Weren’t incoming links a good thing?! Newspaper Licensing Ireland’s unusual view.
You might be already aware of the recent article by solicitor Simon McGarr, titled 2012: The year Irish newspapers tried to destroy the web and related to a dispute between National Newspapers of Ireland’s subsidiary, Newspaper Licensing Ireland, and the domestic violence charity Women’s Aid, in relation to whether a newspaper can claim copyright for a link to its content if this is done “for commercial purposes”.
McGarr’s article and the subsequent buzz have spurred NLI to publish a follow-up statement – which however reaffirms how their “view of existing legislation is that the display and transmission of links does constitute an infringement of copyright”.
A recent article on The Irish Times has recounted the story mentioning also a statement from The Irish Times itself, which partially distances the newspaper from the position expressed by NLI, as it recognizes that “linking is the lifeblood of the online world and we encourage our digital community to share links as widely as possible. Therefore, The Irish Times does not see links as copyrightable and will not attempt to impose any restrictions on the posting elsewhere on the Internet of mere URLs that refer to its content”.
NLI’s controversial view on links and copyright clashes dramatically with the notion of links as fundamental elements of the World Wide Web, as well as one of the most important and beneficial factors for a webpage ranking in search results.
At the base, there seems to be a misconception on what hyperlinks (or simply links) are. A link is essentially a clickable element (an anchor) on a web document, which takes you to another document or another part of the same document, following a reference – a URL (Uniform Resource Locator) – that tells you where this other resource is.
In her article on The Irish Times, Laura Slattery reports Mr McGarr saying to RTE’s Morning Ireland that “a link is equivalent to, say, a Dewey Decimal number in a library – it tells you where the book is, but it’s not the book”.
Using the same metaphor, it would be more accurate to say that a URL is the equivalent of a Dewey Decimal number in a library, whereas a link, more than just telling you “where the book is”, actually takes you to it, if followed.
In any case, yes, the idea that a newspaper can claim copyright for a link directed to its content is of quite radical absurdity in light of what the Web is and has been so far.