hyperlink and paywall controversies 2020-1-15

A new approach to 'bundling' news access online? Do 'amateur' bloggers 'threaten' establishment journalism livelihoods merely by aggregating links? Protectionism?

I noticed this morning in an email from Blendle Daily Digest that when it sends links to various interesting news stories, it now charges a microamount (usually less than $0.50) to read the story. Forbes has an article on the company (Parul Guliani, March 2016). 

Obviously, the news aggregation company has set up license agreements with the various publishers to do so. The company would have to operate email subscription lists and find people willing to stay on the list (in a world where people want to eliminate mass emails as potential 'spam' – I often disagreed with 'Blogtyrant' on this point in the past). One question would be, is this an effective way to 'consolidate' or 'bundle' paywalls?

I suppose for a consumer willing to get 'their' daily news from one filter that's possible. I don't like that because then I am dependent on any political bias of the provider (although I don’t really see evidence of any in the email from this company -- which apparently has to handpick the articles).

Another problem is that blogs (like mine) often offer links to articles.  When a visitor goes to such a link, the visitor may find a paywall.  The publication may allow a few free articles a month, but some do not – partly because they can be spread among devices and different IP addresses.  In my operation and view, my visitor is responsible for their own paywall arrangements – and I'd like this to be easier than it is.  I have digital subscriptions to the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, and a few periodicals. I generally will get the print subscription if I subscribe at all, but in a couple of cases the subscriptions have not connected to the digital part easily.  It is all rather clumsy. I'd rather have bulk subscription bundles like magazines used to have in the past.

There is at least one publisher, Fox News, that has thrown HTTP-403-forbiddens when I try to link to their main site from Blogger (can do indirectly through Twitter).  

Generally broadcast network site articles are free to browse and don’t have paywalls (which may related to the idea that Fox doesn’t want amateur sites linking to it?)

Then you have the idea that the EU, for European members, wants publishers to collect a link tax – although according to a Google article that applies only to quotes now.

But clearly some media companies are sensitive to the idea that not only search engines but individual commentators or 'citizen journalists' aggregate the news with links to provide their own perspective, often for free (or with ads). I don't know how this plays out when a YouTube channel presents the article text and scrolls through it in a video to comment on the story.  Some local news stations will have disclaimers like “this news story may not be rewritten or redistributed” on their sites.

Well, since 2000, as I recall, the courts have defended mere hyperlinks as fair use, as essentially the same as term paper footnotes. But Electronic Frontier Foundation as recently as 2018 had to write an amicus letter noting that in a hyperlink suit against BoingBoing.  And there is still a case in New York State regarding embeds, which are a kind of hyperlink (Goldman and Breitbart, see Feb. 17, 2018 here).

above. Hannah Morris on paywalls, Ted Talk

In Europe, paywalls have been amplified by a link tax in a few countries, and it has been proposed as part if the Copyright Directive

What's more at issue seems to be a kind of herd health for the whole publishing world.  Companies like Blendle could feel that bloggers who offer links and footnotes for free are undermining things, when these companies need to make money to employ people – there is a degree of familiar protectionism in this argument. In time, social media platforms or even hosting companies may not want their customers to do this because it is seen as bad for other people’s jobs – this sounds like could become a 'philosophical' rather than legal threat in the future in the next couple of years.  We’ve lost a lot of ground on free speech and citizen journalism in the past few years as the world is becoming more populist and collectivist on both sides.