The right to link

My column in the Guardian argues that we have a right to link and that the link is the basis of freedom of speech online. The issues are important and so I’m posting the entire column here:

* * *

Linking is more than merely a function and feature of the internet. Linking is a right. The link enables fair comment. It powers the link economy that will sustain media. It is a tool for accountability. It is the keystone to free speech online.

But News Corporation has made good on its threat to fight the link, preventing the UK aggregator NewsNow from linking to several of its newspaper sites.

It’s true that internet protocols make it easy to block crawlers from search engines or aggregators; one simply adds a line to the robots.txt file on the web server. And News Corp’s rationale regarding NewsNow seems on the face of it to make sense: the argument is that NewsNow charges for its service, separating it from free aggregators such as Google News and Daylife (in which – disclosure – I am a partner).

But NewsNow has fought back, launching a campaign in support of the link at “Linking is not some kind of digital theft,” the NewsNow founder Struan Bartlett says in a video. Linking via headlines, he adds, “is not substantial reproduction of a newspaper’s intellectual property, so it’s perfectly legitimate fair use”.

Right. Linking is not a privilege that the recipient of the link should control – any more than politicians should decide who may or may not quote them. The test is not whether the creator of the link charges (Murdoch’s newspapers will charge and they link). The test is whether the thing we are linking to is public. If it is public for one it should be public for all.

We in the media tend to view the internet in our own image. But the internet is not a medium. Instead, as Cluetrain Manifesto author Doc Searls argues, it is a place. Think of it as a public park. You may not be selectively kept out because of your association with a race, religion … or aggregator. “Linking,” says Bartlett, “is a common public amenity.”

I fear that what is really in danger here is the doctrine of openness* on which journalism and an informed society depend. Pertinent are the arguments around Google’s Streetview, which takes pictures of buildings and the people who happen to be in front of them. Some object that these photos violate their privacy. But they are in public. What they do there is public.

I understand that people caught on Streetview might not want us to see them strolling into a drug den or brothel. But if we give anyone the right to restrict our use of that image or information, then we also give the mayor the right to gag us when we want to publish a picture of him skulking into that opium parlour.

What’s public is public – that is, we, the public, have a right to observe, point to, share, and comment on it. And the internet is public.

Mind you, neither NewsNow nor I are arguing that being in public gives anyone the right to copy and steal content. We both agree that copyright and intellectual property must be respected. But linking is not stealing.

Indeed, in the link economy I’ve written about here, linking is distribution; it is a benefit. That’s why I argue News Corp is a fool not to welcome, encourage and exploit links to its content. Links do not stop people from reading it; links bring readers to it.

As Google’s chief executive, Eric Schmidt, argued in a Wall Street Journal op-ed response to Rupert Murdoch on the value of search and aggregation, it’s up to the recipient of the link to take advantage of the relationship it creates – and Google creates 4bn such opportunities for publishers a year.

By trying to cut off links, News Corp is also endangering journalism. As an economic matter, the link is how our work will gain audience.

As a journalistic matter, we reporters depend on the ability to read and analyse public statements and documents – from government, corporations or newsmakers – and it should make no difference whether that reading is done by a person or their agent, an algorithm. We depend on the right to quote from what we find – and online, the link is our means of doing so. In fact, linking to source material – footnoting our work and the provenance of our information – is fast being seen as an ethical necessity in digital journalism.

In the end, this fight is over control. News Corp is desperately trying to maintain its control over access to and packaging and pricing of information that now flows freely from many sources. Thanks to the internet, it is losing it – in more than one sense.

* Note that in my draft, I wrote “publicness.” It’s not a word in the dictionary and so it was edited, changed to “openness.” I should have perhaps phrased it, “the public.”

* * *
Tim Berners-Lee on the right to link (via Thomas Stadler):

The ability to refer to a document (or a person or any thing else) is in general a fundamental right of free speech to the same extent that speech is free. Making the reference with a hypertext link is more efficient but changes nothing else. . . . We cannot regard anyone as having the “right not to be referred to” without completely pulling the rug out from under free speech. . . .It is difficult to emphasize how important these issues are for society. The first amendment to the Constitution of the United States, for example, addresses the right to speak. The right to make reference to something is inherent in that right. On the web, to make reference without making a link is possible but ineffective – like speaking but with a paper bag over your head.

  • Eric Gauvin


    I really don’t see what you mean by “link economy.” It’s just the same as saying web site traffic is good. And please don’t send me on a wild goose chase with a link to some old vague blog post. I’ve already got a lot of links here:

    I think “the link economy” is bogus. Please explain exactly what you mean.

    • We’ve gone over this before, Eric. You disagree with me. Well noted. Move on.

      • Eric Gauvin

        No. It’s just the opposite. I’m persistent because you don’t explain your idea of the “link economy” satisfactorily to support the other conclusions you draw from it…

    • Eric, if I booked adverts on websites and it was brought to my attention that one of the website publishers I booked adverts on was deliberately blocking hits on the website I would either re-negotiate the rates I was willing to pay, or consider withdrawing adverts all together.

      Rupert Murdoch, for all his bluster about being at the forefront of newspaper technology, is an old fashioned newspaper owner.

      Years ago in Britian newspapers and their wholesalers banned petrol station forecourt shops and supermarkets and convenience stores from selling newspapers. Why? Because only newsagents were allowed to sell newspapers! And if you wanted to open a newsagent within a certain distance of another newsagent, tough! They wouldn’t let you do it.

