As a writer I’m concerned about copyright issues—and as a writer of web content this concern grows with every case of nasty net-plagiarism that I come across. Text is lifted so often and so easily on the internet and the policing of such is usually left to the individual writer who invariably only gains a satisfactory result by mobilising an angry social media rabble to lobby the usually unscrupulous (or just plain dumb) copy-paste artiste into ‘doing the right thing’. So the recent copyright rulings in the UK High Court certainly grabbed my attention. But suddenly I find myself being a little more concerned about my rights as a net-citizen than I am as a writer.
On 26th November UK Justice Proudman ruled in the case The NLA v Meltwater Holding that hyper-links (with reference to those containing newspaper headlines) if “copied” for commercial purposes can constitute an infringement of copyright.
Yes, you heard right. Hyper-links have been deemed subject to copy right.
The ruling was spurred on by a legal battle between a well known media monitoring agency and the UK Newspaper Licensing Authority (NLA) who introduced the licensing fees in order to rigorously control the commercial benefits newspaper aggregators and the PR industry receive when they supply their clients with media references. The media monitoring company said the licence structures were unfair to end-users (their clients) and the PR industry in general found the licensing structure contentious as they believe they contribute to and collaborate on the articles they are now being coerced into paying a fee to view. The NLA, of course, disagreed strenuously, taking the case to the High Court to gain clarity on the legality of the issue.
But I wonder if any clarity was actually gained. To me the ruling has made the issue considerably murkier because such legal classifications cannot be confined just within those two industries. The decision reached, if not revoked at the future appeal hearing, will inevitably bleed into any industry that receives commercial benefits from the dispersion of hyperlinks … and this will trickle down from big business all the way to the common blogger who with a few side bar ads will suddenly be deemed as blogging for “commercial purposes”.
Maybe I’m being paranoid … but at this rate it looks like we will end up needing a Wiki-hyper-link-leaks style site just to be able to point net-friends in the direction of news articles we want to share our opinions on …