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.

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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.

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