      This is what Rupert Murdoch is doing. Only allowing certain people to link to his sites. Or charging people to do so. He is a Dinosaur. He thinks he is a Tyrannosaurus Rex. He isn’t. He is a Diplodocus.

      • Eric Gauvin

        That’s not what I’m talking about. Jeff Jarvis says there’s something called “a link economy” and that (as far as I can tell) links have value. Sure it’s good to drive traffic to one’s web site. That’s a basic concept, but Jarvis draws conclusions such as “a right to link” based on his premise of some kind of “link economy” which I think is totally bogus and he totally refused to explain because he thinks I’m attacking him.

        Read some of his ideas about the “link economy” and tell me if it makes any sense…

      • Andy Freeman

        > That’s a basic concept, but Jarvis draws conclusions such as “a right to link” based on his premise of some kind of “link economy”

        Actually, the “right to link” has nothing to do with the link economy. Links are just citations and the right to cite predates the web. The right to cite, to say “see NYT, January 14th issue, page 6” is a precondition for any sort of free speech/press.

  • Jeff,
    I think this is a matter of whether we believe in open or closed systems. Linking simply makes things more open than closed and the more open we are to fresh ideas the better. In my view, abundance is about openess and scarcity is about being closed.
    The internet has opened up information to people in ways not possible fifty years ago and as you say in your blog, linking is a mechanism to open the information up to more people.

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  • Hi Jeff,

    It’s great that you have raised this issue, but I was disappointed that you only talked about News International’s use of the robots.txt file to block NewsNow’s spiders.
    In the UK the situation is much more complex, with the vast majority of newspaper (including the Guardian!) demanding that some companies pay licences for linking through the NLA (Newspaper Licencing Agency). Their logic is exactly the same as News International, but their approach is to threaten legal action against anyone who they deem uses links as a part of their “business model”.
    In my opinion, blocking crawlers is wrong and in the long term will result in less revenue for the publishers that choose to do it. Asserting that anyone with a website has a right to invoice people that link to that website is not only equally wrong, but would result in complete chaos if upheld (Meltwater are currently doing a wonderful service by fighting the NLA).
    Please let’s not just demonise News International – in the UK the vast majority of newspaper owners are subtly undermining the openness of the Internet with their assertions that linking is breach of copyright.

    • Mike,
      Yes, but the NLA case seems to be in recess as Meltwater fights it and so I decided to use one example for simplification and raise the larger discussion about links. I planned to write a post about all this and Meltwater when NewsNow launched its thing so I went with that.

      • Good point Jeff, although I see the NLA case as raising a bigger issue. NewsNow is about blocking crawlers through robots.txt, something that is an accepted part of the internet. Your questioning of whether this is a sensible approach is excellent.
        The NLA case is perhaps more concerning, as if they win it means that no one has the inherent right to create a link under UK law – whether you are person or a robot crawling the site: you’d have to read the ts and cs of a site before linking to it.

  • Robert Levine

    >>>Linking is a right.

    Where does this right come from legally? Morally? Can you find it in a lawbook? If you knew anything about U.S. copyright law, you’d know that in certain limited cases linking might already be illegal – which is why Google search results no longer return some obviously pirated content. Did you not know that, or did you not take the time to look it up? I can’t decide which is more alarming.

    I agree with the substance of what you said about how the Internet _should_ work. But “a right?” That’s just silly.

    • Commenting on what is public is a right and the link is how we do that online. Simple.

      • Robert Levine

        Actually, it’s not simple at all. Maybe that’s why you don’t understand it.

        You can comment on anything you like, whether it’s public or not. But the courts have never expanded the right of free speech – what you call “comment” – to include commercial exploitation of everything in the public sphere. Can I shout “Jeff Jarvis?” Certainly. Can I market “Jeff Jarvis’ miracle link economy in a bottle?” No, because that would impinge on your rights.

        Copyright presents similar limits, which *U.S. law has already determined can involve links*. Can you describe the plot of “Star Wars?” Certainly. Can you show it at your house and charge admission? Certainly not. Can you excerpt a scene from “Star Wars?” Possibly, if you have a fair user defense. Can you knowingly link to a pirated copy of “Star Wars?” No, you cannot – *because there is no right to link under U.S. law*. Similarly, you cannot link to a tool that would break DRM *because there is no right to link under U.S. law*.

        If you’re teaching digital journalism, why don’t you know this stuff. If you’re a journalist, why aren’t you doing a better job of reporting on it?

        • To your first example, then I can prevent The Wall Street Journal from linking to me because it charges. That is absurd.

          To your second, can I review Star Wars and link you to it? Yes, I can.

          Rob, one last time — and I mean it — have a discussion without insulting. One more insult and I am killing your comments henceforth. I simply ask civility. And I have asked often. I’ll ask no more. Do you understand that?

      • Andy Freeman

        > Similarly, you cannot link to a tool that would break DRM *because there is no right to link under U.S. law*.

        What’s the relevant law or regulation? If it’s DRM specific, that makes it like the “born secret” nature of nuke information, which is quite restrictive.

        > Can you describe the plot of “Star Wars?” Certainly.

        “Describe the plot” is more than anchor text. The other part of a link is the url which lets the user’s browser try to deliver the original content when the user clicks. It’s an active citation, but “try” is important – the content owner is free to block that attempt, subject it to a paywall, etc.

        With few exceptions (which are topic-specific), it is generally agreed that citations on paper are perfectly legal. What’s the argument that says that making them actionable changes that?

