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Mind that link 23 August 2000 Edition
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Hypertext links are the foundation of the world wide web and have become a ubiquitous component of every webpage on the Net -- so much so that we seldom give them a second thought.

However, a court decision in the USA has meant that you may have to pay extra attention to who and when you link to other sites or risk incurring the wrath of the law.

As someone who has a long history of standing up for "the right to link," I was disturbed to read that New York District Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled that the hacker e-Zine 4 2600 was prohibited from linking to sites that carried the DeCSS code which allows DVD movies to be decrypted.

Even the judge appears to admit however, that his order is aimed mainly at links which, if clicked, would automatically start a download of the code in question. He says links to web pages on other sites that carry the code are "potentially more troublesome."

I suspect that this ruling doesn't bode well for the Napster case where, in effect, the Napster site is in some cases also effectively linking people directly to copyrighted material.
Readers Say
Having written 30,000+ words on linking - Rick

Have Your Say

Unfortunately as the Net becomes increasingly commercialised and as companies come under increasing pressure from shareholders to start showing a profit, I expect that we'll see a lot more litigation over the issue of linking.

For example -- eBay recently sued another company which was crawling the eBay site to build its own index of auctions. eBay claimed this was tantamount to cyber-trespassing and that it was producing actual loss to eBay.

If you want to stay on the right side of the law (as it currently stands in the USA) then I highly recommend you read 4 this page at Nolo's Legal Encyclopedia which has some good reference cases and background and 4  The Link Controversy Page which also contains a wealth of cases and opinions.

My concern with the way the legalities of linking are being resolved at present is that we might end up with a string of court rulings that produce a rather fragmented framework of rules that makes life very hard and dangerous for website designers.

We're gradually building our selves a minefield of liabilities here and I believe the only way to avoid shrapnel damage is for someone to produce a set of guidelines or a code of linking practice with industry backing -- before the legislators step in and ruin things for everybody (except maybe the lawyers).

I began my attempts to get an industry-backed linking standard more than two years ago after an encounter with, at that time, a rather backward-thinking Nando.net. (See 4 this CNet story for more background)

At the time there was quite a bit of interest -- likely driven by Nando's silly attitude to the matter but enthusiasm died out after even they fell into line with the rest of the world. I suspect however, in the light of the looming Napster case and the 2600/DeCSS case, that now might be a good time to revive the issue.

What do you think?

You Heard It Here First
There was quite a bit of fallout from yesterday's column regarding the magnetic fuel saver device.

There's a 4  follow-up story in today's NZ Herald.

As always, your feedback is welcomed.

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Copyright © 2000, Bruce Simpson, free republication rights available on request