News International is blocking the news aggregator NewsNow.co.uk from linking to Times Online content.
News International has told the aggregator that it may no longer link to any content on Times Online, and imposed a technical block by altering its robots.txt, the file through which a website can ask search engines not to index its pages.
“News International has for some time been indicating to us that it would like us to refrain from linking to their content,” said Struan Bartlett, managing director and chairman of NewsNow, who is sponsoring a campaign called right2link.
“We have been trying to solicit from them their reason for wanting us to stop, but not other search engines. They haven’t given us a reason that we understand.”
The move seems to be part of Times Online’s preparation for moving its content behind a paywall. News Corporation chief Rupert Murdoch declared his intention to charge for newspaper content online last August, and the scheme is due to start with the relaunch of Times Online in spring.
Another online cuttings service, Meltwater, is currently taking the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) to a copyright tribunal over whether or not newspapers can control the use of their links. The NLA is owned by eight national newspaper publishers, among them News International and Guardian News & Media, which publishes MediaGuardian.co.uk.
In December 2009, NewsNow decided to pull links to many national newspaper websites from its subscription service following attempts by the NLA to impose a fee structure. But its free news aggregation site, newsnow.co.uk, continued to include the links.
Yesterday the NLA announced that it is suspending invoicing for the new web licences for end users that it brought into effect as of 1 January. “We are confirming that licensing is effective from January 1 2010 and that charges will be incurred from that date – but we are suspending invoicing until the tribunal has ruled,” Andrew Hughes, its commercial director, said.
News International has yet to comment about any plans it may have to block other aggregators.