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Nando.net updates Web strategy

The daily news aggregator is providing free email and trying to charge other sites that link to its stories--all part of the struggle to turn a profit.

Daily news aggregator Nando.net is getting creative in its struggle to turn a profit.

Today the site announced that it will provide its users with free email accounts. The idea is to keep users on the Nando site longer and also to give them reason to keep coming back.

Nando also recently requested that certain sites pay a $100 monthly fee for the right to link to Nando stories.

"We have an audience, and our mission is to provide them with news and information services to meet their needs," said Nando president Christian Hendricks. The free email services also will be available to other sites that are part of Nando's parent company, McClatchy Newspapers.

Nando aggregates news headlines from sources including the Associated Press, Reuters, the Christian Science Monitor, and the New York Times Syndicate. It also includes original reporting.

The site boasts 3.5 million daily page views, and Hendricks characterized the Nando business model as "a good revenue stream." But he also said the site is not yet profitable.

The monthly fee for linking privileges has raised the ire of many, including sites that do nothing but link to news stories on other sites. None of the approximately a dozen sites from which Nando has requested fees has agreed to pay them, according to Hendricks.

One such site is the 7am News, whose editor, Bruce Simpson, has proposed creating a representative body of linking organizations to fight attempts by content sites to charge for links.

Despite 7am News's refusal to pay Nando's linking fee, Hendricks said he did not intend to back up his fee request with a lawsuit because 7am is located in New Zealand.

"This is one of the frustrating things about the Net," said Hendricks. "We're not going to litigate against someone [overseas]--it's not worth our time."

If Nando or any other content provider were to bring such a lawsuit in the United States, it would stand on uncertain legal ground.

The most relevant mirror to a hypothetical Nando suit is one brought last year by Ticketmaster against Microsoft for a link from the software company's Sidewalk city guide to Ticketmaster, said two intellectual property attorneys.

That case, which is still pending, is the only one in which a company has sued in the United States for the placement of a pure HTML link from one site to its own. A different linking case based in Scotland would not apply because it would not provide a precedent for a U.S. court case, the attorneys said.

Another linking case brought last year hinged on the question of whether TotalNews could link to a story but present it within its own frame and surround it with its own advertising. That case was settled last year with TotalNews agreeing to stop framing other sites' stories.

Intellectual property experts said Nando might have a chance in court, but that it was acting against the spirit of the Internet.

"The whole point of the Web from its conception years ago is that there would be links," said Carl Oppedahl, a trademark dispute attorney with Oppedahl & Larson in Frisco, Colorado. "And no one who sets up a Web page should be surprised or dismayed if someone makes an ordinary link to their page."

An objectionable link, according to Oppedahl, might include one that libeled or misrepresented the site to which it linked or one that used an image located on the content site's server. But neither is the case with the links for which Nando is attempting to charge.

Nando's only legally binding argument, according to lawyers, would be if they could defend their intellectual property investment in the headline itself. Copyright law does not normally cover short words or phrases, however, according to Oppedahl.

"There has to be enough originality and creativity to be copyrightable," said Jeff Neuburger, a partner with Brown Raysman Millstein Felder & Steiner. "I'm looking on the Nando site and I see headlines like 'Britain, Ireland optimistic about striking deal.' I would argue that that is not a very original or creative headline and therefore is not copyrightable."