25 November 1996
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THERE'S A STORM A BREWING!
A warning... don't link directly to pages within TVNZ's web site
or use their logos on your own pages without prior authorisation.
TVNZ seem to be very protective of their web-site content - to
the point of raising veiled threats about "copyright infringements"
and "taking action" should anyone link to them in a manner which,
in their words,
"corrupt our site branding and advertising which may accompany
It appears also that TVNZ are "not best pleased" with ClearNet's
unauthorised use of the TV One and TV Two logo's and when 7am linked
to their sports-news pages last week, sending a courtesy email to advise
them, a curt reply was received which made it quite clear that
linking to any part of the TVNZ site (other than a main page)
was not allowed.
In a telephone conversation with John Wooding, it was made quite clear
for instance that although their sports-news pages were quite clearly
branded with the "One Network News" graphic, linking directly to them
I really wonder if TVNZ understand what the Internet is about
and how it works. Perhaps a TV station can survive as an
isolated island on the electromagnetic ether - but the whole
paradigm on which the net is based is freedom of information-flow,
which often means linking directly to relevant pages rather than
a site's front-door. Being an island unto one's self is a recipe
for failure on the Web!
By way of comparison, when I contacted CNN to get their views on
such linking they were more than happy to have anyone link directly
to their pages. Of course they have been smart enough to design a site
which is not only ergonomic in terms of graphics and layout, but also
capable of preserving their "branding" regardless of where the links
may fall. Perhaps TVNZ should compare the ROI they are experiencing
from their own web site with those made by CNN, one of the
very few sites on the Web that actually turns a profit - and a
very significant one at that.
Most sites would not mind linking to another site in such a way
as to preserve the maximum level of advertiser exposure and
branding but TVNZ have designed their site "all wrong" for that
type of linking. In fact, a further indicator that TVNZ is really
driving blind in this medium is their recent web-site redesign.
Their design has a number of questionable elements:
I could go on - but I normally charge a significant amount for
a web-site audit and analysis :-) Suffice to say TVNZ need
a little help with their implementation and a whole lot more
with their attitudes. (Note: I would have linked to the pages
mentioned above - but prefer not to "risk it").
- Frames are manditory in some places - using an older browser or
don't like frames? - too bad, we don't think you're important enough
to spend the extra time to cater for you!
- The Meta-refresh used on some pages as a "poor-man's" method
of implementing revolving banners means that if you spend more than a few
seconds on a page, the BACK button on your browser won't work in the way
you might expect.
- The Regional TV link on their "intermittently updated" US
mirror site is broken - it simply takes you back to the front page.
- Some pages can't be used without loading 50K+ of graphics,
seems they can't be bothered spending 5 minutes to add a simple text
- The "what's on today" sections of the US mirror are three
days out of date!
Now (at last I get something nice to say about Xtra), by comparison,
7am's news page includes links to Xtra's IRN news pages (amongst others)
and Xtra has had no problem in realising the benefits that
this offers to themselves and their advertisers. Likewise, NBR,
are more than happy to give their advertisers the added exposure
that comes from the 7am links - although I hasten to point out
that anyone thinking of linking directly to NBR content should
certainly seek permission to do so. In fact, it's a good idea
to get permission from any site you plan to
link to, both as a courtesy and so that you can ensure a harmonious
relationship with the operators of such sites. Regardless of the
legalities, it's always a good idea to build a friendly working
relationship with any sites you might link to.
The TVNZ situation brings to a head the very important, and as
yet unresolved situation regarding the ethics and legality of
linking to other sites on the Web.
The biggest problems seem to come from organisations
which are "new" to the net and which have their background in
alternative media. They consider a link to be "republishing without
permission" and therefore a breach of copyright. But is this the
way the courts would see it?
Over the weekend I obtained several "opinions" from US copyright
lawyers on the Web. Universally they agreed that (under US law -
which in the area of copyright is very similar to our own),
linking to another site's publicly accessible content almost certainly
does not constitute any breach of copyright.
I prefer to draw this analogy: The local suburban newspaper is
given freely to anyone who wants it (just like visiting a web page).
