t put it past the Huffington Post and CEN to have created this buzz on the internet for no other reason than to attract attention to both their publications. The only way I can see Huffington to pay for something is if it’s the first place it’s published, such as from it’s staff writers, or if they pay to be the first place to have been fed out an article before everybody else got it.

  • http://mileystyle.co.uk Rachael

    NO! For example, on our site we link to certain products.
    If anyone should be charged its the “publications”
    We are giving them more advertisements.
    If you had to start paying to post a link on your site, less people would post the link, and so less people would have knowledge of the site/link!!

  • Greg

    If pay per link gets rid of the thousands of useless reproductions of information on the web I would be jumping for joy. When I first started working on the web in 1996 we had free access to amazing research and “Real” papers. Now 99.9% of the information is redundant reproductions of other peoples work. In many cases people spew out advice with zero real knowledge. Thousands of people claim articles as their own, copy text from experts and repost, or just copy crap and re post.
    I constantly have this issue with support sites and I wish for example that Yahoo help would get shut down for not only does it propagate false information but the Yahoo’s process prevents qualified people from correcting mistakes and the Yahoo site appears high on search result lists. Some advice actually damages peoples systems.
    Though I do not agree that blogs should have to pay for instant news and they should be allowed to refer to an article and comment on it. The key is “refer” – NOT COPY and pretend it is your own work. So many times valuable information is lost because the person copying simple edits the information or has no clue as to what it refers to.
    Maybe we would be able to get rid of sites such as ASK.com or the hundreds of sites that simply refer to other sites, add zero value and clutter up searches.
    Tough question but my vote is to get rid of most of the links that copy information.

    • http://karras-bommer.blogspot.com Karras Bommer

      I greatly agree with you, though it is not the hyerlinks that are bad it is, as you noted, the copy and paste stealing of the work of others. This is plagiarism, nothing less, and legitimate writers suffer. As you also noted, this reduces the quality of material
      available on the web. Google is trying to fight this but results remain to be seen.

  • http://www.mlmwatchdog.com Rod

    This goes against the foundation of the web and communication matrixes the web is built on. Something to keep watchdoging as time goes along. Pay to link to my www.mlmwatchdog.com? I will take every cent but I sure am not going to go buy a new car based on that income!

    Rod Cook

  • http://www.shareholdersportal.co.uk/ Jon

    “it’s a violation of copyright if a publication even uses the original content as a starting point”

    That is just barmy. Imagine if the scientific community had the same wacky ideas. Every researcher would have to start again from scratch and pretend that they were the first to even consider examining the topic.

    Should people also pay to review books or films? Maybe we should pay to quote politicians or others than speak publicly.

    Referencing and citing previous work is the basis of advancement of knowledge. Plagiarism is when you take the work of others and pretend that it is your own (something a lot of the writers on content farms do). To reference the work and build on it can only benefit the original publication. Didn’t anyone tell them what SEO is?

    • http://www.TechnoDivaTraining.com Kania Kennedy

      This is silly. If this was a precedent used in traditional publishing, we could never have references LOL. When doing research papers or writing books we would have to pay every reference in our bibliographies! The whole point of having references is giving credit where credit is due, but I think expecting pay for simple links is ludicrous.

      • http://www.shareholdersportal.co.uk/ Jon

        Hey, if they own sites with blogs / comments, maybe we could leave some comments, link to our sites, then send an invoice. Worth a punt!

        • Frank

          Very Good Idea!

  • http://www.modeltrainhobbyist.com/christmas.html Lionel Bachmann | Christmas Trains

    This is the dumbest thing I’ve heard all year. You want to be compensated for someone linking to you? The compensation is having a visitor leave their site to come to yours through the link. CEN, you can link to me as many times as you want, and I won’t charge you a penny. :)

  • http://rainbow-websites.com Lydia Shelley

    There is a such thing as “fair use”* – and I don’t think giving a snippet of an article in order to send them visitors is something anyone should have to pay for. If they continue down this track they will spell their own demise. People will ignore their “news” and find other sources who aren’t so full of themselves.

    *here is what the US copyright office has to say about fair use:

  • http://www.mortgage-investments.com Norman

    Anyone who wants to link to our site may do so with pleasure at no cost!

    Inward links are one of the best ways of promoting a web site. While anyone can ASK someone to pay to link to them, if everyone stops linking to them, one can be pretty sure they will almost disappear from the search engines.

  • http://www.campfirecontent.com Charlie

    Wow! I really hope this doesn’t happen! I’ve often wondered about it though. And, I can see how some content producers might make a case for another website linking to their content…especially if revenues are being collected that could be specifically associated to that linked-to content.

    On the other hand, the Internet being what it is, it’s difficult to imagine how such a thing could be regulated, not to mention the administrative nightmare of paying out for every link a webmaster may choose to provide on another site. Most likely, the “inner-connectedness” of the web would begin unraveling rather quickly.

    Again, I say “Wow!” I sure hope this blows over and goes away for good. I think such a thing could have far-reaching consequences even for Google and other search engines. Then there’s Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and all those others out there that thrive on link-outs and back-links and any other kind of links they can use to enhance their virtual money making machines. I can’t really say that all those sites actually do rely that heavily on links, but it sure appears that way. Just sayin’…

  • http://www.rudraayurveda.com/ Roy

    wow, it should be opposite. Instead of paying, there should be appreciation. Getting linked means more visibility, so whats the point for asking anything in return..!

  • http://www.dyslexiaglasses.com John Hayes

    I don’t understand how they can’t see the value of having inbound links and the extra visitors that go with those links making their ads worth more.

    The rational approach would be to make their content by subscription only and then no one would link to them.