      • GoldenSun

        For an academic, Jeff, your extremely casual use of the term “right” is surprising. I expect greater accuracy in how you communicate your ideas, on which I often agree.

        However, the enumerated rights under the Constitution of these United States are shockingly small.

        Reasonable men can certainly debate whether more, or less, rights should be enumerated. However, until such rights are actually amended to our Constitution, they clearly do not exist.

        And, Jeff, you do not offer any Constitutional law decisions that suggest even an implied right to link exists. Nor do you show any individual State laws that enumerate such a right under the 10th Amendment.

        So, can we at least use the proper terms? Jeff, you would like the ability to link to your heart’s content. Rob, it seems, would like the ability to control who links to his material that is protected by copyright.

        Of the two positions, one is wishful thinking and a corruption of language, while Rob’s is clearly protected by the law of our land.

        I happen to agree with you, Jeff, in that I would like the ability to create links to the material of others. However, I properly understand that it is not a right and that such a right simply does not exist in these United States, and thus Rob is free to compel me to stop linking.

        The middle ground is clear, and completely acceptable. I can provide a non-hyperlinked reference to Rob’s work, much like a citation, but one that does not contain embedded HTML code. The reader can then cut and paste the address into his browser and go visit Rob’s page on his own.

      • Andy Freeman

        > However, until such rights are actually amended to our Constitution, they clearly do not exist.

        Actually, that’s not how the US Constitution works. More to the point, it’s not how US law works.

        We don’t work on a “it’s legal only if there’s a law allowing it” basis. We work on a “it’s legal unless there’s a constitutional law against it” basis, and the constitution says what laws are constitutional.

        For example, without copyright law, copying would be completely legal.

        So, the question is, does copyright law allow me to include the name of someone else’s resource in my work.

        Clearly it does if my work is on paper. GoldenSun seems to believe that it does if said name is not hyperlinked, but then goes off into the weeds with “much like a citation, but one that does not contain embedded HTML code”. The problem with that is that the links are not citations with embedded HTML, links are HTML that contain resource names.

        Here’s what I mean. A link looks like <a href=’resource name’> anchor text </a>

        > The reader can then cut and paste the address into his browser and go visit Rob’s page on his own.

        Suppose that I made a phone that had a scanner so it could read phone numbers and dial them upon specific user request. Do you really think that the folks whose phone numbers might appear in print have any right to control whether I could make such a phone or whether a user could use it?

  • Mike

    Phew! Thank god (or someone else) I’m neither located in the US nor the UK. Law rules, democracy looses – that’s where they’re heading.

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  • There’s definitely something wrong in a worldview that can’t tell the difference between a signpost and a break-in. Most links are the former, and result in the interested web user following the directions to the original material, and the resultant visit can then be monetised. Where I start to have problems, and where I think the NI argument begins to gain some traction, is with aggregators who summarise a story. I don’t agree it’s the right attitude, but I can definitely see why a publisher would consider that differently from, say, a link in a blog – a site like Newser may well link to the original source, but it also provides a precis of the article it’s linking to which means the Newser viewer doesn’t need to click through to the source to get the gist of the piece it’s linking to. In that sense, there is no benefit to the original publisher. If NI were to clarify their arguments and limit their de-link strategy to sites that work in that way, it would make a lot more sense.

  • Harold gilchrist

    There are many different contexts and ways that links are described so it is not a good idea to throw all types of links into the same box for argument sake. In general once simple links move toward the commercial world, as I believe you call the “link economy”, the aggregate has the ability to morph into something macro that is unique and only a product of and not defined and no longer arguable at it’s atomic level “the link”. The “link economy” in 2010 is much more complex and builds the foundation for many competitive commercial contexts. For the linkers, the questions are now moving toward the higher macro view and are “who are you linking for”, “who really owns your links in the hive”, “are you linking for the right hive” etc. Like to hear your views on Jaron Lanier’s “You Are Not a Gadget” as covered in:

  • Putting this much of an emphasis on linking is wrong and foolish — Linking is hardly a necessary strategy to build an audience, and certainly not the most important/effective. It’s ONE means of driving traffic which COULD be converted to audience if an effort to do so is in place — but in itself, it doesn’t drive that much audience. That’s because by nature, people are reading what they want to read — they don’t necessarily want to go over and read it somewhere else as well. They may look, but typically, they don’t convert. Traffic that doesn’t convert to audience has no real value to a publisher. Starbucks doesn’t make a dime if you drive by without stopping in to buy a cup of coffee.

    Suggesting anything BUT suggest creating a REAL audience is bad advice. Companies need to focus on creating a customer base around their products online — you do not see Twitter linking to Facebook sharing because the user needs it. Successful companies online BUILD AN AUDIENCE.

    That so few exist in media with this kind of mindset floating around says it all :)

    It’s also hardly going to affect people’s ability to be informed.

    • I agree heartily with Patricia. The thing missing from too much of the link economy is the prominent citation of source. Google is good at this. So is Daylife. HuffPo is not. It often puts up links to other sites without saying where it got the link from. People scan the headlines and move on, converting in the single digit percentages. Where is the value in that? What about some modest branding for the link? I’m a web editor that hopes for links to my site’s content anywhere I can get it (within the bounds of good taste and relevancy). But conversion is always a tiny fraction. I want branding if you’re going to claim free use of a link.

  • Matthew

    I think the point is that Murdoch wants to completely control the user experience. You come to Not That way he’s in control and the users click where he wants them to click and that way he can easily control revenue.

