Date: Sun, 23 Feb 1997 17:33:33 -0500 (EST)
Subject: SLAC: be careful where you link

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           The SLAC Bulletin    /    2-23-97 
 From the authors of Sex, Laws and Cyberspace 

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              by Jonathan Wallace

There has been an alarming trend recently to hold Web publishers 
liable for the contents of pages to which they link.

--The Software Publishers' Association policy on Internet software 
providers stated that the organization would regard as a "contributory 
copyright infringer" anyone whose Web page linked to materials on 
software piracy.

--Solid Oak Software, publisher of Cybersitter, a blocking program, 
says it will block any Web pages which merely link to other pages 
on its banned list--and has carried out its threat on several occasions,
including blocking The Ethical Spectacle, .

--The publishers of German and Dutch Web pages have been 
subjected to legal investigation for linking to Radikal, a publication 
banned in Germany.

--A Scottish newspaper has been banned from linking to the pages 
of another newspaper, on the grounds that it is trying to pass the 
other's content off as its own.

A link does not imply approval of the material at the other end. I may 
link to material of which I greatly disapprove; The Spectacle's links 
pages,, include links to Ernst 
Zundel's Holocaust denial pages and to the Patriot militia ftp site. I 
may not read everything to which I have linked in its entirety, and of 
course, the content may have changed after I set up the link.

Like other Net-related legal incidents of the past few years, any attempt 
to hold Web page publishers responsible for other people's pages is 
due to a naive assumption that the Net, as a communications medium, 
bears no analogy to anything that has gone before. In fact, as we point 
out in our book, the Net is analogous to print media in many pertinent 

Here is another parallel: a link is a footnote, referencing someone else's 
work. Like a footnote, it does not imply approval of the other's work. 
A footnote does not represent that the writer has read the other work 
in its entirety. A footnote certainly is not an attempt to pass the other 
writer's work off as one's own.

A footnote in an investigative book on software piracy to "The Pirate's 
Manual" would not be construed as a contributory copyright infringement. 
A reference in The New York Times to an article in the Wall Street 
Journal would not be seen as an attempt by the Times to claim the Journal 
article as its own. An attempt by a library to ban a scholarly work on 
French literature because it contained footnotes to works of Sade that the 
library does not carry, would not be tolerated. 

If we treat the Internet as a print medium, we can avoid making such 
ludicrous errors.  If we don't, we will wind up with a Web on which links 
are only used to connect to material which we have fully screened, which 
our lawyer says is legal, and with which we fully agree.