It has content which is copyright to the publishers (just like a
web page). If I take that content and reprint it in my own
newspaper then I am breaking the law. But... what if I take that
free copy of the newspaper and show it to a friend? What if I say
"hey, look at this?" Is that a breach of copyright? I don't
Perhaps they'll argue that it's being "taken out of context"
and therefore an unauthorised alteration to a published and
copyrighted work. Again... the analogy would be cutting an
article out of the newspaper and showing it to a friend - is
that a crime? A breach of copyright?
When an organisation publishes material on the internet and that
material is made freely available to any Net user who wants to
tune their browser to that URL then it's like one of those free
giveaway publications. If someone were to grab the text from that page
and place it in their own publicly accessible page then they'd be
breaching copyright. When they put a link to
the original page however, they are doing exactly the same thing
as ringing up a friend and saying "Hey did you read that story
in the local rag - it's on page 4, 3rd column, down the bottom".
So long as the page containing the link does not attempt to perform
"dirty tricks" such as surrounding the linked-to page with its own
advertising or such-like then I don't see how carrying links to
other sites can be a copyright infringement - do we have a lawyer out
there who can see a reason why it might?
The only possible way such a link could infringe copyright would
be if they claimed that you had reproduced their URL without permission,
but then one could argue that since it's an address just like
a street number or post-office box then it's not copyrightable anyway.
Alternatively you could use the IP number - I don't think small numbers
are copyrightable - someone correct me if I'm wrong.
Another argument against that premise might be that here in NZ,
registering a domain name does not give you "ownership" of that name
so you have no right to stop anyone else from publishing a URL containing
any domain name.
So... given the lack of any more authoritative rules or legal precidents I've
designed the Aardvark rules of linking etiquette:
- Always give linked sites the entire browser window (do not put
the linked page in a subframe).
- Always link in such a way that you preserve the presence of any
advertising which may exist on the target site (although some sites
make this very hard due to their own use of frames).
- Always ask permission or send a courtesy note advising the site
that you are linking. It helps to point out (in the case of a site
which carries advertising) that you're doing them a favour by
increasing the effectiveness of their advertiser's message.
- Do make sure that your links to other sites are kept up to date,
don't let your own tardiness reflect badly on the site you link to.
- If you have a site that others may link to - design it so that
you can get the maximum benefit from those links, eg: provide a
no-frames version to ensure that your menus and advertisements are
going to get exposure, and add a note inviting linking sites to advise
you of their links so that you can let them know if the structure of
your site changes, etc).
I'm hoping that these guidelines will (if anyone actually bothers
to adopt them as a working code) ensure that everyone benefits from
the basic concept on which the WWW has been built - hypertext linking!
Any information provider that thinks they can "go it alone" in this
industry is doomed to failure. The Net is not like a radio station,
TV channel, newspaper or magazine and those who attempt to structure
their sites so as to operate in isolation from the rest of the Web will
suffer the consequences.
Given the mindsets that I've encountered from some organisations,
I know it won't be long before a legal battle ensues between
those who blunder blindly into the realm of Net publishing,
fiercely trying to impose their own outdated model
on the rest of us, and those who are smart enough to realise that a link
from another site is really a valuable path bringing people
to your wares.
I think it's time that those "new to the Net" realised that they
can't change the paradigm on which the Web is based simply because
it doesn't suit their own ideas of "what's right". Better that they
follow the lead of others who have a proven track-record of success
(such as CNN) and learn to accept that this is the way things work.
If you want to use it to your advantage - design your site around
the fact that other sites will link directly to pages within your
own site's structure.
Latest Updates on this story...
footnote: I wonder if TVNZ and their ilk are planning to "take action"
against Alta Vista
which carries over 20 pages of links to pages within TVNZ's site,
SearchNZ which carries
hundreds of links and reproduces the TVNZ logos on their preview pages, Voyager's new
engine which turns up 627 references, plus the literally
hundreds of other web pages carrying links to the individual
components of this site.
MORE GOOD NEWS FOR XTRA USERS
Sometimes I cop flack for appearing to be "anti-Xtra". "Not True!"
