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Erik's Rail News

Links Are Legal

Open letter from Erik Sandblom

The legality of links has been questioned in recent years. Newspapers in Germany and Denmark have sued websites for linking their stories. The newspapers say it's not permitted to link their stories, only the front page of their websites.

Readers of will recognise that this is absurd. Instead of making a link, I would have to write "The story is quite likely to be found at," and not make a clickable link. Depending on what the newspaper's lawyers are smoking, I might even have to say I read this in some undefined place on, and readers would have to look for the story themselves. Needless to say, most wouldn't expend the effort, and everyone loses: my site becomes less useful, readers remain uninformed, and newspapers get fewer readers.

Furthermore, logic clearly shows that links are permitted in the same way as references are. As Tim Berners Lee writes, “To refer to a document (or a person or anything else) is in general a fundamental right of free speech to the same extent that speech is free. Making the reference with a hypertext link is more efficient, but changes nothing else.”

Emphasising the importance of this concept, Mr Berners Lee continues, “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.”

Tim Berners Lee invented the world wide web in 1989 while working at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory. He now works at the World Wide Web Consortium, which counts Microsoft and AOL/Netscape among its members.

It is possible to embed other people's copyrighted material in one's own web page, and this is clearly both wrong and illegal, because it amounts to passing off others' work as your own. But it is not the same as linking. Linking means that you give the user a way of leaving one page and going to another. The link does not imply any further relationship between the two pages. More about this distinction is available at Tim Berners Lee's article on the subject.

Some Wired articles on the subject:


November 2002

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