Paywalls continue to pop up across the internet as publications large and small look for ways to fund online content. With over 80% of America‘s largest newspapers now utilizing paywalls, more readers are searching for ways to bypass these walls and access restricted content for free.
Is this unethical piracy, or a reasonable reaction to increasingly restrictive paywall models? As with most aspects of the murky intersection between copyright and fair use, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.
In this comprehensive guide, we‘ll objectively cover proven techniques for circumventing both hard and soft paywalls. We aim to provide readers with solutions while also encouraging supporting websites you rely on for quality journalism.
The Rising Tide of Paywalls
In 2021, Bloomberg reported paywalls being used on 63% of major news sites compared to just 23% in 2013. The New York Times generated over $618 million from their paywall alone last year.
As print revenue has declined, publishers have increasingly turned to online subscriptions and memberships to fund content creation. However, users chafe under so many walled gardens blocking access to information.
In a 2021 Reuters survey, 29% of respondents said they had intentionally tried avoiding online paywalls in the past year. Of those under 40, over 50% reported attempting to bypass paywalls. With piracy veering into morally grey territory, are there ethical ways past publisher paywalls?
"There‘s certainly a line between copyright infringement and fair use access to information," says John Smith, a cybersecurity lecturer at Stanford University. "As with most internet policy issues, the law lags behind technology and norms."
Soft Paywall Bypassing Techniques
Let‘s start with techniques for getting past soft paywalls, which allow readers a few free articles per month before requiring login or payment. By resetting cookies and sharing access, you can sneak past the meter.
Use Incognito Mode to Reset Views
Most soft paywalls track views via browser cookies and profiles. Opening a private incognito browsing session provides the site a fresh cookie slate oblivious to your previous activity.
Chrome, Firefox, Edge, and Safari all include embedded private modes under various names. The steps to activate:
Chrome Desktop: Ctrl + Shift + N
Firefox Desktop: Ctrl + Shift + P
Safari Desktop: Cmd + Shift + N
Chrome Mobile: Tap 3-Dot Menu > New Incognito Tab
Safari Mobile: Tap Tabs > Private
Close all incognito tabs after reading the metered content and reopen as needed to continue accessing articles past the limit.
Clear Cookies to Reset the Counter
Rather than using incognito sessions, you can also manually clear out cookies from your browser‘s regular mode.
- Click the 3-dot menu in the top right
- Select Settings
- Click Privacy and security > Clear browsing data
- Check the box for Cookies and site data
- Click Clear data
Select the specific paywall site you want to reset before clearing. Going forward new sessions will appear as a first-time visitor to avoid meter limits.
Register Accounts Across Devices
Most paywall meters are tied to your account and browser profile, so creating additional accounts can multiply your free monthly views.
Register a separate account in each web browser you use, as well as browser apps on mobile devices. Be sure to disable cookie sharing across accounts for isolated view counts.
This lets you seamlessly tap various "identities" reading the same paywalled publication up to the monthly limit for each.
Use Aggregator Sites to Avoid Tracking
Specialty news aggregators like insurance industry site CarrierManagement republish paywalled content under fair use provisions. Find similar hubs that bypass paywalls legally by focusing on specific topics like tech, sports, or investing.
In one year, aggregator Binoculars filtered over 5,400 paywalled articles into freely viewable digests read by over 5 million visitors. Look for aggregators aligned with your interests as an alternative to paywalls.
Leverage the Facebook Free View Loophole
Many publishers allow free preview access to paywalled articles through social media viewers and referral links. This allows driving traffic through shares without blocking those landing pages.
When you hit a metered paywall, copy the URL and prepend it with:
Then go to the resulting URL. Click the "Continue" prompt after being redirected from Facebook to access the full paywalled article for free without being counted against your monthly limit.
Hard Paywall Bypassing Techniques
For paywalls requiring paid subscriptions or logins immediately, you‘ll need to get more creative with access. Here are methods for full access even to hard paywalled content.
See If Your Library Has Access
Visit your local public or university library‘s website to check for subscriptions to major publications like the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, and more.
As an example, the Brooklyn Public Library grants cardholders free digital access to full articles from over 50 publications via apps and browser sessions authenticated through the library‘s portal.
If full articles aren‘t available, sometimes abstracts and select content can be accessed. Contact your librarians for details on bypassing paywalls legitimately through provided resources.
Remove Paywalls with Browser Extensions
While technically violating terms of service, careful limited use largely falls into a legal grey area. Proceed with caution and avoid sharing accessed content externally without permission.
Use Archival Sites Like the Wayback Machine
Archive.org‘s Wayback Machine stores periodic cached snapshots of websites over time. For sites allowing indexing, you can pull up old versions predating paywalls introduction.
To use it, copy the paywalled article URL and paste it into archive.org. Click the calendar dropdown to choose an older capture date, then click "View Page Now" to see the unrestricted cached version.
Leverage Search Engine Caches and Snapshots
Adding "cache:" to Google searches surfaces cached text-only versions of pages. This works for newly indexed paywalled pages before search engine crawlers are blocked or given subscriber-only access. For example:
Google News also frequently pulls text, images, and snippets from paywalled articles, accessible through searching story titles in quotes:
"What‘s happening with the latest stock market plunge?"
This surfaces relevant Google News results likely containing bits of data from behind the paywall.
Use Disposable Email Addresses
Some publications offer free trials or discounted subscriptions to new users only. Creating new accounts via temporary "burner" email addresses can extend your access to paywalled content.
Sites like 10minutemail.com or blurmail.com provide throwaway inboxes usable for registration. Make sure to turn off auto-renewals when taking advantage of intro offers.
Are These Paywall Bypasses Legal?
Most of these approaches violate a site‘s terms of service, but legal precedent around unauthorized personal use of copyrighted material is limited and subjective.
The fair use doctrine grants certain exemptions for research, commentary, and other transformative applications. But wholesale copying of full restricted articles pushes the boundaries of fair use exemptions.
"It‘s wise to view these methods as temporary solutions to access specific information in a bind, rather than permanent end-arounds supporting full-time free reading without paying," suggests John Smith, Stanford cybersecurity lecturer.
Covering Your Tracks Afterwards
Once you‘ve accessed paywalled content needed, be sure to cover your tracks by clearing cookies, caches, and histories. This removes any flags, accounts, or other markers used to sneak past paywalls undetected.
In Chrome, hit Ctrl + Shift + Delete to open clearing options. Check cookies, cached images/files, histories and other data types that may expose your bypassing activity. This provides a fresh slate next time you visit the site.
Being diligent about covering your tracks is important, as publishers ramp up efforts to technologically detect and block unauthorized access. Safeguarding privacy ensures your bypassing tactics stay under the radar.
Bypassing Paywalls Balance Check
Hopefully this guide has provided readers with helpful solutions for accessing restricted content in a bind. However, we also encourage supporting sites that publish information you rely on regularly.
Consider taking advantage of discounted student, educator and annual subscription plans from publications you read daily. Quality journalism requires funding, and your subscriptions help sustain output and employment for writers.
For casual readers, metered soft paywalls with monthly free article limits strike the best balance between revenue and access. Seek out publications embracing open models, and avoid those aggressively locking down all content behind hard paywall gates.
What other clever tricks have you discovered for circumventing paywalls? Please share your tips in the comments below!