    If that’s the direction they really want to go — to essentially remove all permalinks — that can be programmed. Have all links from outside parties be redirected to And only internal links will send you to a permalink article.

  • NewsNow may offer a fee version, but I’ve been using it for free for ages.

    Now that several publications have cut it off, it makes those publications invisible to me. I’m not about to go to their home pages and rummage around blindly in the *hope* I find something of direct interest to me. This is how newspapers go about *attracting* readers in this new decade?

  • Tom

    I agree NewsNow should be allowed to link, but News Corp has rights too.

    That is, News Corp may be foolish to block linking, but it’s their right.

    I don’t see any mention that News Corp are filing a lawsuit against NewsNow for linking, so I don’t see NewsNow’s rights being violated.

    I’m not sure what laws cover “the right to link” anyway. Could you clarify that point?

  • Presumably the difference between a link and a citation is that the former is “live.” Blocking it would make it merely a citation (and require a cut & paste into the address bar, I guess). I’m pretty sure there’s no law against citations (Author, Name. “This Paper” That Journal Issue #) and so there can’t really be a law against “cold-linking.”

    There may be a law against crawling – though that seems unlikely since it is so easy to block (crawling past blocks would be a no-no).

    The real problem would seem to be aggregating (auto pulling text) or “sharing” copyrighted context. News Corp doesn’t want to share. Ok. They don’t have to. And we don’t have to care much.

    There are lots of sources. The world and web are wide.

    Move on, folks. Nothing to see here.

  • In today’s Times, there is a review of a Henry Rollins spoken word concert, written by Dominic Maxwell, printed on page 28, column 1.

    Does anybody here dispute that I have the right to tell you about that?

    OK – the same article is available on , if you load the site and search for “Henry Rollins at the Festival Hall”. Or you could search for it in Google., using the same search terms. Or you could type the URL [*** redacted ***] into your browser. You get the picture.

    Now – would one of the many well-informed and skeptical people like to tell me at what point it stops being my right to share this information with other people?

    Linking is a right; it’s also the responsible thing to do. I have just spent half an hour reading an article by Alexander Holmes about another article by Simon Jenkins about swine flu and the presentation of science in the media. I was only able to form a well-informed opinion on the topic because the writers involved embedded links to other published sources. Linking creates the possibility of an economic relationship between the reader and the publisher, (on whatevr terms the publisher decides to offer). The alternative is vagueness, which does nobody any good.

  • michael

    For me, this goes back to the “attention economy”
    you can go on all day about rights…or about law….or anything else you want. the truth is that the vast majority of people out there are:

    1. severely time stressed, but getting more computer savvy by the day


    2. they will find a way, with or without Rupert Murdoch

    The WORST thing that could happen is that your media platform (ie newspaper, magazine, radio station, television station) become irrelevant and not read, watched or listened to.

    If folks aren’t giving you at least some attention, you will be toast.

  • Jeff, do I have a right to link to an image in a blog article that I post using an img tag so the image is framed within my site? Do I have the same right to link to that image within one of my commercial sites? Is there a difference? I’m not copying the image in either case. The end user is.

    Do you agree that NewSnow is a separate issue as their business model is to charge for copying parts of content (ie the title) and linking to it. And can you explain to me your understanding of “fair use” as you’ve used Struan Bartlett argument of fair use to support your view that their is an unarguable right to link. As I understand it his company is not covered by fair use.

    Here is a good example of fair use: from wikipedia: “United States copyright law that allows limited use of copyrighted material without requiring permission from the rights holders, such as for commentary, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching or scholarship.”

    I agree that News International’s approach to linking is a bit strange and hypocritical but it’s fair to say that they are in a unique position as they are owners of one of the US’s top 5 destination sites. Arguably they don’t need external links from Google, Yahoo or Facebook and may see themselves as in a position to topple any of the 3 companies who currently command greater traffic than them. Your argument about “the link economy” only really applies to pureplay new media content producers of a certain size and below.

    By the way I got here via RSS.

    • No, I’m not saying you can replicate an image on your site. That’s not a link.

      • I’m talking about linking to an image. It is a link. People can more easily see when a copyright is being breached when it’s an image but the same law covers images as covers text. Would it be OK for me to take thumbnails from multiple images and then link to the full image as a commercial service?

        Could you explain your position on fair use in relation to NewsNow. As I’ve pointed out, their use of links isn’t covered by fair use, they’re providing a service for journalists, but they aren’t the journalist that’s adding the commentary.

        I’m starting to think that your understanding of the media industry only really covers amateur/semi-professional bloggers.

      • cm

        Jeff, perhaps you don’t understand how the web protocols work. You don’t need to replicate content on your site to use it.

        You can have a web page that embeds an image or material off another site. You don’t store the image on your site. That is what deep linking does.

        For example, look at this web page that I just wrote to illustrate the issue:

        I just link to your image. I just have a few lines of text on my web site, not the image.

        Now here’s the nutty bit… I just set up how things are going to be displayed and what is going to be displayed…. but I don’t display it… That job is defered to the client browser which still fetches the image from your site.

        You’re getting the bulk of the traffic and I’m getting the clicks. If I had ads on that page I’d be getting the ads.

        Since I didn’t copy the picture you can’t really ding me for stealing your image (I just told the client browser where to find it), but you could say I used it unfairly (morally, but legally I don’t know). All I did was tell the client browser where to find it.

        I used your material without showing people your ads. I used your material bypassing your revenue stream.

