- The World Wide Web has led to new conflicts about copyright. Intellectual property owners want stronger copyright law. Web users want to be able to access material.
- Links on the web are like references in a book. But, web links instantly let the user get the document. And copyright laws let IP owners sue people who distribute copyrighted works. So, is a link distribution?
- The IP owner controls access to the document. A link only shows other people where the document is. It’s like giving out a telephone number. The number’s owner controls whether people hear a voicemail. For web pages, there are techniques to restrict access to documents. So, we shouldn’t strengthen copyright law – instead, publishers should restrict access if they want to protect their content.
This is actually a very topical issue. This article’s theme has been an issue in Europe for a couple of decades. Newspapers, especially those in Germany, are annoyed that Google News displays their headlines and links to their sites.
So, they’ve lobbied the EU to alter copyright. At the time of writing (June 2018), this proposal is under debate in an EU committee and may pass. Critics warn that this proposal would destroy the internet in Europe by requiring all content posted to a website (web forum, Reddit, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.) to be passed through a content filter which will remove copyrighted material.
As this LSAT passage explains, it seems that the EU newspapers simply don’t understand how web links work. If they don’t want links, they can just flip a setting on their site, and Google News wouldn’t be able to link to them.
But, of course, they don’t want to do that – the link brings them visitors. They want to have their cake and eat it too: they want the traffic that Google sends them, but they also want Google to pay them in order to send them traffic.
Let’s look at an example to clarify how the passage works. Let’s say I have a site, called “https://lsathacks.com”
And you go on your favorite service, SnapReddInstaBook and say: look at this great site, LSAT Hacks: ‘https://lsathacks.com’
Right now, that’s legal. You can do it as much as you want! (Please do it often, come to think of it)
The reason I am happy for you to link to my site is that I have made my site public. Anyone who goes to my page is able to see it. I want visitors.
Now, of course, I do have some secret pages. For instance, I have an online course. This is a link to the (top secret!) overview page for the course:
As a site owner, I want people to be able to look at that page only if they’ve bought the course. Which makes sense, otherwise why buy it?
But oh no! Now I’ve posted the top secret link. Does this mean everyone has access to the page? No, not at all. Technology is available to me to control who can access the page. To look at the content, you need a link and a login.
So, it’s really no trouble to me if people link to even my secret pages. Only customers can get in.
What would the copyright law change? It would make linking copyright infringement. So, if you wanted to go on SnapReddInstaBook, and post my link, you’d first have to ask me permission.
Obviously, you just wouldn’t bother. The proposal is insane. Currently, the web works because anyone can link to anything without worrying about licensing. And the content owner can control who can access the page. So, it’s a good system.
This, at least, is what the passage concludes. And I agree with it. As a copyright owner, I’m very happy with the protections the current system provides.
Meanwhile, I’m happy I don’t have to police comments. If merely linking to material were copyright infringement, then I’d have to shut down all the comments on my site – it would be too much work to maintain.
If the EU passes their law, expect to see a larger number of sites either shut down their whole site, or shut down user comment functions. There’s too much legal risk. The web would become a small, controlled space managed by large platforms who can afford legal costs. And it would be much harder to post, and your posts might be censored.
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