Freedom to Link!

While perusing a website, you might have come upon a bit of text about you being allowed to link to pages on the site. This may have seemed strange, because most people assume that it is okay to link to other websites. In fact, most website owners are thrilled when you do so.

But not all websites feel the same way. In particular, some news websites see news aggregators that publish headlines and snippets from their articles as a form of plagiarism.

And it is not much of a leap from seeing news aggregators as a form of theft to seeing any links at all as a form of plagiarism. Many news websites have seen any linking to them as a problem. And some have lobbied governments to make this practice made illegal.

The News Sources’ Perspective

This is not a completely unreasonable way of looking at things. Most people get their news via opinion pieces that summarize news articles. And since opinion pieces are much cheaper to write than reported articles, news sources are not completely wrong to think of news aggregators and opinion writers as stealing their work.

Just the same, news aggregates and opinion writers are a great source of readers for the original articles. And labeling them as plagiarists is at least a questionable practice. What’s more, this practice has been going on since the very beginning of newspapers.

But the fact remains: news sources are pushing the idea that linking to their articles is a form of theft.

It’s Happening All Over the World

Some countries have passed laws to make it illegal to link to others’ webpages. It is seen as a kind of copyright infringement.

Spain

Spain has been the focus of much of this. It created what was called the Google Tax. The idea was to charge Google and other news aggregators from linking to news sources. It’s a little strange given that Google and similar sites provide most of the traffic to these sites.

What’s more, it is similar to stopping local news broadcasters from reporting on what has been reported by, say, The New York Times.

India

A different issue has been debated for some years in India. It is more overtly political, allowing local politicians to prosecute people using the internet to express their opinions. In 2015, the Indian Supreme Court found in favor of individual rights of expression on the internet.

But the Court decided not to rule against its current website blocking regime, which has been criticized for having no independent oversight.

European Union

Previous laws are of much concern. But a bigger issue is how they are growing. Probably the biggest concern is the push in the EU as a whole to provide a Spanish-style “link tax.”

As Techdirt put it in the article linked to above, “The basic idea here is that newspapers that have failed to innovate want to blame third party aggregators (mainly Google News) for somehow “damaging” their business because they link to stories with snippets, and then send traffic to those newspaper websites.”

Imagine a Limited Future

For most content creators, this will never be an issue. But many large news agencies would like to see others pay for the privilege of linking to their content. The result of such laws would be to fundamentally change the nature of the internet and to greatly limit the definition of Fair Use.

Today, the targets may be Google and Yahoo, But eventually it could be any website — especially social media websites. Imagine if people couldn’t tweet about a recent airplane crash, or create a Facebook post about a major storm — without paying the newspaper. And remember: this would be a newspaper that would be getting the benefit of increased traffic to their websites.

More important, imagine the negative effect on political discussion if personal bloggers would have to pay to link to news stories to allow their readers to get context about their stories.

As a result of this and other reasons, it is important that all of the internet stand up and say, “No!” And that is what the freedom to link campaign is all about.

Stand Up for an Open Internet

Nothing is more fundamental to an open internet than the ability to link. It is the link that makes the web the revolutionary technology that it is. The internet without the link is like the internet of 1987. Few of us would like to go back three decades.

The time to fight is now! Tell the world that you are in favor of open linking on the internet by putting a “Freedom to Link” image on your site. It says that you stand for an open internet where information is passed from person to person for free.

Understand, we aren’t talking plagiarism here. We’re talking about something incredibly simple: the right to say to others, “Check out this story.” It’s almost unbelievable that we are even fighting about this. But apparently, there is no right that we don’t have to fight to protect.

Be part of the fight! You can just copy the embed code below and paste it onto your webpages. We’ve created three different versions. That will include a link to this page, which will explain the issues involved.

Freedome to Link!
Freedom to Link!
Freedom to Link!

Take Action Today!

That’s why it is imperative that we all work together to keep this right. And you can help to do so by displaying the “Freedom to Link” graphic on your website. Do it now to assure we maintain an open internet.

Frank Moraes

About Frank Moraes

Frank has worked in the tech industry since the early 1990s — as a writer, programmer, and manager. He’s an insatiable blogger and “Don Quixote” fanatic. In his spare time, Frank writes experimental plays — usually involving puppets like Grumpy Squirrel in his image.
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