Towards the end of last year, Rupert Murdoch, head of News International, spoke out against news aggregators. In an interview with Sky News Australia, he condemned the likes of Google as nothing more than "thieves", intent on stealing content from his newspaper's websites for their own benefit. The media mogul has long wielded threats of removing all News International articles from search indexes and implementing stringent paywalls around all his websites by the end of 2010.
It's only January, but Murdoch has already set about putting his plans into action: On Friday, the Guardian reported that News International is to prevent the aggregator NewsNow.co.uk from linking to content found on the Times Online website, by changing its search engine settings via the robots.txt protocol.
NewsNow claims to be the UK's largest news aggregator, reportedly welcoming two million visitors a month. Of the move, NewsNow's managing director and chairman, Struan Bartlett, commented:
"It is lamentable that News International has chosen to request we stop linking to their content and providing in-bound traffic and potential subscribers to the Times Online and right now it looks as though NewsNow has been singled out."
"We note that no other major search engine has been blocked by NI in this manner. NewsNow is not fundamentally different to other news search engines that are part of the Internet infrastructure, such as Google News and Yahoo. Why block us and not them?"
The question remains unanswered by News International, and the company has not yet outlined plans to block other aggregators.
Defending NewsNow's actions, Bartlett added: "We can understand why a website would attempt to block a search engine that was abusing its resources or blatantly stealing content. But this clearly isn't the case with NewsNow."
"The freedoms to link and quote sources and compare and contrast reported views are press freedoms on which News International itself relies. Arbitrary attacks on news search engines therefore undermine press freedom, as well as the entire basis on which the Internet runs. NI is asking us to accept restrictions on our freedom to link to publicly available information that it would not accept itself."
Interestingly however, NewsNow pulled many links to national newspaper sites from its subscription service in December as it attempted to side step new charges being imposed by the Newspaper Licensing Agency, as it looks to make cutting agencies pay for the right to send out these links.
In light of this, cutting service Meltwater has taken the News Licensing Agency to a Copyright Tribunal.