Reuters Editors

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Link economy and journalism

By Chris Ahearn
July 23, 2010

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

Last 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, 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 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 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.


Chris, first let me thank you for responding. I was one of the fervent emailers yesterday (hopefully not construed as nasty) But i fail to understand the difference between discussing a newspaper clipping at a coffee shop (who is making money from it’s patrons by selling coffee) or discussing a news article online. If less than 80% of an article is pasted (usually more like 20%) and an attributing link back to the original, where is the crime here? These tactics are seen only as predatory from the ‘little guy’ perspective. I truly hope you see the error in your ways. This isn’t Napster we are talking about here.

Posted by zilogz | Report as abusive

With all due respect, perhaps you should consult your lawyers in this matter after all, considering that Attributor is engaging in threatening acts against websites which are in fact in compliance with the Fair Use doctrine.

Posted by ScottGray | Report as abusive

I am also wondering; are you going to continue to review emails sent you about this matter, or in common with most of the corporate world, now that you have posted ‘response’, you will now ignore any further thoughts expressed on the matter?

Posted by ScottGray | Report as abusive

Hmmmmmm….suddenly thinks are more clear

money, all is just about money

Posted by jarha | Report as abusive

How can some one ever on the one hand approve of the tactics used by Attributor. And on the second hand want a relationship with the people attacked by Attributor.

Saving face perhaps?

Posted by IscopeU | Report as abusive

“First, we absolutely respect and encourage people to discuss and debate breaking news, particularly when referencing our reporting.” You do not encourage this in the alternative media aka “Web”. Your actions regarding this experiment betray your notion of this being a “fact”.

Perhaps if you looked more closely at the reasons why the so called alternative media is gaining in popularity by leaps and bounds and the popularity of the Main Stream Media is plummeting, rather than attacking the results, you would discover that you cannot “bully” the people into giving you the respect which you have lost through your own failures to engage people with vibrant content.

Your misguided assault on user generated debate and discussion of Reuters content is symptomatic of the disconnection which the Main Stream Media as a whole has displayed on a consistent and ever increasing level.

I find it particularly Ironic that you invoke the term “Old Fashioned”. The main stream media including Reuters has morphed into nothing of the sort. You have become a corporate controlled entity which has increasingly become combative, biased and ultimately self destructive by attempting to use the methods such as the ones offered by Attributor in a futile attempt to regain what you have lost and fail to understand why.

We the communities of web based interaction are here thriving on the information highway and we are communicating and not just listening any longer. The sooner Reuters realizes that communication via modern media is no longer an exercise in listening alone, but now includes interactive discussion outside it’s own sphere of influence, the better off we all will be.

We are legion, we are millions upon millions, we are smart, knowledgeable, educated and aware. We are your audience as well as your critics and customer base. We do not wish to be attacked, but we will never surrender.


Posted by SHR-GLP | Report as abusive

Perhaps it is old fashioned, but to me that is doing unto others.

While I respect your views on this matter, it is clear that your business development arm, Attributor, is using strong arm, lawyer, tactics on small forums that are used by people from around the world to discuss the news. One particular website, you know is godlikeproductions. They have a rule of only posting portions of the news stories from any news website, as well as the link back to the full article.

Attributor has gone as far as to contact the advertisers that utilize this website and through lies about this forum, made the advertiser pull their ads from our forum. Then in turn threatened the forum with lawyers and a lawsuit. This is not do unto others, when this forum has given your company all the credit for the work by means of partial pasting and a link.

The RSS feed you speak about is beyond my knowledge of how to even use. We are average people using this website. We are not reporters or webmasters. We are your viewers that come to your site through other sites such as godlikeproductions. I wish you well in your endeavors, but I will have to bid farewell to your news site. Unless you have attributor go back to the advertisers and admit that they were incorrect. While you letter to us is appreciated, it does not solve the issue.

Posted by bagnarok | Report as abusive

In recent years, many people are building content sites to generate advertising revenue, and populating that sites with no opportunity for collaboration.

In this approach with Attributor certain discussion forums, in particular one of my favorites godlikeproductions, were caught in this wide net of controversy. However as a contributor to many articles there, I have not seen the kind of blatant content sucking that I see on many blogs, etc.

I am sure this has been an oversight. I will remind you many of those people who posted excerpts from your articles, most of the time with a Linkback, first visited your site to read the article. They did not generate it from a XML or RSS feed. This helps your SEO score and to drive the relevance of your articles, I fail to see having your IP addresses filtered out by webmasters like myself benefits you.

So, based on the implementation, it sounds like this Abbitrator company is a little shy on techical knowledge. However personally, I would apologize and leave the forums alone, before you get your wish, a complete block referencing your service, and then you can be invisible, we can work around you, independent media is growing, we will just make you unimportant if you truly wish to be.

Posted by soulorb | Report as abusive

Please answer and explain how Reuters endorses the methods of ‘negotiation’. That is, how they promise to contact the advertisers of websites if they don’t ‘negotiate’.

Few question Reuters right to their content but the method of extortion, er, extrapolation is deplorable, particularly since Reuters, via attributor, is targeting sites where the general public, not all savvy to DMCA rules cut and paste too many words or all the article.

Even if the administrators fix the post or delete it, the methods of Reuters doesn’t allow this as a reasonable solution.

The only method Reuters via Attributor is allowing is pay up or be attacked financially.

Posted by tdtracy | Report as abusive

Your blog is misrepresenting Attributor’s behavior in two ways:

1) Attributor is aggressively threatening discussion forums in which a poster occasionally posts too much of a Reuters article. Discussion forum moderators have rules against such behavior, and delete or truncate such posts as they find them, but they cannot possibly police every thread in real-time.

This dilemma is very similar to that of YouTube, which removes copyrighted video as much as it can but cannot possibly prevent the posting of every single infringing video.

2) Attributor is aggressively threatening discussion forums that are essentially non-profit, selling ads only to the extent necessary to pay hosting fees. It is deceptive and unfair to claim that they are “monetizing” your articles just because they are doing what’s necessary to maintain the discussion forum itself.

Indeed, independent discussion forums would certainly prefer not to accept any ads at all, because the very appearance of such ads could inhibit the free criticism of the actions of the sponsoring corporations. But realistically, people are just not willing to subscribe to discussion forums in numbers and dollars sufficient to maintain the site.

Posted by Auroran | Report as abusive

I think you are making a serious mistake. By using a third party shakedown artist like attributor, you are going to run off a lot of people.

I was sent to this blog by a site you are trying to shakedown for money for linking…


you re-publish LOTS of other peoples content like AP, UPI, BBC, Al Jazeera…

What you have accomplished, is the total scrubbing of all the links to your site. THE FREE ADVERTISING YOU GOT, as the site I used to come in on did not CHARGE YOU for the referrals…

see they sent me TO YOU… now that won’t happen any more…

you should focus on what you do best. News, content and advertising.

Trying to shake money out of every site on the net linking to you is going to cause BLOW BACK, and hatred for your brand.

I won’t visit a Reuters site again…

You are going to here this a LOT from this “Experiment”

congrats, you have lost my advertising dollar, as NOW, I will avoid all Reuters content on the principle…

good luck with your greed.

Posted by Melvis | Report as abusive

Rubbish as far as I am concerned! Threatening people with Lawyers and attacking their advertising agencies is NOT fair play, nor is it a common sense approach. I agree completely with your article, but Attributor are NOT the people to be in charge of this process.

Posted by Blueacres | Report as abusive

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