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09-01-2010

News International ban NewsNow.co.uk from displaying Times Online headlines in its search results

NewsNow.co.uk, Britain’s largest homegrown news aggregator, has been told by News International (NI) that it may no longer link to any content on Times Online.

As a consequence of this action – apparently the first change to the Times Online’s blocking policy since May 2008 – two million visitors to NewsNow.co.uk every month will no longer find headlines and links to content on the Times Online site in their news search results.

NewsNow MD Struan Bartlett

NewsNow MD Struan Bartlett

According to Struan Bartlett, Managing Director and Chairman of NewsNow:  “It is lamentable that News International has chosen to request we stop linking to their content and providing in-bound traffic and potential subscribers to the Times Online and right now it looks as though NewsNow has been singled out. We note that no other major search engine has been blocked by NI in this manner. NewsNow is not fundamentally different to other news search engines that are part of the Internet infrastructure, such as Google News and Yahoo. Why block us and not them?”

The blocking has been technically implemented via the robots.txt protocol which requests search engines, web spiders and other web robots to refrain from asking for pages from all or part of a website.

Continues Bartlett: “We can understand why a website would attempt to block a search engine that was abusing its resources or blatantly stealing content. But this clearly isn’t the case with NewsNow. The freedoms to link and quote sources and compare and contrast reported views are press freedoms on which News International itself relies. Arbitrary attacks on news search engines therefore undermine press freedom, as well as the entire basis on which the Internet runs. NI is asking us to accept restrictions on our freedom to link to publicly available information that it would not accept itself.”

In December 2009, NewsNow decided to pull all links to many national newspaper websites from its subscription service following attempts by The Newspaper Licensing Agency Limited (the NLA) to impose a scheme that introduced the requirement to obtain permission and pay fees to circulate links to freely available web pages. The scheme has subsequently been referred to the Copyright Tribunal.

Although News International is not party to the scheme, it may be the first major UK media organisation to try to introduce the same requirement through selectively blocking search engines from linking to its websites. Concludes Bartlett: “The question remains whether News International, in arbitrarily blocking individual search engines, is trying to use its muscle to gain unreasonable control over the public’s freedom to choose the way they access information and news online. These are precisely some of the reasons why we and many others support The Right2Link Campaign.”



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