  • Lysander

    Law is based on logic, or at least that law which will withstand challenges and the test of time. Charging for a link, that is, an internet reference duly credited, cannot be logically presented
    as content. It would more likely be taxed, as that action requires no logic at all.

  • john

    This is dumb.

  • Frank

    Yes Sir, if they are that stupid, i think they should be able to shoot themselves in the foot all they want to.

  • Zennedy

    I think a lot of people are missing the point here. CEN is not a publication, it’s a news agency. Its sole revenue stream is from selling stories to other publications. So it puts in the work to find and write the stories, and in turn is paid by the publications it sells the story to. The issue is when those stories are picked up and covered by other websites without a payment being made to the agency. Why would CEN receive any benefits from the HuffPo linking to the Daily Mail? The only reward for CEN, or any other news agency for that matter, is being paid for the content it produces. If the Daily Mail etc has to pay for it, then why not HuffPo? This is not just about links, this is about content.

    • http://www.theanaloguerevolution.com MrTShirts

      I’m sorry but if a news agency does work and finds out information then reports it they are REPORTING it, so they are putting it into the public domain so it is then public knowledge. by their logic if I read something they have produced I cannot tell my friends about it without paying the originator of the news. What about if I do something newsworthy and CEN reports it, can they charge me for talking about it??
      This is not the way the modern world works or should work, if this is how CEN want to operate they will quickly and rightly disappear. Yes I understand they have a right to charge for thier content but not people linking to it (and promoting it!).
      This also means every website which google/bing links to would be able to send a bill to the search engines. If this were reality it would kill the internet and the purpose of it, we would have to go back to newspapers only. Then of course any newspaper stands would have to pay the paper to feature the headline story on their billboard (with the aim of selling papers).
      I hope someone at CEN just through of this to make a quick sneaky buck off Huff, but if they actually meant it I think they should be sacked for being a complete idiot. if you don’t want other people to help you out and send you traffic then fine, have no one read your website and go bust for all I care, you deserve it

    • http://www.webpronews.com/ Chris Crum

      CEN receives the benefit of being paid by Daily Mail and others. Why should Daily Mail not receive the benefit of people linking to their content? Keep in mind that HuffPo is not running the actual content. Just referencing it with a link. If CEN wanted to raise its prices due to the amount of attention that content is receiving, that would be one thing, but it’s an entirely different thing to assume you’re owed money because someone referenced the content that you sold to a publisher that put it out there for people to read.

  • http://www.robsteele.co.uk affordable websites

    Thats crazy!!!

  • http://www.yourmealticket.co.uk/ Yourmealticket

    Jon is absolutely right. Knowledge and information is absolutely useless if it is not shared. Wasn’t that the point of the internet in the first place? That it should be a linked, open source, free, shared information resource for everyone. Not this litigious, money-centric advertisement fest that we’ve turned it into, where information is not for the advancement of humanity, but a commodity to be sold.

    Even if you think all of the above is a bit hippy, there is also the other argument brought forward by the likes of Lionel and Jon below, that web sites should actually be a little grateful that others find their content to be worthy enough to warrant a link. After all, it’s an endorsement of a site to link to it, isn’t it? And that’s one of the key ranking factors still. I wouldn’t put a link on our site to another site unless it was reputable, safe and information-worthy.

    And @Zennedy, I don’t think folks are missing the point here. The web site was not linking to subscription-only content or any other paid-for source. It was linking to a page freely available on the web, which could have easily come up in natural search engine rankings. Therefore by your rationale, should Google, Bing and Yahoo! be paying to list these articles, too? It was only a link or two citing the source, as the news item points out above, so it isn’t really a question of content reproduction at all, is it?

  • http://www.rpgdicas.com.br Augusto

    In my opinion if you already linked to the original content provider is enough, more than that is bullshit.

  • http://www.clicproject.com Posicionamiento Web Ben

    Paying to link to content is a ridiculous idea. Anyone that knows anything about the internet knows people linking to your stuff is a good thing, as it will mean more people seeing it, and higher search engine results.
    As for the argument that CEN is a news agency, and doesn´t receive the benefit from a link to a story published by one of its clients, this is nonsense. Firstly, it has already been paid for that story. Secondly, if its client is recieving exposure and links to the story, resulting in more eyeballs on it, this is a success for its client, which will result in more businesses for the agency.

  • Carl Spitzer

    No sharge should be made for linking those who have content others wish to refer too should be grateful for the publicity they can make their money off the annoying web advertisements off Windows users who know nothing of Firefox and Adblock. Paying to link will either have a perverse incentive to rip and spread content like the MPAA persecution of Napster etc or it will create incentive to shun such content in favor of those who will not charge for links to their material covering the same topic.

  • http://www.andrewsegawa.com/ Blogging Sucess

    Those guys are just greedy for money. I pity them because they are forgetting that it was in bound links which put them in the PR position they are in now

  • http://Art,stepstopreparewoodpanelforacrlispaints Mark Raymond

    I think if a website content is being used as a source or reference to content of an article in another website it does not need to pay for that link. Yet if a complete content or a large part of an article is being used in your site a fee can be charged in order to give another site rights to use this content. If it is a simple link to an article on another site no matter how the site is brought to the reader such as an IFrame this is giving readers access to a source and I do not understand why any fee can be applied. that’s my thoughts on this matter

  • Yoda

    They should pay us for linking to them. After all we are sending them traffic.

  • http://www.delishibusiness.com Arwen Taylor

    Wow! It is amazing what greed will make people do. No, you should never have to pay to link to someone. First of all, the idea is ridiculous and would impede the sharing of information. Second, didn’t a court already decide that links were public domain or something like that? Therefore, if CEN tried to take someone to court over it, they would lose. I think CEN is simply setting themselves up to fail.

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