Links and law

By Nick Holmes on December 19, 2005
Comments Off on Links and law
Filed under Internet law

Tim Berners-Lee, father of the web, has published his first blog post as a member of the Decentralized Information Group (DIG) blog. DIG explores technical, institutional, and public policy questions necessary to advance the development of global, decentralized information environments.

He points to his Design Issues writings as the home of his previous “blog”. It is interesting to note that in 1997 he posted a piece about Links and Law: Myths.

The myths he then debunked were these:

  • A normal link is an incitement to copy the linked document in a way which infringes copyright
  • Making a link to a document makes your document more valuable and therefore is a right for which you should pay
  • Making a link to someone’s publicly readable document is an infringement of privacy

In conclusion he wrote:

There are some fundamental principles about links on which the Web is based. These principles allow the world of distributed hypertext to work. Lawyers, users and technology and content providers must all agree to respect these principles which have been outlined.

It is difficult to emphasize how important these issues are for society. The first amendment to the Constitution of the United States, for example, addresses the right to speak. The right to make reference to something is inherent in that right. On the web, to make reference without making a link is possible but ineffective – like speaking but with a paper bag over your head.

Many information providers continue to try to subvert these principles. For example TimesOnline seeks to impose on you the obligation not to “set up links from any website controlled by you to any Micro Site, except to the home page of a particular Website, without our express written permission”. So I should not, for example, link directly to this recent article by Richard Susskind on the Government website boom.