National Newspapers of Ireland outlines position on use of hyperlinks

4 Jan 2013

National Newspapers of Ireland (NNI) said today it made a submission to the Copyright Review Committee to the effect that it believes the display and transmission of links under current legislation constitutes an infringement of copyright law. However, it said there is a distinction between sending and receiving links for personal use and using links for commercial reasons.

A furor blew up this week when a blog post by solicitor Simon McGarr outlined how a licensing agency acting on behalf of NNI contacted Women’s Aid, a charity campaigning against domestic violence, because it included a link to a newspaper article on its website.

The licensing agency informed Women’s Aid it required a licence in order to use a link, starting €300 per link.

The revelation that Irish newspapers were going to charge for links sparked a significant amount of commentary online.

Since links are pretty much the lingua franca of the web today, the story was picked up by Forbes, The Guardian, TechCrunch, The New York Observer, BoingBoing, TechDirt and MediaGazer.

In fact, every time an individual reader of a national newspaper website in Ireland clicks on a Facebook or Twitter button contained on each and every news story they generate a message containing clickable hypertext link to the article concerned and they would then propagate it out to their friends on social media.

In a statement this afternoon, NNI – representing newspapers such as The Irish Times, Irish Examiner and Irish Independent – confirmed it had made a submission to the Copyright Review Committee appointed by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton, TD.

The committee itself has divided views on whether the display of hypertext links is in itself an infringement of copyright.

In a statement, NNI said: “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 online and that our members have no issue with that.

“While NNI and its members welcome any discussion and debate about the way in which creative content should be viewed and shared online, the discussion which has taken place over the last few days has not correctly reflected our practice or views. Our members do not, and have never, suggested that a licence might be taken for anyone copying newspaper content for personal use.

“When organisations wish to use and exploit the original, creative content generated by newspapers for their own commercial purposes, it is both in accordance with law, and entirely reasonable, that they should seek prior permission in order to do so,” NNI said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years