        This is a really hard issue for people to understand when they move from print into the web. On a print page I would have actually printed the pixels and replicated your image. On a web page I did not. People buy the paper on Tuesday because that’s when the next article in a series gets published. If you can just link to the article then it becomes harder o make the revenue stream work.

        Now that was the result of approx 1 minute of html coding on my part (and I’m a deep OS engineer so I know none of the real cool HTML hackery). Imagine what anyone could do with deep links on a news site, photography site etc. They can pull together images and content and serve them up looking like their own. Is that really fair?

        If not, then where do you draw the line between a deep but OK link and a too deep link? That gets very hard and it is appealing to just make everything simple by just saying that if you want something on CNN then you have to go through the front door.

        In many ways there is an implied bargain. If you want to access CNN material then you have to come through the front door. They want their chance to pitch you with whatever they want and you then get to read the material as they present it. It’s like one of those free meals at the Hare Krishna place or the timeshare presentations. If you bypass the talk you’re stealing the meal. If you don’t like the deal, walk away. I don’t think there is any fundamental right to the link.

        The StarWars example is a shallow link, not a deep link. If you say “I think Starwars suck because the plot is broken at 20 minutes into the movie. You can get it “here””. A deep link is far more like saying “The plot is broken: “watch this”” and presenting the user with actual bitstream video.
        A deep link would be more like bypassing the screen where you pay to download Starwars and just link directly into the content.

        I doubt the fairness issue will ever be resolved because there are no fundamental principles involved. You say it is a right, but is it really? The freedom of speech to critique Starwars does not mean you can give people free access to Starwars. If people want to assess your critique of Starwars then they need to buy a movie ticket or rent it like anyone else. Sure, you can make a comment on a CNN article, but people can still access the article through the front door (maybe even pay for it). Not having a deep link does not prevent them from participating.

        Where Doc Searle’s park analogy breaks down is that it isn’t really a free park. If you go into an airport they can’t stop you on the grounds of race etc, but they can demand that you go through the main door and through the metal detectors and through the hall where they have all those ad banners. You can’t just “deep link” and climb through a window or the cargo handling area.

        There are many parallels between html/web linking and linking in software which is why the GPL (one of the open source licenses) gets really confusing in some areas. One of the biggest contentions is whether symbolic linking (ie linking like I did) should treated the same as hard linking (ie. verbatum copying).

        Yeah, I know that’s not what you’re talking about, but it is interesting to draw the parallel.

        • i’m talking about hyperlinks: hrefs.

        • Andy Freeman

          As Gauvin points out, href is an attribute. It is used in links (a tag) as well as content inclusion (such as the IMG tag).

          The a tag is a citation. It doesn’t fetch the content or cause it to be displayed as part of the page containing the a tag. The page works whether or not the content owner allows the content to be fetched, a fetch that doesn’t happen unless the user clicks. That’s just like a cite in a paper document. The document may say “see page 13 of the january 13 NYT” but unless the user asks the NYT for that issue and the NYT is willing to sell, the user doesn’t see the linked content.

          The IMG tag is different. It fetches the content and displays it as part of the page containing the img tag. The page doesn’t work if the content owner blocks the content fetch.

        • Eric Gauvin

          So this seems to be going nowhere…

          If anyone uses the web and doesn’t understand how links work (not how they’re coded!!!), then we’ve got a serious problem.

          As many have noted, linking is how information miraculously flows around the web and it’s wonderful.

          But as you you’ve said in your theory of “a link economy:”

          (this is one of your imperatives of the link economy)
          “The recipient of links is the party responsible for monetizing the audience they bring. In the old content-economy model of syndication, the creator sells content to another and the one who syndicates has to come up with the ad or circulation revenue sufficient to pay for it. Now in the link economy, it’s reversed: When you get traffic, you need to figure out how to benefit from it. As Doc Searls said at the event: this is a shift from “making money with” to “making money because.”

          If, as you say, we live in “a link economy” and we live by the imperative above, then it doesn’t seem to matter about a “right to link.” Why do we also need a “right to link” if we live in “a link economy?”

        • Andy Freeman

          > If anyone uses the web and doesn’t understand how links work (not how they’re coded!!!), then we’ve got a serious problem.

          I agree that we have a big problem if folks don’t understand how links work.

          I’ve been pointing out that we do have that problem, that many of the folks who object to links don’t understand how they work.

          They make demonstrably false claims like “links steal content”. They claim that links are aggregation. They claim that links are something new.

        • Eric Gauvin

          And you are deleting people’s comments. Shame on you.

    • Andy Freeman

      > Jeff, do I have a right to link to an image in a blog article that I post using an img tag so the image is framed within my site?

      That’s not a link in the sense that we’re discussing. It’s an IMG tag. IMG tags are how you display images on a page.

      A link has two pieces. One is a description provided by the linker. It is content authored by the linker and is usually called “anchor text”.

      The second piece is the URL of the linked-to content. It’s the name provided by the linkee for said content.

      When a link is displayed, it shows the anchor text. (If the linker didn’t provide anchor text, most browsers show the URL.) It does not show the content.

    • Andy Freeman

      Here’s a bit more information.

      A web page is basically markup. Markup is text that describes what you want the browser to show to readers. Markup can include text content.

      If you want to show images, your markup must tell the browser where to find said images – that’s what the IMG tag does. Image itself can not be in the markup. Why? Because markup is text and images aren’t. (There’s something comparable for video and music, for exactly the same reason.)

      Links are described in markup using the HREF tag. It has two parts, the anchor text (which is your content) and the URL, which is the URL of the content to which you are linking.

      The equivalent of IMG for text content is discussed at .

