Of Links and Lawsuits

I came across an interesting post on Slate regarding a court case over online links. Essentially, a real estate website called Blockshopper was being sued by Jones Day, a multinational legal firm, because of how Blockshopper linked to some of the lawyers employed by Jones Day (in the context of real estate transactions involving the lawyers). Jones Day made the argument that such links were a form of trademark infringement, in the sense that the links might imply that there was an affiliation between Jones Day and Blockshopper.

Numerous groups appealed to the judge to dismiss the case, including Public Citizen, the Electronic Freedom Foundation, the Citizen Media Law Project, and Public Knowledge, but ultimately, Blockshopper settled. The terms of their settlement dictate that they reference lawyers at Jones Day by posting the full URL (aka, http://www.jonesday.com rather than Jones Day).

‘What’s the problem with that?’, you might ask. Well, as the Slate article goes on to describe, at issue is not just Blockshopper and Jones Day, but the broader issue of how, when, and in what fashion bloggers and other online publications can link to supporting documents. It presents a slippery slope, where companies can demand what link text is used to reach their sites, as well as the other information that is incorporated in the linking text, leading online publishers to either dispense with links altogether or have to deal with any number of different requirements from the linked sites.

And sadly, there have even been recent efforts to stop people from linking to public sites altogether, as in the case of Jennifer Reisinger. At issue is whether she could link to the Sheboygan police department’s web page. If she’s unsuccessful, it could have the effect of decreasing the willingness of websites to share links and other information.

I’m not certain how this case will end, but being a new blogger, I’m interested in how things shake out. If this case and other similar cases currently pending end with rulings in favor of allowing websites to control how other sites link to them, the internet landscape could look much different in a few years; much more barren and less of a web, only positive comments being readily accessible. I know I don’t want that kind of legal landscape; I’ll have to see what (if anything) I can do to support the cause of allowing free linking to public sites, regardless of the content of the linking site.

Disclaimer: Given the subject of this blog post, I feel I should mention that I am in no way affiliated with any of the groups, corporations or websites associated with the links in this post.


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