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Wednesday, 14 October 2009 18:44

Rupert Murdoch vs free content

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It has been widely reported that Rupert Murdoch is very keen to position much of News Corp content behind paywalls.  But there is a cost, and it's not expressed in dollars.

This evening's ABC news reported on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Chairman Mark Scott's lecture at Melbourne University admirably covered a few minutes ago by my iTWire colleague.  In that lecture, Scott pointed out (amongst other things) that the ABC will never charge for content and that media players must adapt to a rapidly changing environment.

News Corp Chairman Rupert Murdoch has been widely quoted complaining that his content is appropriated by all kinds of organisations – Google being his chief target, but he also tackles other media in the vision shown on the ABC item this evening (presumably from the same Beijing speech quoted in the link above).  He specifically accuses Google of linking to his content without paying for the privilege of doing so, amusingly referring to them as 'content kleptomaniacs'.

Murdoch also complains that other media use his publications as source material for their own writing and this must stop.

Fine, hide it behind a paywall.  Surely News Corp won't be charging so much that every other organisation won't buy at least ONE subscription!

Stepping back a little, it is so very obvious that Murdoch has no understanding of how the World Wide Web works.  

Let's start with the name.  The key word is web - that amazing interconnection of links that brings the whole thing together - people follow links from one site to another (perhaps from Google to a News Corp web site) to navigate.  It's called "surfing the web!"  Surely the majority of News' readers are delivered to specific articles by links from search engines and other aggregation sites; I can't imagine they hold such loyalty that a substantial majority of readers log on to their site and stay there.

However, there is an amazingly quick way to stop these 'content kleptomaniacs.'  It's called robots.txt.  This a file that can be placed in the root folder of any web site and contains a set of instructions to describe what content on the site may be accessed by search engines.  

ALL reputable search engines obey this file; they'd be mad not to.

Surely Murdoch's technical experts would have told him about this file.  One can only assume that the rhetoric of complaining is far more important than actually stopping the search engine access.  

Mr Murdoch, how about you try both; erect a paywall and lock the site out with a robots.txt file.  I dare you! Then work out the cost.

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David Heath

David Heath has had a long and varied career in the IT industry having worked as a Pre-sales Network Engineer (remember Novell NetWare?), General Manager of IT&T for the TV Shopping Network, as a Technical manager in the Biometrics industry, and as a Technical Trainer and Instructional Designer in the industrial control sector. In all aspects, security has been a driving focus. Throughout his career, David has sought to inform and educate people and has done that through his writings and in more formal educational environments.

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