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Linking: A Public Amenity

The internet is creating an entirely new and creative economy. It enables and depends on better access to information for everyone. It creates the tools for creativity and innovation and it is not incompatible with selling products, services and even content behind a pay wall. Whether music, film, a game, a book or a feature article, people will still pay good money for things they want.

But open-access content must — by definition — be able to be downloaded and read without risk of infringing the content owner's rights. Like a postal address, the right to circulate and follow a web address must be a public amenity.

Why would anyone dispute this?

The problem is that the old-economy print media, by putting their content on open-access web sites, have turned their newspapers into Internet free sheets. It would be easy to say they were wrong to do so. But the pressures were immense. The Internet made it possible for all sorts of new media providers to be able to afford to enter the market. No longer did you need access to multi-million pound printing and paper distribution systems to launch a publishing operation. New voices in the democratic discourse (charities, individual journalists, newswire start-ups, bloggers) using new financing models (charitable donation, a second job) piled into the market. To compete, old-economy media was forced to follow suit.

Eric Schmidt, Chairman/CEO of Google, wrote in The Wall Street Journal:

"It is a familiar story: It was the arrival of radio and television that started the decline of newspaper circulation. Afternoon newspapers were the first casualties. Then the advent of 24-hour news transformed what was in the morning papers literally into old news.

"Now the Internet has broken down the entire news package with articles read individually, reached from a blog or search engine, and abandoned if there is no good reason to hang around once the story is finished. It's what we have come to call internally the atomic unit of consumption.

Having now joined in the new online economy with gusto in theory, many old economy media organisations are still defensive in practice. Once the masters of print distribution, on the Internet they are under pressure to compete more on value of content, than on power of distribution. But they still have clout. Even though they already restrict certain pages to paid subscribers, they want to capture high ground as possible to generate cash by controlling linking to free-to-access content. The problem is, how do you charge for something that is freely available?

Their answer is: to stretch the idea of copyright by claiming that by accessing their website from a link, or quoting a headline in a link, you could be infringing their copyright.

This may seem absurd. Don't media organisations themselves rely on the same freedoms to surf and link in the journalistic and investigative processes that underlie all the content they create?

And isn't it the website that sends you the copy, not you who makes it?

If you couldn't surf and circulate links freely, for fear that any website owner could claim you had infringed their copyright and should pay a fee, using the Internet would become a minefield.

What do you think? Is linking theft, or a common public amenity in the Internet age?

Let us know what you think.

How can I help?
  1. Sign up to our Campaign to show your support and to be informed about developments that could affect you. We will also tell you how and when you can get more involved.
  2. Inform your friends and colleagues of the Campaign. Use our SHARE - BOOKMARK links above.
  3. Place a Right2Link Supporter logo on your website or blog, if you have one, and link it to