Stop the Ignorant Legal and Bean-counting Professionals

Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing the web as we know it, probably never saw this coming. “Clueless lawyers and commercial greed could soon prevent deep linking between websites”. If some get their way, a great many sites, including some I’m involved with, could be out of business. Basically, the notion is that deep linking – eg linking to a page on another web site other than the home page, could become untenable, due to cost and legal reasons.

The Guardian article makes the interesting observation that hip, cool and cutting edge company Apple behind the scenes forbids deep linking to content on its site.

There has been a court case in the UK where a deep linker lost.

“Clearly, we are seeing a process of creep where legal companies and other advisory bodies are creating a climate where linking in the internet will eventually become a licensed activity. The first victims, as ever, will not be companies but individuals. “

But, as the article says, all is not lost. National Public Radio in the USA tried it on – it started saying that deep linkers needed permission. And they were innundated with thousands of link requests, and eventually scrapped the policy. Perhaps more examples like this, where the Net constituency takes positive action to illustrate to the lawyers and accountants the error of their restrictive practices, attitudes can be changed.

The whole point of the web is links. I don’t think a few ignorant legal and bean-counting professionals should get in the way.

Here We Go Again – With a Twist

The Canadian Recording Industry Association has announced it’s going to start suing Canadian users of file-sharing networks.

But there’s an interesting twist. Canada has a ‘copyright levy’ – “a fee paid in Canada whenever you buy a blank recordable compact disc, or a music player that has internal memory”.

The Globe and Mail says: “The wording of the Copyright Act and several Copyright Board rulings suggest that Canadians are legally allowed to download music for their own use, because of the copyright levy.”

But CRIA says it’s going to target, wait for it, uploading of copyrighted material – eg they’re going to try and argue that uploading is illegal, when downloading might be legal! Would seem you can’t have one without the other of course.

When A Spam Isn’t A Spam

George Bush has signed into the law the new US Can-Spam Law. But some experts are pretty skeptical:

“Estimates are that 90 per cent of all spam comes from about 200 groups around the world. They operate outside the jurisdiction of the United States. Even more important, they are able to hide their identity. They make it impossible for authorities to trace them, so laws that threaten penalties are absolutely meaningless.”

Have to agree with them, basically a spam isn’t a spam if it has an opt-out option at the bottom. Which many, of course, do already. Although it isn’t in reality opt-out, rather opt-in-for-lots-more, because it just tells the spammer that your address is alive.

Get Rich Quick – and Poor Even Faster

A pretty odd tale of Internet fraud in today’s press. An Australian man decided to check out one of the many spam money making emails. He wound up stumbling on what looks like a neat money laundering operation. He handed over details of a bank account (one which he had not used for ages). Lo and behold $23,000 arrived in the account, with instructions to forward 90% of the funds via Western Union to another account.

He got in touch with the Australian Federal Police, and the bank, although seems disapointed with the bank’s response – or lack of it.

What’s quite bizarre is the response from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission:

“A spokesman from the ACCC said it was not the responsibility of the organisation to issue warnings about such scams; if people were charged or there were court proceedings resulting from such activity, a mention would be made, he said. Else, such matters did not come within its purview.”

Because they publish a Little Black Book of scams on their web site, and lots of other general scam related con merchant warnings.

Pick a Jurisdiction

Don’t like the rules in your country – move to another one! It does all seem rather obvious. The operators of http://www.baggygreen.com.au/ “The Official Home of Australian Cricket” have move its hosting to the UK. Who runs it? ninemsn – Kerry Packer and Microsoft. ninemsn says “the UK move was carried out for performance reasons”. Pity nobody told the current host – Hostworks in Adelaide. Hostworks says “None of the discussions we’ve had with them have involved performance”. Which is understandable. Hostworks is one of the largest hosters in the country, and looks after all the other ninemsn sites, none of which are moving.

The Australian newspaper today is quoting sources as saying “ninemsn wanted to avoid the risk of being involved with an illegal operation after being contacted by the AFP”.

Why was ninemsn contacted by the Federal Police? Because of complaints about Baggy Green running online gambling advertisements had been referred to the police by the Department of Communications, IT and the Arts.

Who’s tried an online gambling business in Australia? Kerry Packer. Except, because Australian laws prevent online gambling, he based his site offshore in Vanuatu. He did close it in May 2003, after a reported $5.6 million loss.

All this highlights is how easy it is for businesses to simply ignore the rules in any particular country. If they don’t like the regieme in one jurisdiction, they simply move operations to another, taking advantage of local conditions.

And no this is not a symptom of the internet. Businesses have always sought to exploit local conditions, whether it’s as benign as locating call centres off short in India, or more pragmatic, like McDonalds continuing to use foam packaging in any country where environment laws aren’t so strict, or chemical manufacturers shifting plants to third world countries where local authorities turn a blind eye to the side effects.

Check Your Links

Studio giant Miramax is standing by a cease and desist letter it sent to the owner of http://www.kungfucinema.com/, claiming the King Fu site was selling copies of a movie the studio has the rights to. Trouble is, the site doesn’t sell films, it just linked to the legitimate distributor of the film, although the link was old in that the distributor no longer sells the film. And therein was the basis of Miramax’s problem.

This is an interesting microcosm. Kung Fu Cinema is a site providing reviews and information about a particular movie genre, established by a passionate individual, and no threat commercially to a company like Miramax – not that it even sees itself as a threat in the first place.

How many fan sites are there on the Net? How many link, as a courtesy to their readers, to other sites retailing movies? Does Miramax intend to threaten them all? A ridiculous thought. But the parallel with the music end of the business is clearly apparent. Teenagers in Sydney now have a criminal record after being found guilty of an offence – operating a web site which linked to music content. Sure, some of that content may or may not have been legitimately offered for download by the linked sites. And that’s why the teens have a rap sheet.

But put all this together, and the inevitable conclusion is that anyone who operates a web site as part of their passion or hobby, better make damn sure they don’t link to web sites which aren’t legitimately distributing copyrighted content.

Sounds so easy to say. Now try and make it a reality.