Opinion

Felix Salmon

The user-hostile FT

By Felix Salmon
November 22, 2010

John Gruber wrote the definitive article about “Tynt, the Copy/Paste Jerks,” back in May. Tynt is the company which adds what Gruber quite rightly calls “a bunch of user-hostile SEO bullshit” to your clipboard every time you copy text from a website; most of the time that text comprises a unique link back to the post in question.

In the annals of Tynt-based user hostility, however, I suspect that FT.com has now won some kind of prize. For one thing, their addition comes before, not after, the text you’re trying to copy. And what’s more, it actually tells you that you’re in breach of the website’s terms and conditions. Here’s an example:

Please use the link to reference this article. Do not copy & paste articles which is a breach of FT.com’s Ts&Cs (www.ft.com/servicestools/help/terms) and is copyright infringement. Send a link for free or email ftsales.support@ft.com to purchase rights. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/f01e34f0-f5a9-11df-99d6-00144feab49a.html?ftcamp=rss#ixzz161RfBYUK

Hilariously, even the FT’s own journalists are falling foul of this idiocy: on Thursday, in his Markets Live conversation, Neil Hume wound up pasting text onto the FT’s website saying that he was infringing the FT’s copyright. “Sorry,” he then added. “Damn disclaimer.”

It’s pretty clear that the FT doesn’t want people like me linking to them. Their Money Supply blog, for instance, after disappearing behind the paywall in June, linked to me this morning. But I don’t know what they said, because even when I paste the headline (“Would €90bn be enough for Ireland?”) into Google and click on the Google link—something which works with most FT stories—I still run into that paywall.

Meanwhile, the FT’s terms and conditions page gives me very strict instructions on exactly what I must—yes, they use the word “must”—do if I want to link to their stories:

These are the conditions you must comply with in order to produce summaries:

- you source FT as the author of any article from which you have derived a summary by way of an attribution such as “[journalist name] at the Financial Times reported that”, with a hypertext link from the word “Financial Times” to the original story published on FT.com.

And at the bottom of every story, the FT now adds this note:

You may share using our article tools. Please don’t cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.

Which seems to me to basically say “don’t blog this article.”

All of which makes me agree with Matt Yglesias that there’s increasingly no point in subscribing to the FT any more. If I want to pay for the privilege of passively receiving their words of wisdom, that’s fine. And if I want to use their article-sharing tools to drive my friends into the FT paywall in an FT-approved manner, then they’re OK with that as well. But if I want to use incredibly simple and obvious ways of sharing what I’m reading—copy-and-paste, email, blogs—then the FT’s now telling me quite aggressively that I’m some kind of criminal and should just stop what I’m doing and go away.

What I don’t understand is what the FT hopes to achieve with all this user-hostile aggression. It obviously doesn’t garner any goodwill from its readers or subscribers. And it’s hardly going to get extra marginal subscriptions by telling us not to link to it or publicize its content. All I can imagine is that it’s retreating to a newsletter model, where subscribers get value not only from the content itself but also from its exclusivity: they pay for subscriptions precisely because other people don’t have one and therefore can’t read the articles. It’s a sad and narrow fate for what should be a proud and global newspaper.

Comments
8 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

I totally agree. Prior to the implementation of their paywall, the FT was my preferred source for financial news by far. And post-paywall I considered subscribing, but didn’t do so once I ran across their hindrances against simple sharing. So now I have found a grouping of alternate sources.
It is truly bizarre to find a business, especially a “virtual goods” business, that actively creates barriers to viral propagation of their services.

Posted by giraffe | Report as abusive
 

I love the FT and they are so much better than any other financial news source. I support them by subscribing and I suggest you do likewise, if you value being well informed on these matters.

Posted by nyet | Report as abusive
 

Felix,

I doubt this is asking you to do anything you don’t do already. They’re not saying “don’t link” – they’re saying “don’t repost our entire article” and “if you summarize an article, cite it with a link back.”

Yes, its passive aggressive to make the copyright violation claim, but I’d imagine its rather difficult to have different things posted to your clipboard depending on how many paragraphs you copy.

Posted by AnonymousChef | Report as abusive
 

Agree that they are a good news source but that’s a separate issue entirely, no?

Posted by tedtwong | Report as abusive
 

The worst thing about Tynt (name similar to taint, which is a slang term for an appropriate body part) is that I use the built-in text-to-speech on my Mac to have longer stories read to me while I do other things. These silly scripts add the Tynt Taint to whatever text is being spoken. Obviously they don’t want me listening to the FT — the disclaimer text, which includes the text of the link, is a most annoying way to start a story.

In any case, thank you very much for alerting me to where this pernicious Taint was coming from. I just used AdBlockPlus on Firefox to shut off any script at all that includes “tynt.com.” It’s now much nicer to listen to The New Yorker, too.

Posted by Setty | Report as abusive
 

It’s easy enough to get around, especially with Chrome. As for Money supply, I’ve never had an issue with it, opens right up from a Google search. Though I do see your point about it being obnoxious, but that’s just the corporate shtick, the FT is still better than Murdoch’s times in that respect. If you’re having problems with the Google news link, clear out your cookies. Also get rid of DSO’s (flash cookies) again, this is easy to do with Chrome.

Posted by praxis22 | Report as abusive
 

Gruber’s comment isn’t quite right in this case; telling you that the only words you can link to any FT story is “Financial Times” is definitely not SEO.

Posted by dWj | Report as abusive
 

Good article, Felix. I had a pop at the FT’s “embedded” approach to financial coverage in this blog post…. http://www.ianfraser.org/embedded-financ ial-journalism-at-its-worst/

Posted by IanFraser | Report as abusive
 

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