Dvorak: Web Big Guns Need to Defend 'Deep Linking'

Here comes the deep-link bugaboo once again. Run, kids, run!

You have to wonder exactly how dumb the executives at Google, Yahoo! and even Microsoft are when a case waltzes through a court in Texas that not only directly affects their respective businesses but has the potential to bankrupt at least two of these companies.

I'm referring to the case where yet again "deep linking" — linking to a page or other item anywhere other than the front page of a third-party Web site — has been judged to be illegal. But the problem from the outset is that the term deep linking has no real meaning, since at some point or another, all links could be seen as deep links.

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My blog, for example, is technically based on a deep link, since http://www.dvorak.org/blog is deeply linked from www.dvorak.org. And when you study www.dvorak.org, it's actually a deep link from a common IP address used on the Web server.

This column, for example, is a deep link. So apparently in Texas you cannot send the URL for it to a friend, and Digg or Slashdot cannot link to it, despite the fact that everyone benefits from these direct (aka deep) links.

A link is a link. Banning deep linking is a step towards banning all linking, and what does that do for the Google business model? Where are the Google attorneys helping out in this case? Are they helping out on the appeal? If not, then why not?

How do we even use the Internet if deep linking is illegal for some reason? We don't, that's how. Goodbye, Amazon. Hey Jeff, did you help out on this case?

Let's look at the case. Essentially, SFX Motorsports, a Supercross motorcycle promoter asked some small-time operator — Supercrosslive.com — to stop poaching its videos with deep links. The guy said no, so they sued him in court.

This all sounds fine on paper, since jillions of advertising dollars are lost because someone deep-linked a video, stealing both bandwidth and big money. Yeah, right.

Let's start with practicality here. If you don't want your videos poached, then lock the door, dummy.

There are plenty of server mechanisms that can be employed that will prevent anyone from deep-linking into areas of a site where you do not want them deep linking. It's cheaper than suing, less risky to the future of the Web, and works better!

But realistically, in this instance, who are we kidding? Most Web pages might pay out $1 per 1,000 page views. SFX Motorsports might be losing at most all of $10 to 20, since the Supercross Live site has very little traffic. The actual damages are probably under $5.

A big problem in this debate is the naïve set of people who think that linking to a copyrighted image or article is somehow a violation of copyright. Some of them will argue that the link itself is copyrighted and cannot be used without permission.

Where do these people come from? Mars? This is like saying my phone number or street address is copyrighted and cannot be distributed ever without my permission. These people do not go away.

Now if these folks were part of a pressure group trying to destroy the Web and who carried signs saying, "Down with the Internet! Down with the Web!" then it would make sense to me.

That said, it seems to me that if one site politely asked another site to stop linking, the site being asked should be amenable and stop linking, or should begin to link in some way that the first site thought was acceptable.

What's the big deal? And, I reiterate, exactly why didn't the first site simply block the deep linking? It's not rocket science.

This is what baffles me the most. If you think deep linking is so bad, then block it.

To me, it's like leaving your house unlocked with the doors open and being gone all the time. Then you wonder why everything is missing, so you blame the police and demand more laws.

Try locking the door, dummy. Cripes.

You'll still hear in this forum and elsewhere: "People shouldn't have to do anything. A rule is a rule!"

Yes, and we're all 12 years old.

The message a judge should hear is that if a site technically allows deep linking, then it is tacitly and overtly allowing it — perhaps encouraging it. The links are fair game, period. If it tries to block it, then it is not allowing it. That's that. Simple. It works. No more complaining.

It's a message that Google and Yahoo! and Amazon, and others who to some extent rely on deep linking, should be delivering themselves — before all linking is banned by some court that is ignorant about computer technology and culture.

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