March 6, 2005  ·  Lessig

So there’s a blog first created by the volunteers who watched Fox to create the data necessary to produced OutFoxed. They posted an item about a Bill O’Reilly column, which itself was posted on the web. The company syndicating O’Reilly’s column wrote them a nasty letter, telling them to take the column down. They did, and replaced it with a link. The same company wrote again, insisting that the blog was guilty of “unauthorized linking.”

Dear syndicators of Bill: Me thinks there’s no such concept as illegal linking (outside of China, at least, and please, don’t pester me with misreadings of the 2600 case). Indeed, I think that I, like anyone else, am perfectly free to link to the column, as this link does. And indeed, I’d invite anyone else out there who thinks that we still live in a FREE LINKING world to link to the same. Got to find some way to keep those lawyers busy.

  • http://www.laboratorium.net James Grimmelmann

    Why do lawyers continue to assert rights to control “illegal linking,” even when the only courts to consider anti-linking causes of action have explicity rejected them? It’s a bizzare form of IP lawyer folklore — lots of them send out letters asserting link control rights, even though it’s arguably unethical. Looking at this lawyers’ urban myth would make for a fascinating sociological/legal study.

  • http://www.clipdude.com/ Chris Phan

    I enjoy linking to the article, too. It is so much fun.

  • James Day

    There’s worse. A not very well known political commentator complained about a Wikipedia article about them, writing in part that we had no right to write about the person without their permission. Will be interesting to see if they take legal action ot try to force the issue.

    Funny if it wasn’t sad.

  • http://www.livejournal.com/users/spidersilken_ai spidersilken_ai

    Oooh! Lemme try it! The link. Whoo! That’s better than sex! I might need to light up now…

    Illegal linking… ~cough~

    >_>;

    ~Ami

  • http://theministryoftruth.net/ Bill Wilson

    I linked on my blog. I dare them to sue me. :-)

  • Sara Amis

    I think this deserves a Googlebomb. Thusly: Whiner

    I put it in my LiveJournal, also

  • http://www.logicalexplosion.com John Grillo

    I stand by my right to link! Without links, the Internet might as well be shut off.

  • Ryan La

    Sounds similar to what the Tulsa World is trying to do to Batesline.

  • http://www.perfectpath.co.uk/ Lloyd

    Well MCPS/PRS is the British equivalent of ASCAP/BMI – you will note from the content (so naughtily) linked hereto that they require you to SIGN A CONTRACT if you wish to link to their site.

  • three blind mice

    as usual, we are only seeing 1/2 the story here.

    “unauthorized linking” appears to be a slogan created by this blog’s owner to spin his own reporting to suit the tastes of his readers.

    which, of course, is not unlike what mr. o’reilly does for his readers – he gives them validation. he doesn’t challenge them. he feed them loving spoonfuls of unquestioning, unerring, “truth” that matches the reader’s preconceived notions of right and wrong on an issue.

    I stand by my right to link! Without links, the Internet might as well be shut off.

    nice hyperbole. where is “right to link” written in the law? should google have the right to link the keyword “coca-cola” to pepsi’s homepage?

  • Joe

    “three blind mice”, nice attempt at twisting the issue here. There is a difference between incorrectly displaying a source, or not at all, and not being allowed to display a source at all. How can it be illegal to report on (i.e. not outrightly copy) what someone else has written while showing the source? If the link is incorrect, then that is a completely different matter.

    And where in the law is it written down that you have a right to, for example, drink coffee? In fact, there isn’t – but the law protects your right not to be forced to drink or forced not to drink by anyone else.

  • rbmp

    > should google have the right to link the keyword “coca-cola” to pepsi’s homepage?

    Should _I_ have this right? To link whatever keyword, to whatever content? Is not this some sort of personal speech freedom? Does it litigate Coca so that I link this word to Pepsi’s homepage? Then, what legally forbids Google to do an individual would be allowed to do?

  • http://www.burningwomen.net Zennie Abraham

    I think the threats are just an attempt to take advantgage of what may be perceived as “public ignorance.” the truth is that anyone can link to anything, and it’s actually a form of speech, and I argue protected by the constitution.
    ____________________________________
    http://www.burningwomen.net

  • http://offtheshelf.nowis.com larK

    On a related note, did you hear the one about the guy who turned down free legal representation?

