Reuters, link economy and the business of journalism

By Reuters Staff
July 23, 2010

The following is a guest column by Chris Ahearn, President, Media at Thomson Reuters.

Chris AhearnLast summer, I published a blog post that laid out my feelings about the link economy and its positive contribution to the evolution of the business of journalism. One year later, Reuters.com continues to encourage linking to the rich content we offer and even pulling interesting excerpts for discussion in a different forum.

In exchange for that occasional use of our content, we ask others to respect the hard work our journalists put into their craft and in some cases risk their lives in doing so by offering prominent links and attribution.

We encourage bloggers and individuals to use a teaser and perhaps add their own perspective to enhance the online experience. The RSS feeds on Reuters.com are designed to make this easy to do.

Recently, we engaged in a controlled experiment with Attributor to identify websites that republish complete or near complete versions of Reuters articles and have a commercial model, without a license or agreement. In many cases those websites utilize third party ad networks to monetize their audiences. Some question why we object to websites posting full copies of our stories without a licensing agreement. The answer is simple – we believe it is neither fair nor legal nor ethical.

Our efforts to identify such environments are focused on opening up a conversation with these publishers to create a mutually beneficial relationship. In the last few days, we received many emails about this experiment, varied in tone from humorous to helpful to downright nasty. It seems, however, that some of the facts are being overlooked.

First, we absolutely respect and encourage people to discuss and debate breaking news, particularly when referencing our reporting. We believe it makes societies stronger and are delighted when it happens. Second, we expect websites and users to kindly respect how we wish our content is linked to and excerpted as opposed to copying and pasting (again, that is why we make our RSS feeds available and always welcome linking to the Reuters.com network). Third, if websites are commercial in nature (i.e. take advertising) and want to post our full articles we should have a fair commercial relationship.

We have established commercial license agreements with some of the biggest brands in the world to utilize the work of our journalists, but we also have tailor made agreements for smaller publishers, bloggers and individuals to create a model that works well for all parties.

The way I see it, I prefer to resolve issues with our business development arm rather than through lawyers. That way we can find new ways that respect each other’s hard work and make journalism prosper in the digital age. Perhaps it is old fashioned, but to me that is doing unto others.

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