Posts about links

The right to remember, damnit

A reporter asked me for reaction to news that Google has put up a form to meet a European court’s insane and dangerous ruling and allow people to demand that links to content they don’t like about themselves be taken down. Here’s what I said:

This is a most troubling event for speech, the web, and Europe.

The court has trampled the free-speech rights not only of Google but of the sites — and speakers — to which it links.

The court has undertaken to control knowledge — to erase what is already known — which in concept is offensive to an open and modern society and in history is a device used by tyrannies; one would have hoped that European jurists of all people would have recognized the danger of that precedent.

The court has undermined the very structure of Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s invention, the link — the underpinning of the web itself — by making now Google (and next perhaps any of us) liable just for linking to information. Will newspapers be forced to erase what they link to or quote? Will libraries be forced to take metaphoric cards out of their catalogs?

The court has, ironically, made Google only more powerful, making it the adjudicator of what information should and should not be found. The court has also given Google ludicrous parameters — e.g., having to decide what is relevant to what; relevant to whom; relevant in what context?

We don’t know how this order will be implemented by the various search engines. One question is what right of notice and appeal a delinked site will have.

If this process is public, as it should be, then doesn’t that have the potential to bring even more attention to the information in dispute? Another question is whether content will be made invisible in Europe but will still be visible — as I hope it will be — in the rest of the world, where the European court has no authority. Will this then allow others to compare search results and make the banned information only more visible? In the end, has the court assured a Streisand effect — or, as the comedian John Oliver said on his HBO show, the one thing that is known about the Spaniard who brought this case is the thing that he does not want known.

Further, what of search engines and sites that have no European offices and thus the court has no authority over them? If they refuse to delink on demand will the court ban these sites for European view?

Finally, I am concerned about the additive effect of this ruling on Europe’s reputation as technophobic or anti-American. Add to this especially various actions in Germany — government officials demanding a “Verpixelungsrecht” (a right to be pixelated) in Google Street View despite the fact that these are images taken of public views in public places; German publishers ganging up on Google to strongarm politicians into passing a law limiting the quoting of snippets of content and now threatening to break up Google — in addition to similarly head-scratching moves in France, Italy, and elsewhere. Is Europe a place where any technology company or investor will choose to work?

You ask about Eric Schmidt and David Drummond cochairing the advisory committee. That is a clear indication of how profound and dangerous this situation is in Google’s view. It so happens I was in Mountain View two weeks ago speaking to the all-hands meeting of Google’s privacy teams and I can tell you they were shocked at the ruling. I also said much of what I’ve said to you there. I am appalled by this ruling. [As a matter of disclosure, Google paid my travel expenses but I have no business relationship with Google.]

Links are good

One of the best things Pro Publica does – besides reporting – is link to the best of what it calls accountability journalism because that helps support that reporting (take note, link-dumb, web-killer Gatehouse). Now they’re smartly using a bookmark tag “pplinks.”

A danger to journalism

The more I think about it, the angrier I get at Gatehouse for its dangerous and hypocritical crusade against links.

Links are the bloodstream of the web, carrying its oxygen. Links are how original journalism will get audience, traffic, branding, attention, credit, and monetization. Links are a gift and a courtesy. Links are the means to better-informed communities. Links tie people together with each other and the information they need. Links are necessary. Links are good.

But Gatehouse (like the AP before it and the French often) is fighting links from That’s a case of cutting off its nose to spite its face: Gatehouse is turning away traffic and audience. Suicide. But it’s also attempted murder: If on the very slight chance that an equally clueless judge lets this suit proceed, it could put a chill on linking just when we need it most. That’s what’s dangerous. That is irresponsible on Gatehouse’s part.

Indeed, we need more links to more journalism at its source, as I proposed to the Associated Press in the midst of its aborted antilink crusade. Links are also the key to specialization and efficiency; they will allow a local publication to do local well and link to other stories rather than rewriting them: Do what you do best, link to the rest.

In the comments on my post yesterday, Brian Cubbison (of pointed out the irony – make that hypocrisy – of Gatehouse’s link policy, as – just like – it started a hyperlocal blog in Batavia – where, unlike the Globe, it has no paper – and it links to papers owned by other companies. See this post on the blog’s very first day. I’d say what it does is far worse for both readers and the competition: It summarizes stories (arguably making it unnecessary to click through; instead quotes ledes that should entice readers to read more) and it links only to the home page and not directly to the stories (which is downright rude and inconvenient to readers who then would have go do digging for the content). This is closer to stealing content and journalistic value than what does. See also this Batavia post today, which summarizes and quotes a competitor’s story – more than has done – and links to it. And look at this post from a blog at Gatehouse’s Wicked Local – the alleged victim of’s linking – which quotes news from and doesn’t link to it. I’d say that is theft.

