In many parts of the world, Ireland and its people have become little more than a joke, just another lapdog to the leaders of Europe, a country which couldn’t handle money and could make a right mess of everything, riddled with corrupt politicians and general stupidity. The latest controversy to ensure the rest of the world keeps on laughing at Ireland and our backward ways surrounds the Irish newspaper industry and its surreal insistence that organisations who engage in posting links (no content) to industry members’ articles should pay a price (price list handily attached to each angry email should the recipient forget that the law is on their side or decide that they have money to needlessly burn). And this isn’t just being promulgated by small writers on the blogosphere, Forbes, the New York Observer, Slashdot and Techeye have all run with the story alongside other mainstream print and online media, though, most notably, Irish newspapers have been mysteriously ignoring this breaking story in favour of more customer-driven angles such as the revelation of Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy and Mario Balotelli’s shenanigans.
One of the biggest mistakes is clearly their misrepresentation of the law, which allows for fair use of material, and certainly for simply linking to an online article. According to the letters which are being sent out to organisations such as Women’s Aid, a charity for victims of domestic abuse, a ‘license’ is required should you wish to furnish your audience with a link to the National Newspapers of Ireland (NNI) list of members, as published in a blog post by McGarr Solicitors, which is representing the charity pro bono against these claims. One would think that no organisation in their right mind would send such a demand without the full backing of the law behind them. But alas, the NNI doesn’t bother with any niggling annoyances like lawful cause, and merely makes these pronouncements with the full belief that those on the receiving end will simply bow down and comply with their wish – after all, are these not Ireland’s biggest newspapers? A statutory basis is only really of minor concern. Unfortunately for them, whether they like it or not, the law is on the side of those they want to extract money from. Section 39 of the Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000 provides for a ‘Reproduction Right,’ though as McGarr Solicitors point out, no provisions are made for the owners of copyright regarding the publishing of links leading to their property. And just to top it off, they point out that member groups of Independent News & Media (INM) share similar terms and conditions, amongst which are the following words – ‘You are granted a limited license solely for your own personal, non-commercial use to refer to, bookmark or point to any page within this website,’ which will undoubtedly be removed from the website’s fine print as quickly as possible.
Besides the catastrophic decision to first target a not-for-profit women’s aid charity in an attempt to extract outrageous fees, their second mistake is their dismissal of the internet as a viable and functional alternative or colleague to print media. Let’s just follow a little logical thinking here for a minute. In a cash strapped climate, and particularly for not-for-profit organisations who have to manage their money as carefully as they can, the obvious choice here is to simply not bother linking to such content. The less links that exist online, the less traffic that is being driven to that particular website, the less people are likely to read online, which in turn can influence consumers at the news stand. And these newspapers won’t be the first to find this out the hard way. A battle is already raging within the publishing industry across Europe which has been going after search engine giant Google, in an attempt to force them to stop using their stories under Google’s ‘News’ feature. In Belgium, one such newspaper won their court battle and their stories were withdrawn from the search engine’s feature, the result being that the rate of traffic to their website plummeted dramatically. Now while the Irish media industry in this case isn’t going for such a radical approach, the result won’t be so different as they try to force other people to pay for increased traffic to their news sites. It just doesn’t make sense, does it?
Frank Cullen, coordinating director of the NNI, writing in the Irish Independent last November, made an impassioned plea for the right to copyright for Irish newspapers. A real fear, he stressed, was gripping the industry regarding the possibility of the government loosening copyright law in favour of the “rich and powerful technology firms.” Newspapers, he argues, have been a vital part of Irish life for the last two centuries, both in generating millions for the economy and part of “our democracy,” and as such, it seems, warrants an unmitigated trampling upon of the individual’s freedoms in favour of the organisation, which, as it generates much more money for the Irish economy, is surely more important. What Cullen seems to miss is that people’s attitudes towards the industry surely have an important role to play alongside the protection of their copyright. After all, alongside their advertisers, it’s the ordinary people who purchase these papers and make the industry their money.
The new maxim heard across the board is that the print media industry is dying. While this may not quite be the case just yet, things are certainly moving towards such a point with the proliferation of technology where users can get access to the news on phones, laptops and tablets without ever picking up a paper. But if the newspaper industry has its way, they’ll blindly slash and burn every bridge between themselves and survival in a bid to wrangle and squeeze every possible penny from any source possible and in the end, if this is the path they choose, few will be sorry.