Earlier this month, an Irish newspaper licensing body sent a cease and desist letter to a domestic violence charity for the crime of linking to a newspaper article without paying a license fee.
In the letter, Newspaper Licensing Irish Limited (come and get us!), which has a contract with 16 national newspapers and 90 regional publications, writes that “a licence is required to link directly to an online article even without uploading any of the content directly onto your own website.”
For shame, Women’s Aid. It seems that the Irish charity founded in 1974 has added intellectual property theft to its mission of protecting women and children from domestic violence. Or is it? A law firm has picked up the case pro bono and penned as polite as possible a response. “Linking is clearly intended by reference to ‘pointing’ to web pages,” an attorney writes, pointing out that the terms of service that cover many of NLIL’s publications expressly allow for this type of link.
NLIL is a not-for-profit that collects licensing fees on behalf of publishers. The annual licensing fees start at €300 and go up to €1,250. The organization launched in 2002, which would make it… old enough to understand how links work.
Is this just an oversight? On the contrary, it would seem that NLIL actually thinks it has a case. In a July 2011 document, NLIL cites precedent for link-punishing:
In 2002 the Danish Commercial Court, in the “Newsbooster case”, held that theoffering of deep links directly to newspapers’ online content constituted a breach ofthe newspapers’ copyright. This position was again reflected in the recent decisionof the Belgian Court of Appeal where it stipulated that Google had to desist from providing deep links to articles in the online content of Belgian newspapers in breachof the publishers’ copyright. In November 2010 the English High Court in the “Meltwater case” added to the growing body of European decisions which supportthe publishers’ right to protect their copyright in the digital context.
That decision relied heavily on the judgment of the European Court of Justice in the “Infopaqcase” which held that a text extract of 11 words in length was capable of enjoying the protection of copyright law from unlawful acts of reproduction by digitalcopiers.
We assume NLIL has paid all the necessary licensing fees to cover its own links page.