So what should happen here? Should Gannett sue Gatehouse? Should we all just sue each other for lnking to each other – for doing what the web is all about? As Mark Potts says:

This sort of nonsense really has to stop. Companies like GateHouse need to understand the medium they’re playing in, and how best to play in it, rather than trying to turn back the clock to some sort of imaginary time when they could keep their garden walls tall and stout.

If you can’t stand the links, Gatehouse, get off the web.

Gatehouse’s market cap is a measly $2.1 million. Why don’t we put together a fund to buy it and put it out of its misery and get rid of this ridiculous suit. Or let’s all appeal to Michael E. Reed, CEO of the embattled Gatehouse: Stop this dangerous and destructive suit.

: MORE: Henry Blodget mocks Gatehouse: “We hereby give the New York Times permission to aggregate any or all of our headlines and ledes anytime they feel like it. We’ll even give GateHouse Media the same permission. We can’t wait to welcome their readers to our sites.”

Journalistopia says:

If GateHouse were to have its way with its deep link argument, it would create a legal precedent that makes the act of linking to a copyrighted article illegal. It could mean a crippling of sites such as Romenesko and the Drudge Report, which can bring in enormous amounts of readers while being primarily built upon links to someone else’s expensive-to-create content. But, if enforced, it would also cut off the voluminous flow of readers who arrive to news sites via search engines and aggregators. That, too, has an effect on the bottom line.

In the end, we could see a long list of media companies flinging short-sighted lawsuits at each other, while suicidally pushing their content into black holes guarded by copyright law.

[Disclosures: I have an interest in the link economy as a partner at Daylife and a board member at Publish2 and an advisor to I am involved with those companies because I believe links are the foundation of news in the future.]

: LATER: Matthew Ingram has a v good response to the dustup:

With David Carr’s argument that newspapers should ignore the Web only a few days old — not to mention Joel Brinkley’s suggestion that anti-trust violations are a viable business model — I thought the market for stupid newspaper-related activity was pretty well saturated. But apparently I was wrong….

GateHouse apparently doesn’t like the way the Internet works. That puts the company in the same category as the World Newspaper Association and forward-thinking types like Chicago Tribune owner Sam Zell, who have repeatedly criticized Google for linking to news stories from its Google News search engine, or the Belgian newspapers that sued Google over similar tactics. All of these groups are trying to turn back time, to play King Canute with the rolling wave that is the Web, instead of trying to find ways of using that wave to their mutual advantage….

The crowdsourced life

I happened to tweet this morning about two crowdsourcing moments — student tries to crowdsource his tuition; Michael Arrington crowdsources his rats/ship/flee list for Yahoo — when Mark Comerford tweeted back with a link to the crowdsourced job interview:

Joanna Geary, a young journalist trying for a job at the Birmingham Post, told her readers about the task she had to perform for the interview: “I have to outline a training course that would convert traditional print journalists into ‘fully-equipped and knowledgeable multi-media, multi-platform journalists’ in just five days.” So she decided to ask for her readers’ help. I said in the comments that that act alone should get her hired. It shows she thinks in the new way: open, networked, relying on and trusting the gift economy and respecting her readers and what they know.

This is reflex for me now. I come to my friends on the blog — you — to ask help all the time, especially with my book. I’m working on another project that has to stay secret right now — not mine; I’m helping someone else — and it’s killing me that I can’t tap the wisdom of all of you.

What this really means: Your friends are, indeed, your greatest asset and when you can tap them for help you exploit their value to you. The internet now enables you to do that anytime with anyone. If you don’t have friends, you can’t do that. Newspapers, magazines, companies of all sorts need to realize that is why they need friends.

We are in a relationship-based economy. (Which is another way to look at the link economy of media, Associated Press, and why turning friends into enemies is just bad business.)

Ununderstanding the link economy

David Ardia reports on the fundamental misunderstanding of the link economy of media at the Carnegie-Knight Conference on the Future of Journalism. I got the quote from Jay Rosen’s tweet; he and I aren’t there (why? not sure; could be because our journalism schools aren’t part of the club or it could be because we’re not). Ardia blogs at the Citizen Media Law Project complaining about the one-way panel structure of such conferences:

For example, one attendee asked this morning’s panel on Working Journalists and the Changing News Environment whether news organizations should start charging a penny or two to everyone who links to newspaper content. Aside from the complete lack of any legal justification for such a licensing scheme (see the CMLP legal guide’s discussion of linking), the idea is preposterous and ignores the essential structure of the link architecture of the web. This should have sparked vigorous discussion of how the Internet has fundamentally changed the creation and distribution of news, but it didn’t.

I’d like to know who said it and who didn’t argue so we can spark that conversation. This is vital — vital — to the future of journalism. But I don’t find any evidence of streaming, live-blogging, or other blogging from the event. Too bad.