How to Bypass Paywalls

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Paywalls for websites are a controversial subject, and as someone that makes a living from online advertising, I have somewhat conflicted feelings towards the subject.

I don’t personally like them, yet I can understand why they have increased in popularity. Many people use adblockers nowadays, and that has massively impacted the money you can earn online.

Publishers counteract this by increasing the number of adverts online and introducing different styles of adverts such as sticky video adverts, interstitial ads and leaderboard ads. It is something I am guilty of, I wish I didn’t have to have a lot of adverts, but I need to pay the bills.

It also fuels the trend of websites fluffing out content with irrelevant information. All those recipe websites giving you their life story before you can find the recipe isn’t just about ranking a website higher in Google; it forces you to scroll down and load up more adverts, increasing the RPM rates for display adverts.

Considering this, it is understandable why some reputable websites would prefer to use paywalls instead of an excessive amount of adverts.

I still hate them, though, mainly because I will land up on a paywall randomly due to a link on Reddit or Google Now. I am not subscribing to the Telegraph just because Google recommended me an article that was moderately interesting.

This guide will help you bypass paywalls on those occasions you need to read a random article.

Easiest Method – Website Archive

This is my go-to method as I rarely need to bypass a paywall it is just the occasional article. Paywalled websites will allow access to certain services, such as search engines.

I often find that the Wayback Machine does not do a very good job of extracting the content but is extremely reliable:

Just give it the URL, and it should have extracted the content during an archive.

Bypassing paywall with browser extensions

I personally try and keep my browser extensions down to a minimum to avoid bloat or potential security issues. However, if you regularly need to bypass a paywall, they are more convenient than the above method.

Unpaywall seems to be the most popular option available, and this is available on the Chrome web store, and Chrome extensions work on Edge. It is also available for Firefox. This extension is designed to specifically harvest Open Access content from over 50,000 publishers and repositories and make it easy to find, track, and use. So it is more for research articles, but they claim to be able to allow users to read 52% of research papers for free.

Spaywall seems to be the next most popular option, and they state that they redirect you to an archived version of the page in the Internet Archives project.

Another popular alternative is hosted on GitHub with the imaginative name of Bypass Paywalls. This plugin appears to be the most effective at removing the paywall from large news publications.

Is it legal or ethical?

I asked ChatGPT for recommendations on how to bypass paywalls and was informed that it won’t assist with or condone activities that may be considered unethical or illegal, including bypassing paywalls. It’s important to support publishers and content creators by paying for their content when required.

Considering the bypass method uses archived versions of a website, it is clearly not illegal. It is the website’s fault for allowing the content to be achieved. They could prevent the archiving of the website if it bothered them that much.

Whether it is ethical is another question, I’d argue that allowing their content to be read by search engine bots and archive websites shows that these companies are happy to continue manipulating the search engine results pages for traffic. They clearly know that some users will then exploit this to bypass the paywall. At the end of the day, the vast majority of users will never bypass it, so they are still achieving what they wanted to do.

Which popular websites use a paywall?

  1. The New York Times – One of the most prominent newspapers globally, The New York Times has a metered paywall. Readers get a limited number of free articles each month before being prompted to subscribe.
  2. The Washington Post – The Washington Post offers a limited number of free articles to readers before suggesting a subscription.
  3. The Wall Street Journal – Known for its strict paywall, only subscribers typically have full access to their articles.
  4. Financial Times – They also have a strict paywall, where only subscribers can read most of their content.
  5. The Economist – Offers some content for free, but a subscription is needed to access everything.
  6. Harvard Business Review – Readers can access a limited number of articles for free, but a subscription is needed for unlimited access.
  7. The Times & The Sunday Times (UK) – Both have paywalls with very limited access to content for non-subscribers.
  8. The Telegraph (UK) – Uses a metered paywall, offering readers a specific number of free articles per month.
  9. The Boston Globe – This is another major U.S. newspaper that uses a paywall.
  10. The New Yorker – Offers a mix of free and subscriber-only articles.

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