I say. When there's something positive to report - I'll report it
and here's the proof!...
It appears that finally, Xtra have wound down the marketing and
PR machines and channeled a little resource into the area that
needed it most - operations. Suddenly (and quietly) the online
billing information seems to be working again.
Other users have reported that some of the alt.binaries newsgroups
have returned - albeit (I suspect) without the ones containing "sex",
"erotica", "rude-body-parts" or other potentially contentious content.
I almost thought the "Change your password" was available again
also - but when I went to use it I received a rude error message.
Naturally I rang the help desk (and this is where the good-news
starts to fade) - only to get that endless loop of: "We are unable
to connect you to our support line at present as all of our
representitives are busy with customers. Please try again later" -
which appears to be PR-speak for "thank you for calling the
optimist's help line - both of our operators are struggling vainly
to answer calls - we suggest you our 0900 Tarrot-line,
at least they may be able to tell you the odds of actually getting
through in this lifetime".
Is there really a helpdesk at Xtra? I don't know - I tried so many
times over the weekend that my phone started dialing the number
automatically everytime I picked up the receiver, but I never did
get through. At least as an access provider,
are honest about, and make a feature of their deliberately low
levels of user support allowing skilled users benefit from this by
way of lower prices.
Aside from the help-desk problems ... a hearty "good on you Xtra"
for finally waking up to the importance of addressing on the needs of
the customers you already have - ahead of recruiting new ones.
There... I told you I could be positive!
AND SPEAKING OF SUPPORT..
One web site I've been working on for a client has been suffering from
perplexing of problems - seemingly defying logic and for all the
world appearing to be related to a DNS or network error. In an incredible
contrast with Xtra's helpline, the guys from
a not inconsiderable amount of time working with me over the weekend
to try and resolve the problem.
Turns out that it wasn't a problem with the network or anything to
do with Actrix but a very subtle problem with Netscape. A public
"thank you" to the Actrix team for placing the customer first
and continuing to provide levels of service which are certainly more
the exception than the rule in this industry. It's not often that I
hand out bouquets but sometimes you've just got to acknowledge when
a company has the kind of attitude that deserves positive recognition.
UNSOLICITED COMMERCIAL EMAIL - A FOLLOWUP
I've received a number of comments from people asking about my
There have been NO negative responses and nobody has had any
problems following the simple instructions in my SIG. What has
happened is that the amount of junk email I've been getting has
dropped by almost half - in the period of a week. At this stage
I'm hesitantly saying that this technique might just provide the
relief I was looking for. I'm sure that there's plenty of scope
for someone to "commercialise" a service such as this if it turns
out to be a viable medium to long-term solution.
A LITTLE CHANGE
The observant amongst you will have noticed that this week's Aardvark
looks a little different. I've removed the background graphic because
some people have been having trouble reading the text. For some
reason, a very few browser/video-card combinations were displaying a
completely grey background which produced a very low contrast with
the black text. Now, if you've got MSIE3 or NS3 you'll still get
the grey strip while users of older browsers will have a totally
RIGHT OF REPLY
FROM THE "I CAN'T BELIEVE IT'S TRUE" DEPARTMENT:
Observations from the Clear Home and Small Office Computer Show....
A long-legged girl in a miniskirt (or maybe it was just a wide belt)
walked up to me and handed me a piece of paper on
which were printed the words "I hug" - I was about to fall to my
knees to give a prayer of thanks...
until I realised it was just a brochure for a flat-rate ISP - damn!
At PC Pete's stand they were proudly advertising a "show special" for
HP 690C inkjet printers at $549+GST. They couldn't figure out why
sales were so slow - the neigbouring stand was specialing the same
printer for $499+GST
Xtra were giving away free drink coasters to anyone who wasn't fast
enough to get out of the way. They're very decorative, if you turn them
shiny-side up. I especially like the way they've made them look
just like a CD-ROM.
I really can't believe it's true that people are prepared to pay $7
to get into a show where you instantly become fodder for hundreds of
hyped-up sales-geeks touting stuff you probably don't really need and
almost certainly can't afford.
So You Don't Forget!
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