    Turns out he didn’t want to deal with anyone who was “pro Bono”…!

    [ducks and runs]

    PS: Pepsi!

  • Steve Kramarsky

    Three Blind Mice: Uh, yes. As you may be aware, insurance company Geico sued Google for selling links to its competitors that would show up when someone entered “Geico” into the search page. The Court ruled in favor of Google, at least for those ads that did not actually use the trademark “Geico ™” in the text of the link.

    Interestingly, Google just lost a very similar case brought by Louis Vuitton in France.

  • James Day

    Yes, Google should have the right to link “coca-cola” to the Pepsi home page, in a wide variety of ways. For example, ad placements where the use of the key word is to ensure that the ads appear adjacent to the correct content. Or in its own blog if it wants to express the view that people who are interested in Coca-Cola should be visiting Pepsi.

    I made exactly that sort of expressive use of links not going to a trademark holder in comments on the Louis Vuitton decision.

    Do you think I shouldn’t be allowed to express those views simply because someone has registered a trademark?

  • http://carmelsundae.blogspot.com Christina

    I doubt that any lawyer really believes he can prevent linking; but I’ve encountered more than enough lawyers who are willing to make frivolous claims and threats, in the hopes that people will bully easily.

    And they wonder why people tell lawyer jokes.

    By the way, did you know that if a lawyer takes viagra, he gets taller?

  • http://jfcarter.blogspot.com/ Jean-Fr�d�ric Carter

    Christina -
    Good one!

  • Anonymous

    Three blind mice – “unauthorized linking” isn’t something created by this blog’s author. It’s a direct quote from the cease and desist letter sent by O’Reilly’s syndicators. I’m curious as to what their theory is – maybe something along the lines of contributory copyright infringement, but Lessig certainly isn’t twisting the issue.

    PS: blog comment spam is the worst. It seems that Anny chen has figured something out.

  • Max Lybbert

    I’ve been on hiatus for a while, so I appologize for being late to the party.

    Not trying to defend the concept of “unauthorized linking” (as it seems that any material intentionally posted online is implicitly licensed for linking purposes, but I’m no lawyer), I believe Lighthouse Ministries v Intellectual Reserve does extend copyright law to linking.

    Then again, in the Lighthouse Ministries case, the material online wasn’t put there by the copyright holder. In this case, the blog is linking to material O’Reilly put up intentionally.

  • http://gnack.com/ Bryan Seigneur

    The link is clearly pointing to a real O’Reilly article. Bill is never so calm and he never even seems to be clearly conveying the facts in his usual diatribes! This is clearly a forgery and perhaps that is what the nastygrams are about.

    ;p

  • Bob

    I think the threats are just an attempt to take advantgage of what may be perceived as “public ignorance.” the truth is that anyone can link to anything, and it’s actually a form of speech, and I argue protected by the constitution.

  • lessie

    Obviously “anybody can link to anybody”, but…
    A couple of days ago, I was doing my routine research on who and in which context links to my website. What i found was quite a shock: my homepage (full title, website description and full url in Google index format) and many other pages link to an obscure website about “how to have sex” with dozens of links to hard core porn sites. I did “whois” on the domain and it turned out that the domain name uses illegal characters (?), but it is nevertheless listed in Google index (??)

    I have never seen anything like this before and I am wondering if it’s legal and how it may hurt my website in the future, since Google puts so much emphasis on who and in which context links to your website. Did anybody ever have any success in writing to Google and asking them to remove such links from their index?

    Thanks a lot.

  • http://cleocin.hollywood-blog.com Cleocin

    I have never seen anything like this before and I am wondering if it’s legal and how it may hurt my website in the future, since Google puts so much emphasis on who and in which context links to your website. Casodex – Order Casodex Online. Did anybody ever have any success in writing to Google and asking them to remove such links from their index?

  • http://offer.interwebsearch.org kuri

    A not very well known political commentator complained about a Wikipedia article about them, writing in part that we had no right to write about the person without their permission.