      • Eric Gauvin

        Correction… The “href” is the attribute of the “anchor” (“a”) tag which contains the link text (between opening and closing tags). The target resource (href) of an “anchor” tag could be lots of different things, an html file, an image, a pdf, a word doc, etc.

        It would be unusual to link to an image with just link text inside an “anchor” tag. Most likely an “image” tag would be used (for example, thumbnail images…).

      • Eric Gauvin

        Furthermore, by loosely referring to “linking” to images, I think it means “hotlinking” to a resource on another server…

      • Eric Gauvin

        Links don’t “point” to a resource. They request a resource.

        Usually people love when others link to their pages because it drives traffic to their site.

        Usually people hate it when others hotlink to their images because it’s like stealing the images and the bandwidth.

        Links don’t have intrinsic value and there’s no such thing as “a link economy” as Jeff Jarvis has conjured up.

        Just because links are the most basic and important feature of the web, it doesn’t mean linking to anybody’s resource is a right.

      • Andy Freeman

        Yes, I screwed up the name of the tag, but I got the essence correct and Gauvin didn’t.

        > Links don’t “point” to a resource. They request a resource.

        Links, A tags with href attributes, do NOT request a resource. They just point to it. The user requests the resource, or not, by clicking. Without that click, nothing happens. The page displays the anchor.

        IMG tags, on the other hand, do request the resource, the image, as part of displaying the current page.

        > It would be unusual to link to an image with just link text inside an “anchor” tag.

        Actually, using text as the anchor for a link to an image is quite common.

        > Just because links are the most basic and important feature of the web, it doesn’t mean linking to anybody’s resource is a right.

        Oh really? What law says that I can’t tell someone a citation to a publication (apart from child porn, nuke secrets, and possibly DCMA)? What law says that the NYT has any control over whether I can cite them?

        Every publication in the world believes that it has the right to cite other publications, to say “see on page 37 of the January 20th”. The only question comes up wrt the content of the anchor text, not the citation.

        All scholarly work assumes a right to cite, to list other people’s resources.

        The href in an a tag is a citation.

        I don’t have a right to use someone’s resources on my site, but I do have a right to cite their resources – a citation is not resource use. It’s their right to decide whether to accept the traffic that may result and on what terms, just like they do with on-paper citations.

      • Eric Gauvin

        Oh brother…

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  • Janet

    I actually want to see the titles of court decisions that deal with digital copyright. I am no lawyer, but the value of Mr. Jarvis’ comments to me is that this law is currently evolving. If we assume copyright is the principal value in cyberspace, then law will proceed from there. But if we assume instead that openness is the principal value, different laws may result. Put me in the camp of “publicness”–it may not be an official word yet, but perhaps it should be. Murdoch is operating from a defensive position–trying to apply old media formats to a new media environment. I hope it won’t work.

  • Not2Sure

    Aggregators lost the moral high ground when Google and Bing decided to start paying Twitter for data. Why should NYT, WSJ, not expect the same form of payment?

    You can’t pick and choose which content providers you are going to pay and retain any semblance of fairness.

    Also I don’t see a single insult or ad hominem in Robert’s comment. He is correct, if you are going to market yourself as an expert for the purposes of getting speaking engagements then you had better do some research into the topic.

    Oh wait, knowledge and expertise were such web 1.0 concepts.

    • Andy Freeman

      > Aggregators lost the moral high ground when Google and Bing decided to start paying Twitter for data. Why should NYT, WSJ, not expect the same form of payment?

      They’re paying Twitter for a special data feed. It’s not (just) the content that you and I can see on .

      You’re also missing the point. Linking and aggregation are different. One can aggregate without linking and link without aggregation.

      > You can’t pick and choose which content providers you are going to pay and retain any semblance of fairness.

      In what universe is that relevant? Do you really think that the NYT would turn down a better deal than the Washington Post got?

      If a given content provider doesn’t like the deal that it’s getting, it’s free to do without. It can make that choice even if it’s being offere

      • Not2Sure

        Nope, it is exactly the same data. What possible other data is it you think twitter is giving them… click maps? Astrological forecasts?

        The only thing special about the “feed” which isn’t a feed at all is that it is an unthrottled push api delivering data so it can be indexed which was prevented previously from crawling by robots.txt. The firehose.. hmm let’s call it a local straw is being opened to other developers by twitter Real Soon Now. The amount of data being limited by geolocation.

        Nope, not missing a point.. you have none. You’re welcome to prove me wrong. Please enlighten us all in the next comment how you aggregate without linking. In case you need some help there are specifications for both RSS and ATOM freely available on the web and I believe you will find they clearly require links.

        Finally as it seems to have escaped your noticed apparently Mr. Murdoch is not happy with the deal he is getting from NewsNow, so as you say he is free to do without. But that is exactly what Mr. Jarvis is saying is wrong. Mr. Murdoch should not be free to prevent inbound links (free ride) even though he is unhappy providing the free ride.

        I could care less if someone wants to create a walled garden of information. To argue that they are not free to do so as I understand Mr Jarvis seems to be is in my view absurd. Just as absurd is the attempt to create a successful walled garden (#fail), but that is neither for Mr. Jarvis nor I, and definitely not someone as ill-informed as you, to prevent by fiat justified only by reference to a nonexistent “link economy” ™.

        RE NYT and WSPOST and their deal: Please take a look at living stories in Google labs. I’m sure that will create at least a few excited tweets and blog entries for you that no one will read.

