The Web is replete with articles this week scoffing at the efforts of the New York Times to place its online content behind a metered pay wall. Let me say a few words in the Times' defense.
The Times - arguably the greatest newspaper in the world -- is allowing readers to see 20 stories for free in a month, and then asking for a subscription to see more content, with charges ranging from $15 to $35 every four weeks. Subscribers to the print product get full unfettered access. Links from search engines and social media will not be blocked.
Publisher Arthur Sulzberger wrote a letter explaining the pay wall, which said, in part: "...the introduction of digital subscriptions is an investment in our future. It will allow us to develop new sources of revenue to strengthen our ability to continue our journalistic mission as well as undertake digital innovations that will enable us to provide you with high-quality journalism on whatever device you choose."
Critics and hackers immediately challenged the pay wall.
"The bottom line is anyone who wants to get through this pay wall can do it as easily as tweeting themselves a link to whatever they want to read," said Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of the tech blog Search Engine Land. Sullivan noted that all one has to do to beat the pay wall is to change browsers, or enter through certain search engines.
A Canadian program released on the Web a "bookmarklet," which allows web browsers to bypass the pay wall in one click. Another hacker created a Twitter account @FreeNYT that allows unfettered access to the Times content.
Bloggers posted across the Internet other means of beating the pay wall such as altering the URLs. I received numerous emails this week suggesting ways to subvert the Times pay wall.
Web techies have publicly traded scoffs that the New York Times had spent a reported $40 million in pay wall technology that can be skirted simply by clearing cookies.
I think some people are missing the point.
The New York Times has formally announced that its content is no longer totally free. The publisher makes the valid point that the newspaper needs to get paid if it is going to continue to produce high-quality journalism. I'd hate to see the day that the New York Times was no longer a great journalistic institution.
Just because the pay wall technology isn't perfect - and hackers can bypass it easily -- doesn't mean the Times gives up its legal rights.
U.S. copyright law's main purpose is a "recognition of the rights of authors in order to motivate them to create, disseminate and in other ways develop their work," wrote Douglas Gary Lichtman, UCLA professor of law.
I lived in a small northern Montana town for 17 years. Many of the locals didn't lock their vehicles, some left the keys in the ignition, and a few of us - in the dead of winter - would leave our vehicles running while we ran into the IGA for a loaf of bread, or stopped by the Post Office to pick up our mail.
But we still owned our vehicles. A thief who drove off in a vehicle was still a thief.
The Internet is something of the Wild, Wild West. Some believe there are no property rights, and that everything on the Web is free to be scraped and repurposed, regardless of state and federal laws, and regardless of basic principles of what is right and wrong.
Just because the locks on the doors aren't fool-proof is no excuse for theft.
Journalism in this country is struggling as the old print newspaper model struggles. The Times and other papers are trying to be paid for their work.
Some critics say that it's a good thing the Times pay wall is porous, because a true block would kill the Times' web traffic. It is sad, as the Onion quipped, that: "NYTimes.com's extremely risky new approach to commerce --wherein legal tender must be exchanged in order to receive a desired service -- could drastically reduce the publication's readership."