Tech by VICE

Behind the Daily Paywall: The Site that Pays You to Read Pirated Articles

Paolo Cirio hacked into the Wall Street Journal, FT, and the Economist, and has published every paywalled story they ran in 2014. And he will pay you to read them.

by Brian Merchant
Dec 22 2014, 8:40pm

​Paolo Cirio, courtesy of the artist

The ​Daily Paywall is a new website that's loaded with tens of thousands of pirated articles from some of the world's top paywalled newspapers, and its proprietor will pay you to read them.

Anyone who's spent any amount of time online knows what it's like to hit a paywall—you click the link, get a prompt to subscribe for access, perhaps experience a brief pang of disappointment, shrug, and move on your way. Thousands of bits of reportage and information remain sealed off.

Since 1997, when the Wall Street Journal became the first major newspaper to block its content from non-subscribers, a number of outlets have followed suit in fortifying their walls to protect revenue. Paolo Cirio is trying to knock them down. 

The digital artist—perhaps best known for installing "ghosts," images gleaned off Google Street View, ​on real-life city streets—has "hacked" into the paywalls of financial newspapers to share their content with the global public. Now, he's published 60,000 pirated articles from the WSJ, Financial Times, and The Economist on his newly launched siteHe has also distributed a number of curated print versions containing topical selections of the previously walled-off content around New York City.

Paulo Cirio, courtesy of the artist

But his subversion doesn't end there; Cirio also wants to pay you to read the pirated stories. If a reader correctly answers a quiz about a piece re-published on the Daily Paywall, he or she will earn $1. 

Cirio describes the project as "a cocktail of share economy, crowdfunding, piracy, art market and labour exploitation for making political propaganda." In a series of emails, he explained how he executed the project, which he acknowledges will prove "controversial." 

"I paid subscription to the main financial newspapers, then I coded a script that automatically logs in WSJ, FT and The Economist a hundred times a day," he said. "Through the RSS channels, that they provide, the script gets access directly to every content they publish which successively gets sucked into my database on I've been doing so for the 12 months, my script has been running [a] thousand times a month in [the] background on my server."

And that's where the hacking comes in.

"To log in automatically through a script I had to hack [their] authentication system and cookies session, strangely enough all of them used similar technology. Yet, WSJ has increased they security just a month ago and so I had to get deeper in hacking them. Sick!"

Cirio has set up a donation system, wherein readers can donate to the project, to the journalists whose work you're reading, or to him.

I strongly believe that information must be free and knowledge accessible for everyone

"It's a crowd funding system, the money comes from who wants to pay someone else to read, plus other form of revenue in exchange of artworks or ads," he said. "In addition, authors of hacked articles are invited to claim payment."

I've requested comment from both the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, and have yet to hear back from either. 

As to the philosophical underpinnings of his project, Cirio explains it thusly:

"Ultimately, I leave for a question, regarding the subscriptions of those financial publications, do you think they really need extra revenues from subscribers while other popular media are getting more readers without subscriptions, es. VICE, The Guardian, etc?" 

"This project poses several questions that can't be answered through the common understanding that worn-out models and conventions are imposing on us," he said. "I strongly believe that information must be free and knowledge accessible for everyone, especially if the material regards corrupted global economy and politics, because access to it would enhance democracy." 

Comparisons are bound to be drawn to Aaron Swartz's advocacy—his activism targeted overpriced academic journals, while Cirio is trying to free financial journalism.

"So, as an open access activist, I will always proudly break barriers to access information and as artist I'll always provide settings to understands it better."