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Deep Thinking Eludes Deep Linking Detractors
by Marydee Ojala, Editor
Just when I thought the deep linking legal controversies had been conquered, two European courts revived the issues. A Danish judge ruled on the side of the Danish Newspaper Publishers Association (Danske Dagblades Forening), which accused Newsbooster, a news search engine, of illegally guiding subscribers to newspaper Web pages that actually contained articles. The 28 papers represented by the Association prefer people to be dumped on publications' front doorsteps, leaving them to fend for themselves in finding relevant articles. Shortly thereafter, a German court in Munich decided that NewsClub broke European Union law by deep linking to articles in Mainpost's Web site.

The two decisions fly in the face of legal and policy actions in the United States. Under fierce criticism, National Public Radio backed down from its stringent anti-deep linking policies before anyone took legal action. Runner's World, a Rodale publication, actually apologized to the twins who operate, a noncommercial site that deep linked to a Runner's World article. Ticketmaster lost its lawsuit against, and the judge commented that hyperlinking doesn't violate the U.S. copyright law. Even in the Netherlands, in 2000, a Rotterdam court supported's right to link to headlines of Dutch national daily papers, most published by PCM.

There are several issues at play. In the Danish case, the judge seemed unable to distinguish between a search engine such as Newsbooster and online newspapers. He saw Newsbooster as a news source in competition with the Danish newspapers. If it's loss of advertising revenue, one answer is to put ads on the article pages, not just the front page. That's what the judge in the Kranten case recommended.

The Munich decision is much more threatening. It cites the EU's 1996 Database Directive, which grants copyright protection the selection and arrangement of information in a database, and calls downloading and hyperlinking "unfair extraction" of information. Only databases created in Europe or by European nationals are protected. Still, should the law be interpreted broadly, it will affect deep linking worldwide, as Internet law tends to move rapidly across borders, as does the Internet itself.

The deep linking controversy highlights a fundamental conflict between community and commerce. Those who feel the Internet exists to freely share information support deep linking. Those who find the Internet a source of cash want payment for deep linked pages. In the middle are librarians, who want to quickly, easily, and accurately point people to relevant information sources. Although information professionals have a history of paying for information, if it can be obtained for free, that's preferable. For most of us, legal limitations to deep linking are profoundly abhorrent, violating not only the spirit of the Internet, but of our profession. Would it affect URLs posted on library Web guides? How about those embedded in magazine articles? Taken to its logical extreme, a ban on deep linking would be not only absurd, but also impossible to enforce. I hope the controversy can be resolved so that information access is not impeded.

Marydee OjalaMarydee Ojala ( is editor of ONLINE

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