The Times they are a charging (well sort of)

New York Times

As I was researching ideas for another post I came across a seemingly in-congruent approach to providing access to published content.

I wanted to refresh my memory about an article I had read in the New York Times Magazine about a professor who was found guilty of falsifying scientific data for many years. The heart of the article was about this man’s student assistant who bravely went forward with his suspicions about the celebrated researcher, risking his own future employment prospects.

I knew it was published in 2006 which meant it was not in any of the databases our school subscribes to. Also, I could not remember a single name, school or clearly identifying part of the story so I just started tossing words in to Google like “falsified data”, “new york times”, “student assistant”, etc.

After not getting any usefull results, my inner information professional finally kicked in and I realised I should just go to the Times’ magazine site and type in those terms.

When I did, I got a link to the article I wanted. Unfortunately, it was being offered through their TimesSelect pay archive. Being both cheap and too lazy to sign-up for their free preview, I decided to do one last search in Google now that I was able to see the names of the professor and the writer of the article. Maybe the complete article could be found somewhere in cyberspace.

I was not surprised that the first result of my search was to the New York Times site but I was surprised that when I clicked on the link it took my to a page which provided the complete text of the article.

Is it just me, or does it not make sense for the New York Times to provide free access to an article on one part of its web site and to put it behind a paywall on another part?

This reminded me of another instance when I was looking for an article that was not in our databases. I went to the publisher’s site and it stated that back issues of their magazine could only be read by subscribers who logged-in with their user name and password. Out of curiosity I typed in key bibliographic info about the article I wanted in to Google and low and behold I got a link to the article PDF right on the publisher’s web site.

The URL of the article was incredibly basic, something like:

I’m a total noobie when it comes to understanding secure server technology but I know from our subscription databases that the URLs that appear in the browser (when you click on one of the articles) are incredibly long, with endless strings of numbers and symbols.

In the case of this article and the New York Times article, could some overzealous attorney claim that Google is surreptitiously providing access to content not intended to be made available for free?

 Update September 2007: NY Times’ Brave Change: Opening Archives