Should You Have to Pay to Link?

    October 25, 2011
    Chris Crum

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.