      • Andy Freeman

        > Please enlighten us all in the next comment how you aggregate without linking.

        Easy – you get the content and include it as an aggregation in a page that you create. That page need not include a single link, let alone links to the original content source. (For example, this comment includes content from other places. Do you see any links to those places?)

        There are many ways to get content. They include scraping, rss/atom feeds and so on. (I’ve written feed readers and worked on crawlers.) Some of those methods use urls to identify the content to be retrieved, but fetching content from a url is not linking.

        As I’ve posted, a link consist of two things, a url (specified by the href attribute) and an anchor (between the open and close of the a tag). The anchor is content provided by the linker, typically a description of the content at the url. The content at the url is not displayed as part of the page containing the link or retrieved. The content at the url is displayed when the user clicks the link if the url’s content owner is willing to let that happen. The content owner can even put up a pay wall.

        Murdoch is perfectly free to refuse to handle requests for his content that happen because folks click links, just as he’s free to refuse to sell a copy of his publications, or to place restrictions on such requests.

        In other words, Murdoch is perfectly free to create a walled garden.

        However, Murdoch’s right to control access to his content has nothing to do with whether someone can link to his content.

        Murdoch isn’t free to say that someone can’t say “see page 4 of the january 13th issue of {murdoch publication}”, regardless of what constraints Murdoch places on accessing said issue. Since “see …” is what a link is….

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  • Ken

    What about Google Reader or Netvibes? RSS aggregators build a simple shell and then profit from the content of others, without creating one bit of content.

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  • Jo

    I linked two very small news items on a website that I formerly maintained. I have now been threatened with a law suit, and received a large bill for “licensing fees” for $9000 which I will be forced to pay. I have in writing from the attorneys for this company that this is NOT a copyright issue, but I am still being threatened and forced to pay “licensing fees” of $9000 for two small articles that were not more than a paragraph long.

    WHY is this legal??

  • Arn

    you should read this thoughtful guy Jeff Jarvis, who’s been telling every publisher who complains about links that “well then just stop allowing people to link to you.” So a publisher follows Jarvis’ thoughtful advice, and you complain that that’s wrong.

    Sorry, but no reading of the first amendment and copyright (with the exception of a funny anecdote in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) has ever suggested that the first amendment protects plagerism. A copyright owner has every right to prevent folks from “linking” or electronically copying that which they choose to protect

    • Andy Freeman

      > A copyright owner has every right to prevent folks from “linking” or electronically copying that which they choose to protect

      Bzzt – wrong. Linking is NOT electronically copying.

      As I explained above, a link consists of the name of a resource and a bit of description provided by the linker. The description is shown to the user. If there’s a copying problem it’s in the description.

      A link allows the reader to request the resource by name. The resource owner is free to deal with that request as it sees fit.

      The NYT is perfectly free to reject requests for its web pages just as it is free to not sell its paper or back issues when someone says “I’d like to buy the January 13th, 2009 issue”. However, the NYT has no control over whether I can say “see the January 13th issue of the NYT”.

      Yes, the NYT does have some control over what I can quote, but none over “january 13th issue of the NYT”.

      • Arn

        The great thing about “fair use” is that it is so subject to interpretation that there will always be a need for judges and lawyers.

        The “hot news exception” has made it very clear that while you may be allowed to say “Thom Friedman thinks the world is flat” you cannot say “Bloomberg is reporting that GE stock just went up 2.25, click here for more” or “AP reports that there was an earthquake in Haiti,”

        That’s what news organizations need to shut down, or wind up getting shut down.

        The point is that many people, such as Jeff.J. have been arguing, “if you don’t like links, then just tell crawlers not to.” So someone follows his recommendation, and now he gets all bothered by it.” Stick to your recommendations, I say

      • Andy Freeman

        > The point is that many people, such as Jeff.J. have been arguing, “if you don’t like links, then just tell crawlers not to.”

        Except that that is NOT what Jarvis has said.

        Crawlers is how search engines find things.

        Links are references/citations to content.

        Yes, search results pages have links, but they’re not the only pages that have links.

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  • There is no right to link.
    In the US and some other countries, there is a right to speech. Some forms of protected speech involve linking. Thus, linking, when in the context of protected speech, must be protected or the speech itself would be improperly constrained.
    Not all utterances or representations which have the form of speech are, in fact, that “speech” which is protected. When links are used in unprotected speech, their use is no more protected than the unprotected speech that incorporates them.

  • As an online publisher who has been behind a paywall from the outset, Rupert Murdoch is right. The only way to generate the revenue to create premium content is subscription. He is wrong for another reason – News Corp does not, in my opinion, producer premium content that people will be willing to pay for, but that’s another story…

    He is wrong about links, however. For a publisher behind a paywall, links are in the top three sources of referral. Links help create the income that pays for the premium content that people are prepared to buy.

    Rupert blocking links is like a salesperson refusing to use the telephone to sell because he or she has a bias against that particular sales channel.

    Ultimately, it’s a self-correcting problem. Block links, fewer sales, change mind or go broke.

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  • Not2Sure

    Dear Andy Freeman,

    Copying and hosting the complete text of a web page that is not your own without any links is called plagiarism and theft. Not aggregation. I’m pretty sure no one other than leech bloggers, and college students at 4am with nothing to hand in the day an assignment are due supports your concept of aggregation without links. Also the term aggregation on the web has pretty much come to mean syndication. Your misuse of the term is uninteresting.

    Your understanding of the syntax of HTML elements are simply amazing everyone here.

