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Indian News Portal Says Thomson Reuters Has ‘Unethical’ Understanding of Copyright

Thomson Reuters in Times Square, New York. Photo by Flickr user m01229. CC BY 2.0

Thomson Reuters in Times Square, New York. Photo by Flickr user m01229. CC BY 2.0

Thomson Reuters is usually in the business of writing headlines about others, but the New York-based global media and information firm has found itself making headlines in India after digital media portal MediaNama received an email from the company seeking consent to use and redistribute its content.

The email read:

We are aware that you will be receiving numerous requests of this nature and that asking you to give a response in each case would be burdensome for you. We would ask, therefore, that you respond either to the address or e-mail address given below within 14 days of the date at the head of this letter only if you wish to refuse your consent. Otherwise, Thomson Reuters will presume that your consent has been given for the purposes set out in this letter.

Nikhil Pahwa, the founder of MediaNama, replied on the website in a post titled “Thomson Reuters: we’ll take your articles if you don’t tell us not to.” He called the letter “unprofessional and unethical” and stressed:

A lack of refusal to consent does not amount to giving consent, and I doubt that this rationale will hold up in the court of law.

And “just for the fun,” Pahwa sent a similar letter back to Thomson Reuters.

The behavior is strange for a multi-billion-dollar company, according to Saptarishi Dutta at Quartz India, who spun the situation into a more relatable one for readers: “Imagine being told by someone that she plans to take your car if you don’t respond to an email expressly stating she can’t actually take your car. Now imagine that assertion is made by a huge company.”

On Aug. 22, Pahwa wrote that he had received another email from Reuters, saying that the first message had been sent “in error” and promising that none of MediaNama's content would be used without their “express permission.”

The publication of MediaNama's letter garnered many reactions, especially on Twitter:

One commenter on MediaNama's post doubted the authenticity of the letter:

It's very unlikely for a big company to issue a non-directed email seeking a legal contract. And, that too one of the world's largest media companies asking for articles from a little-known entity (no disrespect to any one). And surely, the letter signature would have matched the email id :P For technology reporters, email ID masking should be a known thing #justsaying

Thomson Reuters’ subsequent email suggests that the original note was indeed real. Although it appears that MediaNama's content is safe for now, the incident begs the question: What other media outlets have received notices like this? Global Voices urges readers to share similar stories in our comments section.

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