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
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.
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
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
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
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.
in today's NZ Herald.
As always, your feedback is welcomed.