Universities slam Scoop for 'invisible paywall'

Scoop publisher Alastair Thompson says tertiary institutions are “significant” users of the site and he has contacted 27.

Universities are hitting back at a decision by press release and news site Scoop to implement an “invisible paywall” that would only charge its “commercial” users while remaining free to the wider public.

As reported by NBR ONLINE, Scoop is in the process of moving the website from private to public ownership and not for profit model (although details are still scarce) while using crowd funding to support the transition.

Under the new model Scoop would ask its “commercial users” – users that draw commercial benefit from its content – to pay for access. If they refused it would consider blocking them.

Scoop publisher Alastair Thompson says tertiary institutions are “significant” users of the site and he has contacted 27.

Universities NZ executive director Chris Whelan says several tertiary institutions have been asked by Scoop to pay up to $6000 annually to maintain access to the site.

“It’s not massive numbers but we’re obviously seen as having fairly deep pockets.”

He says the request arrived by letter and it was “completely out of the blue” because tertiary institutions have never been asked by Scoop to pay a fee previously.

Mr Whelan says Scoop sent a “cheeky” cover letter that stated this was the first time Scoop was bringing its terms and conditions of use to the attention of tertiary institutions and as such, “we [Scoop] agree to waive licensing fees from 2012-2014 and agree to only charge for 2015.”

Universities don’t use Scoop for teaching or research, according to Mr Whelan.

“Out of nine or ten thousand staff there will undoubtedly be a few that work in politics or journalism [and use Scoop] but to the best of our knowledge we’re not aware of anyone doing any research or teaching with Scoop resources.”

However, Mr Thompson says Google Analytics shows that around 10,000 unique users from the .ac.nz domain (NZ tertiary institute domain) access Scoop every month and view around 30,000 pages.

He says this is an understatement because it excludes non-identified network users, mobile users and faculty staff using Scoop at home.

"At this point we have received no substantive responses from any of the universities to our communication. We look forward to them responding to us directly.”

Mr Thompson says discussions with polytech institutes “are more advanced” due to pricing structures accommodating lower usage.

He adds that student usage will not be charged because they are not using Scoop for work.

"It is also worth reflecting on the fact that some of these institutions pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to access overseas databases of content – including full text news content. Scoop's content set is unique and highly valuable for research in a number of fields.”

“But we already pay!”
Mr Whelan says tertiary institutions already pay Copyright Licensing New Zealand (CLNZ) annual fees for use of media publication material.

Scoop does not appear on the Print Media Copyright Agency list, which means it does not receive payment from CLNZ, but Mr Whelan maintains that tertiary institution’s using Scoop would still be covered by the CLNZ agreement.

“The fact that CLNZ doesn’t currently pay anything to Scoop may reflect the fact that Scoop content isn’t being used in university courses and, as a result, doesn’t show up in the surveys that CLNZ uses to work out who to pay,” Mr Whelan says.

“We’ve written to Scoop saying that we don’t believe we have any obligation to pay them and effectively we pay CLNZ to avoid this issue.”

Mr Thompson says the PMCA does not have an online news content licensing regime in place, nor does it have a mandate from publishers to impose one.

“So Scoop is presently pioneering this area. My understanding is that they expect to have something in place either later this year – or more probably by mid next year to deal with this issue."

cgibson@nbr.co.nz

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