Lunes 1 de Julio de 2002, Ip nº 18

Danish deep-link decision due
Por Farhad Manjoo

If everything goes well for the Danish news service Newsbooster this week, nothing will change: The Web will be the same freewheeling place it's always been, with everyone allowed to link to everyone else.

But if a Danish court decides that Newsbooster's "deep links" to newspaper sites violates the newspapers' intellectual property rights, the legal landscape of the Web could be dramatically altered, with sites in Europe and perhaps elsewhere getting new leeway to dictate the terms under which other websites can link to them.

A "deep link" to a site points to a page within the site, bypassing its front door. For example, a link to a specific story at The Washington Post's website (rather than a link to washingtonpost.com) would be a deep link.

Like most online news services, Newsbooster is built on deep links. When news breaks on other sites, Newsbooster links to the stories, not to the sites' front pages. But such links annoy the Danish Newspaper Publishers' Association, as they let people bypass the sites' ad-heavy front pages.

The DNPA wants the court to recognize this as a violation of each paper's copyright. This week, it's asking the court to prohibit Newsbooster from deep linking to DNPA sites until the court makes its final decision on copyright.

The court in Copenhagen could decide on that preliminary motion as early as Monday or Tuesday, said Anders Lautrup-Larsen, Newsbooster's CEO. If the court rules in the DNPA's favor, there's a possibility that the ruling would apply to sites beyond Denmark, as the country's copyright act is based on European Union law.

But Lautrup-Larsen said he sees little chance of that occurring. "We sleep really well at night," he joked. He said that most of the people he's told about the issue have sided with Newsbooster, and he thinks the judge will give Newbooster the go-ahead to deep link.

Of course, Lautrup-Larsen added, "you don't know what kind of judge you're to get, and what the exact ruling will be, but our argument is that we are a search engine like everybody else. They say that they like search engines like Google and Yahoo and Lycos, but they don't like us. So we believe this is very silly."

The DNPA could not be reached for comment for this story, but in the past it has said that it doesn't generally mind deep links, as long as they're not "systematic." The DNPA has brought legal action against other Danish sites, and in one case last summer a judge granted the kind of preliminary injunction it now seeks against Newsbooster. That site went out of business before the court could decide upon the legality of deep links.

Linking policies of the sort favored by the DNPA have been a controversial idea throughout the short history of the Web, and the issue flared once again last week when it was revealed that National Public Radio asks webmasters to seek its permission if they want to link to NPR's site.

NPR was pilloried on several weblogs and discussion sites, and Jeffrey Dvorkin, NPR's ombudsman, was swamped with mail. The backlash was so severe that NPR reps now say that they're reconsidering the policy, and that they will announce a change in a few days.

On Friday, NPR put up a note to explain its link policy: "The policy was originally intended to maintain NPR’s commitment to independent, noncommercial journalism," it said. "We have encountered instances where companies and individuals constructed entire commercial Web 'radio' sites based on links to NPR and similar audio. We have also encountered websites of issue advocacy groups that have positioned the audio link to an NPR story such that one cannot tell that NPR is not supporting their cause. This is not acceptable to NPR as an organization dedicated to the highest journalistic ethics, both in fact and appearance.

"However, NPR also recognizes that the majority of the linking on the Web is not infringement. We are working on a solution that we believe will better match the expectations of the Web community with the interests of NPR. We will post revisions soon at www.npr.org."

Critics weren't at all satisfied with NPR's explanation of its policy. "Nothing justifies it," said Cory Doctorow, the writer who first reported the policy on his blog. A site built on links to NPR is not different from "a site that recounts all the headlines in The New York Times this morning," he said. "And would anyone say they have a problem with that, with people recounting public fact?"

He added that if NPR was really all that concerned about it, it could just take its content off the Web. Or, as Doctorow wrote in an open letter to NPR's ombudsman, "you can trivially block off-site referrers with a few lines of Web-server configuration. If it is cheaper for you to pay a policy person to review requests for links from the 20,600 linkers that Google reports (for NPR) than it is to pay a systems administrator to enter one line in your Web-server's configuration file, then you are either drastically underpaying your policy staffers or drastically overpaying your systems administrators."

And it's not hard to guess that whatever happens in Denmark this week, the anger with which people respond to NPR's policy could be instructive for the DNPA. If the court does block Newsbooster from linking to DNPA sites, the public outcry could be fierce, Lautrup-Larsen said.

"I never ever see anyone in forums or in debates saying that the publishers are right in what they're doing," he said.


  24/06/2002. Wired Magazine.


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