Would You Ever Pay To Link?

    January 17, 2013
    Chris Crum

Money for links. What a concept. We’re not talking about paying someone to have them link to you. We all know Google’s stance on that. If you pay for a link that passes PageRank, and Google discovers it, you’ll find yourself with some SEO problems, to say the least. The fact that people do engage in this practice, however, illustrates that links can be valuable. People want others to link to their content, because that means potential eyeballs on their sites. How backwards is it then, that there are actually organizations who think their content is so special that they have the nerve to charge others for the privilege of linking to it.

There is some great content out there, but is there any that is so good that you would pay just to link to it? Keep in mind, we’re not talking about republishing that content and linking to the original source. We’re not talking about writing a blog post, maybe pulling a quote or two, and linking to the original source. We’re not even talking about pulling snippets and linking to content in Google fashion (which has certainly been a controversial topic in the publishing world for years). No, we’re just talking about a simple link.

Would you ever pay to link to any piece of content? If so, in what kind of scenario would payment for links be justified? Share your thoughts in the comments.

There was a bit of an uproar last week (understandably), when a story made the rounds, claiming that the National Newspapers of Ireland, a group representing 16 national daily, Sunday and weekly newspapers and 25 local and regional newspapers, is enforcing a policy requiring any site linking to one of its member publicationsto pay at least 300 Euros (and more than that for multiple links).

Lawyer Simon McGarr posted an article about attempts from the organization to get money from one of his clients, a domestic violence charity, for linking to newspaper content. McGarr wrote:

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. These are the prices for linking they were supplied with:

1 – 5 €300.00
6 – 10 €500.00
11 – 15 €700.00
16 – 25 €950.00
26 – 50 €1,350.00
50 + Negotiable

McGarr’s story was picked up by Slashdot, and was referenced by media industry analysts like Jeff Jarvis, Jay Rosen, and Matthew Ingram, who wrote a good piece about the situation.

McGarr called the whole thing: “2012: The year Irish newspapers tried to destroy the web.” He has since followed it up with some Twitter reaction, and an update about the policy from Newspaper Licensing Ireland (a group set up by the Newspapers of Ireland), who issued a statement on Friday.

He quotes the group as saying, “For personal use: NLI never requires or requests a licence for personal use of newspaper content.For commercial use: NLI does not require a licence from any organisation which only displays or transmits links to newspaper content. A licence is required when there is other reproduction of the newspaper content, such as display of PDFs or text extracts.”

So, apparently still no quoting, commonly considered to be fair use (within reason).

“Of more general social value, the damaging assertion that permission was required (and could be refused) to link to another website has been abandoned,” wrote McGarr. “For the sake of the country’s free exchange of views, this is a significant development.”

The group put out a much longer press release on the matter. Here’s what that says under “Our Position on Linking”:

Some of the discussion over the last few days has been around whether a hyperlink from one website to another, in itself and without any more, constitutes copyright infringement. That exact issue was in fact one raised a number of months ago in the Consultation Paper issued by the Copyright Review Committee appointed by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to review existing copyright legislation. In the Consultation Paper, the Committee expressly requested that submissions would be made by any interested parties on the issue and as to whether our existing copyright law should be changed so as to specifically include a positive statement to the effect that linking in itself, without more, does not constitute an infringement of copyright legislation. This request for submissions was made by the Committee in the context where the Committee itself states in its Consultation Paper that there are “divided” views from Courts as to whether the display of links in itself is an infringement of copyright. The Consultation Paper was made publicly available and anyone was free to make a submission on it.

NNI made a submission to the effect that our view of existing legislation is that the display and transmission of links does constitute an infringement of copyright and our existing copyright law should not be amended in the manner discussed in the Consultation Paper. We understand that some people do not agree with that interpretation of the law. Equally, there are others who do agree with it. As already indicated, the Committee itself acknowledged that there are divided views on this. We await, in due course, the final report from the Copyright Review Committee and await sight of whatever they might say or recommend on the point.

It is important, in fairness to us and our members, to specifically note here that the submission made on behalf of NNI to the Copyright Review Committee also expressly recognised that there is a distinction between the sending and receipt of links for personal use on the one hand and the sending and receipt of links for commercial purposes on the other (despite the fact that the same legal principles apply to both). NNI specifically stated that its members accept that linking for personal use is part of how individuals communicate on-line and that our members have no issue with that. Emphasis ours.

As Ingram points out, the statement from the group “confirms that it is lobbying to have Irish copyright laws define links as copyright infringement.”

As far as the distinction between personal and commercial use, where exactly is that distinction in today’s online world of social media, blogging, citizen journalism, and content creation and curation?

The whole thing is kind of ironic, because even many of the major media corporations of the world, would like to see more linking to their own properties. Look at this case from last year where a guy had to go to court for linking to copyright infringing content.

The argument about links has been going on for many years now. In the end, there is always the question, do links not drive traffic to the content in question? There are many publications on the web who would love to be linked to more (You can count us among them. By all means, link.). Why is the newspaper industry so resistant to the way of the web, even as the industry embraces it as a platform? Is it just that their content is so good that online-only publications could never match the quality? I’ve seen plenty of original reporting and breaking news coming from online-only outlets. I can’t think of too many who would try to charge for a link, or even a link and a snippet or quote or “text extract” within the bounds of ethical fair use.

What content is so good that people should pay for the right to link to it? Tell us what you think.


Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.