A couple of weeks ago, a Texas court ruled that deep linking was illegal. Deep linking is nothing more than linking to content, the very basis of the internet as we know it. The problem stems from the fact that a gentleman by the name of Robert Davis was linking from his website to content on another website owned by SFX Motorsports. SFX Motorsports argued that such links were infringement of copyright even though the content was not displayed on Mr. Davis’ site but rather linked from his site. Clicking the links took you to the content on SFX Motorsports’ own website. Other courts have ruled that such linking is not copyright infringement but the court in Dallas handling this case decided to ignore how the internet works and deem such linking illegal. So in theory, I could sue anyone who links to the content on this website. I would not do that but now the precedence has been set for me to if I wanted to.
The problem with this ruling is if it somehow manages to make it through appeals and is not overturned, then the internet is in serious trouble. Millions of websites will immediately become potential lawsuit targets. Fan sites everywhere are instantly in trouble because they usually link to copyrighted content.
What is the difference between posting copyrighted content and linking to it? To begin with, if I post a picture from someone else’s Flickr account without giving credit and the license on that photo says I can not do that, then I am in violation of copyright. However, if I in turn post only a link to the photo and not the photo itself I would be directing people to that person’s webpage bringing them traffic in hits. Posting copyrighted material is hosting the copyrighted material on your server or on another server and actually displaying that content. Linking to content does not make the content visible on your actual website but rather forces users to go to the site from where the content originated from.
Look at this another way. My Weekly Reads posts are links to other websites, blogs, and articles rather than exact word for word copies of those same articles. The first way is not only crediting the source but also driving traffic directly to their sites while the second makes it look like I wrote the articles myself.
Deep linking, or even linking in general is the very basis of the internet. More specifically it is the basis of the World Wide Web (which is what most non-geek folk consider to be the internet). If people can no longer link to content they feel is good than traffic is never directed to other websites. Think about the implications of linking being illegal from the standpoint of Google or Yahoo. Any links are now viewed as copyright infringement and thus illegal. Search engine companies are officially out of business.
While I doubt that this ruling will stand up in the appeals process, it is something to think about. The fact that a judge would make such a ruling proves that there is something seriously wrong when the people we elect into power do not understand the technology their constitutes use on a daily basis. We as a country should work to elect officials that understand the technology we are using in hopes that rulings like this can be avoided.
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