    There is quite simply no right to link. It’s as made up as the link economy and even as an abstract concept it’s absurd. A “right to” implies something enforceable. I have a right to due process granted to me as a citizen of the US under the Constitution and American jurisprudence. If another citizen subverts my right, the power and force of the US legal system is (allegedly) at my disposal. Alternatively I have no right to good health. I would like to have it, I think I deserve it, but I can’t force it to happen.

    If Mr Murdoch chooses to terminate access from his servers to NewsNow, I’m afraid Mr. Struan Bartlett has no recourse except perhaps to shave, get a haircut and hit the PR circuit and attempt to make Mr Murdoch look like an evil, evil man. Attempts to bypass Mr. Murdoch’s clear intent of denying access would most likely constitute DMCA violations.

    So there is the right to link, in a nutshell. Worthless per se, but apparently a great way to bring attention to a blog.

    The Link Economy. The Right to Link. I think we should all start reverting back to some of the earlier buzzwords rather than keep making new ones up, like the Attention Economy. I liked that one myself.

    Reduce, reuse, recycle.

    Yours truly,

    The Clue tree

    P.S. If Mr. Murdoch is really “endangering journalism” by denying access to his content to whomever he chooses, I would argue that “New Media” journalism or whatever bs tag we want to apply to it this month is an extremely weak and fragile institution unworthy of much support as a check on real political power.

    • Andy Freeman

      > Copying and hosting the complete text of a web page that is not your own without any links is called plagiarism and theft. Not aggregation.


      Adding links to something that you’ve copied without permission does not transform it from plagarism and theft to aggregation.

      Aggregation is simply combining and distributing content from a number of sources. If that combining and distribution is done without permission, it’s plagarism. If it’s done with permssion, it isn’t.

      Links aren’t content – they’re citations.

  • Jeff, I hope you’re more informative when your students question what you’re feeding them.

    I don’t think you understand your subject matter otherwise you would be able to simply state how fair use supports NewsNow’s position.

    Good luck with the blog and the “academic” thing you’re doing. We’re missing an angel in entertainment columnist heaven I can tell ya.

  • As a lawyer (not specializing in intellectual property, though) I find this a very interesting discussion. It seems to me that a distinction can be made between the right to link = citation and a right to use automated web crawlers to harvest links, whether for profit or not. Just like other parts of the economy, one has the choice not to participate in the “link economy”. You can discriminate if you want to if you are a place that allows the public in, as long as the discrimination is not on an enumerated illegal basis (ie: race, gender, etc). I think that web sites can block crawlers and it would be foolish to advocate for a law prohibiting them from doing so. I agree that fair use should protect anyone sued for including a link to publically available content. It is up to the target of the link to monetize (or not) traffic sent to such a link.

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  • Andy Freeman

    > Andy, *I* do not disagree. U.S. law disagrees. The courts disagree.

    Oh really? What US law or court says that I can’t provide a link to the NYT for content owned by the NYT?

    A responsive answer consists of a checkable citation that fits that fact pattern, not a vague assertion or a case with a different fact pattern. Of course, Levine is free to reply as he sees fit.

  • I think you are right. Links give support.

    So here are some links, that without the right to link, you wouln’t see

    A Question for John Yoo, and American Prospect Censorship?

    Presumption, not disdain,moves the Debate

    And my challenge to Super Freakonomics Author Steven Levitt

  • aidrocsid

    As far as I can tell, NewsNow isn’t really playing “fair” on the linking part.

    They are using redirect pages. It’s not direct link, or 301
    Therefore they are not passing the PR, the link is NOT followed by any crawler, and they are NOT contributing to the linking ecosystem.

    See for yourself :

    This is what Google sees : http://[2a00:1450:8002::84]/search?

    If I take the first link :

    It goes through a /A/ page, where you have a final redirect to the target site.
    But :
    /A/ is DISALLOWED.

    The PageRank isn’t properly flowing through those links. Bots aren’t attributing the links to the sources.
    It is not a FAIR usage of links.
    If they call for the “right to link”, they should at least do it properly…

  • I like the quote in your book, “do what you do best and link to the rest”.

  • William Barbosa

    The comparison with free speech to linking sounds ligitimate but I would like to further that comparison in relation to aggregators like NewsNow. I, as a human beings and individuals have the right to quote from any text we read (public domain), however I do not have the right to rebrand, repackage and redistribute that work with the aim of making a profit and in the process cutting it’s original author out of the equation. That’s simply theft. I see a lot of knee-jerking going on with mid-tier aggregators about their rights but I see little precious acitivity from them to find a fair and equitable solution for all parties.

  • Rick V.

    I remember when the company then known as Ticketmaster/Citysearch sued Microsoft for “deep-linking” to ticket pages within the Ticketmaster site from its Sidewalk sites. Nevermind that nowadays Ticketmaster will give you a rev-share for doing the same thing — at the time, they wanted all referred traffic to flow through its home pages. And Microsoft gave in (this was 1999):

    Of course, Ticketmaster/Citysearch (now IAC) bought Sidewalk soon thereafter, which could have influenced the settlement. But “deep-linking” (how quaint!) spawned lots of controversy and legal action back in the day. I just wonder if any of those decisions would have bearing on today’s controversies.

    Everything old is new again.

  • I believe that linking is not just a right but it is also an obligation. If you should quote what someone else has said, you are obliged to cite the source of the information that is not your own which you have mentioned. It can be compared to the citations required in a thesis, dissertation or academic article.

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  • I don’t find a problem with linking that is how you discover other blogs and posts.

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