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Strategic insights
Breaking the New York Times Paywall

Written by on March 24, 2011

I have received quite a lot of emails/tweets from people pointing me towards ways to break the NY Times paywall.

From the "@freeNYTimes" twitter account that aggregates all articles and thus provides free access to all content. To articles like "Am I Violating The DMCA By Visiting The NYTimes With NoScript Enabled?" Or, simply to this Greasemonkey script that removes the paywall altogether.

But I have very mixed feelings about it all.

On one hand, I am chocked about the way the paywall is implemented (simple javascript-CSS layering). It is not really a system. It is rather "a suggestion." There are so many ways to break it, that some people are likely to do so without even knowing it.

But, on the other hand, it clearly illustrates the problem and the destructive culture of the internet.

Just because you can take something, without paying, doesn't mean you should!

The New York Times have put a price tag on their product. You get 20 articles for free, after that you have to pay. We can debate if it is the right price, if the product is valuable, or if the implementation is too complex.

But, nobody has the right to just take the content. Just as you are not allowed to just take a shirt hanging outside a clothing store.

Taking paid for content without paying for it, is theft. It doesn't matter if it is not adequately protected.

People say, "but why should I pay when everyone else are giving away their news for free?" Well, fine. Don't pay. Don't read The New York Times, go to all the other sites instead.

I wrote about this problem in "The Rights of People." Essentially, if you don't pay, you don't get to do anything. You don't have the right to tell other companies what price to set, or what product to make. You can suggest a price, but the seller maintains all the rights until you have paid for it.

But once you pay, everything turns upside down. Now it is the buyer who has all the right. The seller has no right to tell you how to use their product.

It is the same with the NY Times. If you don't pay, you don't have any rights. You make suggestions. You can complain. You can write articles about it (like I did). But, you have no rights. It is entirely up to the NY Times if they want to listen.

Once you pay, you can do anything you want (short of republishing it, of course).

I personally do not think The New York Times' metering system is useful. It is way too complex, and it punished loyal readers instead of rewarding them (because they have to pay, while infrequent readers don't).

But that doesn't mean I, or anyone else, can just take the content anyway.

The media industry cannot fight content piracy (just look at the music industry), but we can change the culture.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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