The problem: Several lawsuits have been brought in recent years, attempting to prevent the owner of one site from setting up a link from his site to material written by the owner of another site. Although no lawsuit has resulted in a ruling that such a link is illegal, the possibility of a lawsuit always tends to restrain a practice, because nobody wants to be sued--especially when they aren't sure if they'll win.
The proposal: "Any web site should be able to link to any other address on the Web, without asking for permission or seeking a license."
keeps this site and its author alive.
Well, the facts of the cases do clarify the issue somewhat. It seems that one case involves two rival newspapers which began putting their stories on the web so that readers could access them by computer. One of the newspapers got a clever idea: link from our index pages to stories in the other paper. That way people who come to one site will be able to read the best stories in both papers, and more people will come to our site than the other. Now, for this to make any sense at all to me, I have to conclude that they were using frames--that way they could load in the text of the competitor's article in one box, while running their advertising in a second and their navigation bar in a third. Otherwise, once you reached a page in the other newspaper, you would be gone. After all, at the bottoms of my pages, you generally find links to my other pages. You don't find a lot of links to the pages of my professional competition. But even here, the other paper should have had its identity, its advertising, and its links in every page which the competitor might have wished to connect, so it could only benefit from the increased traffic to its site. And the settlement--sauce for the goose is gravy for the gander--is the logical result.
So then, perhaps the proposal is completely reasonable. But wait! There is an aspect of this problem that has not been addressed. On the face of it, it seems that we all would like to avoid any restrictions on links to anything on the Internet. But my HotMail account is technically a page on the World Wide Web, and I really don't care to have you drop in and read it. Also, there is a section of the LinkExchange web site which provides me with information about traffic to my web site and enables me to change my personal information, and I don't want you there either. These sections are password protected, because they contain information which is not intended to be public, but to be personal in the same way electronic mail is intended to be personal. But there are other password-protected Internet areas. There are commercial sites that allow only members who have paid their fees to view the material within--and although you may immediately think that these sites are all pornographic, you would be mistaken. America On-line, Compuserve, Prodigy, Microsoft Network--these were once dial-in services before the Internet was generally accessible (except MSN, which came into existence after the explosion of the Internet, but was modeled on the earlier services), but today are accessed by many of their subscribers through password-controlled Internet connections from other ISP's, just as the pornographic sites are. And you can't argue that the materials within these services are actually files on a private computer--at some level, that's what everything on the Internet is.
My company is considering setting up a password-protected section of the site to provide customer support to those who have purchased our products. This area would contain materials which we would like to make available freely to those who have a copy of our role playing game system, but which if made freely available to everyone would probably result in a large number of individuals attempting to reconstruct the game system without buying it--a consequence which would have severe detrimental effects on our company's circumstances. Thus it is clear that we would use the Internet to make such support available to our customers if we could keep it limited to them; but if others may freely set up links into our customer service area, we will not be able to continue it. The utility of the Internet will be reduced, because companies like ours will not risk providing information openly which they would provide conveniently through the Internet to customers.
So it is clear that there are materials on the Internet to which access is and should rightly be restricted, and any law which prevents "netizens" from publishing to a restricted audience should be opposed.
However, I'm quite certain that C-Net didn't mean to recommend a law that would destroy America On Line and Microsoft Network; they only mean that there should be no restrictions on creating links to publicly accessible free web pages. With that understanding in mind, I voted for it, and think that it is so obvious that I'm surprised that the vote wasn't even more overwhelmingly favorable than it is.