Court: Hands off that hyperlink

In a groundbreaking legal decision, a Danish court says a news aggregator must gain permission before linking directly to news stories. Is this a sign of things to come?

In one of the first legal decisions to ban so-called deep linking, a Danish court has ruled that a news site cannot provide hyperlinks to certain Web pages without the permission of publishers.

Under the ruling, news aggregator Newsbooster is banned from providing some deep links--or links to Web pages other than a site's front door--from its site or newsletters.

It's unclear whether the ruling by Copenhagen's lower bailiff's court will have broader ramifications for the Web. The decision only prevents Newsbooster from deep linking to the Danish Newspaper Publishers Association's 28 sites.

However, deep linking is becoming a more contentious topic across the globe as dot-coms of all stripes seek more control over their traffic and advertising targets.

Legal experts said the decision might not have any direct effect on most sites, but it opens the door for courts to examine more closely the practice of deep linking.

"I do think it now suggests that concerns lawyers have had over linking being legally actionable have come home to roost," said Mark Radcliffe, an intellectual property attorney at Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich.

Several sites in the United States have attempted to adopt their own prohibitions on deep linking to better control traffic to their site. Web sites including those for The Dallas Morning News and National Public Radio have sought to institute policies that would ban others from linking to their back pages without express permission, although they later backed away from their plans.

Some Web site operators argue they should be able to control links to their site to prevent rivals and others from capitalizing on the work and money that went into creating their content. However, critics of deep-linking bans say prohibitions on certain types of linking could fundamentally alter the nature of the Web, which relies on the free flow of information to operate. Such critics compare barring deep linking to cracking down on the ability to give directions.

Newsbooster warned the decision in its case would adversely affect the development of search engine technology.

"Newsbooster will continue our fight for hyperlinks and the understanding of 'refer' versus 'copy.' will together with our search engine (colleagues) decide if we will continue the fight on a higher level," Newsbooster CEO Anders Lautrup-Larsen said in a statement on the Newsbooster Web site.

The Danish Newspaper Publishers Association could not be immediately reached for comment.

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