This journalist just taught Thomson Reuters a pretty big lesson

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

This post has been updated.

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.

That is the kind of double whammy that hit journalist Nikhil Pahwa, who publishes the digital media news portal MediaNama this morning. He received a mail from an executive at Thomson Reuters saying they would like to “use and redistribute” the content published by the Indian portal. But the letter to seek consent is effectively an ultimatum, saying if nobody responds to the email in 14 days, Thomson Reuters will deem the silence as consent.

“We are writing to seek your consent to use and redistribute certain content from your website (the “Content”)… 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,” the Reuters letter said.

The email was signed by Thomson Reuters’ head of content acquisition for Europe, Middle East and Africa.

“As a publisher that has built its business around copyright, it’s bizarre for Reuters to assume that it has the rights if they are not denied the rights,” says Nikhil Pahwa, editor and publisher of MediaNama.

MediaNama has subsequently denied free access of its content and Reuters has agreed not to use the articles.

In an email to Quartz, a Reuters spokesperson said the company was looking into the matter.

“As a media and information company, we respect and observe the IP rights of others.  The letter referenced in the article was sent in error.  We are looking into the incident to avoid any further occurrence,” the Reuters spokesperson said.

On cue, Pahwa wrote Reuters an email in the same tone, claiming that Medianama would have the copyright to all of Reuters’ content if it didn’t explicitly deny it in two weeks. Read the full exchange here.