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British Library newspaper archive plan riles James Murdoch

The heir to Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation empire attacked the British Library yesterday for "harming the market" in print journalism by allowing online access to its vast newspaper archive. James Murdoch, head of News Corp in Europe and Asia, spoke out days ahead of his company's big gamble in introducing charges for access to the websites of The Times and The Sunday Times.

Mr Murdoch was responding to the library's announcement this week that it would digitise its archive, which aims to be a complete record of British regional and national newspapers. "This is not simply being done for posterity, nor to make free access for library users easier, but also for commercial gain via a paid-for website," he said. "The move is strongly opposed by major publishers."

News Corp's revelation of the new Sunday Times website and the redesigned Times site is "imminent", Mr Murdoch said. After a trial period, charges of £1 a day or £2 a week will be demanded for access to the content. The archive of The Times, is seen as a major marketing tool in attracting subscribers. Many media experts have expressed doubts that the plans will succeed amid an internet culture that has widely come to regard news as a free commodity.

Mr Murdoch's comments showed News Corp's concerns that internet users would find ways round the company's paywalls. He said the British Library derived financial benefit from disseminating newspaper content as widely as possible in order to "secure more public funding".

He claimed that the library and other unnamed public institutions were undermining commercial businesses. "The public sector interest is to distribute content for near zero cost, harming the market in so doing."