The Right To Link

Legal pressures on linking continue to increase. The RIAA, The Mormons, Napster, these are just a few of the lawsuits that appear to be testing the legalities of the WWW itself. Will a legal ruling in the United States have any effect on the WWW? After all, it is the WORLD WIDE web, not the USW. As large corporations, with deep pockets, fight to keep the power and influence they are used to, they increasingly lash out (legally) at the web. Regardless of the outcome, the web may be changed by lawsuits sometime soon.

If linking becomes illegal, even in some instances, what will become of the net?
If a site is “illegal”, how do you find it?
Do sites that link to it become illegal also?
If it becomes illegal to link to illegal, immoral, or somehow just wrong web pages, will it become illegal to link to someone who then in turn links to objectionable content. Where will the lines be drawn?

This could lead to someone suing yahoo, because yahoo links to LISNews, LISNews links to, and links to (the site in question).
Yahoo, no doubt has the deepest pockets, guess who would get sued?

But isn’t this done everyday by traditional media outlets?
Think of it another way, phonebooks, magazines and newspapers do this sort of thing everyday. They are not exactly linking to illegal MP3’s, but the have ads for escort service, head shops, and other things. Now these are generally companies that are doing something that is illegal, or at least, not entirely legal.

There is a difference between speech and exploitation. It is just plain illegal to download and use an MP3 that you did not buy, and probably should be. Artists deserve some kind of compensation for their work, and royalties on CD sales are one way they make a few bucks. Napster is making (or will make) money on other people’s hard work. How?

If I make a copy of a CD I bought and then sell it, I am breaking law. I made money on someone else’s hard work. Now sites and services like, and Napster are selling a service, or a programming (supported with ad sales, not exactly selling, but they are making or will make money on others work) that lets you get other peoples work for free, and they make money on it.

Freedom of speech is not without limits Maybe the web needs some kind of limits set on linking. If the intent of something is to break the law, or leads to a broken law, maybe it shouldn\'t matter that it\'s just a link. After all a link is really just a mechanism that someone uses to obtain information. The courts have ruled time and again that freedom of speech is not without its limits. If a law allows punishment of intent, and not the links themselves, the law may not be so bad. Will any laws that are passed make any sense, or be enforced in any meaningful way?

Can we trust lawyers and judges to write a fair and well balanced law that will allow liking to remain untouched, and still punish those who hide behind the internet and free speech to commit crimes, however trivial they may be?
Probably not.

In my opinion, linking needs to remain free of any constraints, laws, restrictions, or rules. The WWW and the Internet depend on linking. The amazing wealth and success generated since 1994 has been due to, in no small part, the freedom to link. No country can, or should be allowed to, take away this now fundamental freedom of the web.

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