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July 22, 2002
8:59 AM   Subscribe

After the outrage about NPR's linking policy, they've written a new one. The ombudsman explains what happened.
posted by jaden (20 comments total)

 
Kudos to them for seeing the light. It's much better than the old policy.

But, hmm: "We reserve the right to withdraw permission for any link." That still implies that permission is theirs to grant in the first place, which it isn't.
posted by Tin Man at 9:25 AM on July 22, 2002


Well, they can grant permission to link. If you piss them off, they could just as easily seek legal action or put a deny in their apache setup.
posted by mkelley at 9:44 AM on July 22, 2002


I agree, it's not perfect but at least they're heading in the right direction. The ombudsman seems to be willing to listen to suggestions though, which is a good sign.
posted by jaden at 9:46 AM on July 22, 2002


Pretty good, I think. You're not going to find a more accomodating policy in any publshing company or content producer.

Good job, everybody, for getting them to rethink this.
posted by me3dia at 9:51 AM on July 22, 2002


By using the NPR Web sites, you agree to be bound by these terms of use. If you do not agree to these terms of use, please do not use the NPR Web sites.

This is better? They haven't changed a thing, except drop an absurd form no one was using, and phrase their clueless idiocy in a slightly less aggressive way. I don't agree to any damn thing by looking at content they've made freely available.

me3dia: You're not going to find a more accomodating policy in any publshing company or content producer.

That's not true. There are many, *many* news sites that do not assert a completely asinine "right" to refuse links, including the NY Times:
Q. May I create a link to your homepage, section, or specific article?
A. Links may be created to The New York Times on the Web homepage, any area or articles that you can locate in a search of our website.


And here's the policy at the St. Petersburg Times: "You may hyperlink to sptimes.com so long as the link does not state or imply any sponsorship or endorsement of your site by sptimes.com, St. Petersburg Times, the Times Publishing Company or any of their affiliates. Any linking which results in display of this site's content surrounded by or included with content of another site, organization or person is prohibited."

Moronic legal departments that do reserve a "right" to ban linking include the Washington Post ("We reserve the right however, to revoke permission at any time for such text links") and all Tribune Company sites such as the LATimes, Chicaco Tribune, Baltimore Sun and NY Newsday ("If you operate a Web site and wish to link...you may do so provided you agree to cease such link upon request"). But control freak idiocy is not yet the inevitable norm. I suggest lobbying the technology writers and letters pages at newspapers which shit on the concept of the public Web like this.
posted by mediareport at 10:23 AM on July 22, 2002


me3dia: The BBC's T&C's and Privacy policies seem even more accomodating.
posted by nedrichards at 10:27 AM on July 22, 2002


Here's a sampling of linking policies and agreements; the only one you'll approve of is the last one.
- Netscape's linking policy
- eFannieMae's linking policy
- Fodors.com's linking agreement
- Independant Songwriter Web-Magazine's linking agreement
- CIO Magazine's linking policy

If all you care about is how it reads, then yes, the NPR statement is less accomodating than NYT's. But don't confuse omission with permission. Do you really think that the New York Times isn't going to do anything if they object to the way you've linked them? Or that CIO has signed away their right to tell you to take down your link because even though they dared make a blanket statement that links are OK? Just because a publication doesn't come out and say it doesn't mean they don't have a cease-and-desist order waiting for the blanks to be filled out.

By using the NPR Web sites, you agree to be bound by these terms of use. If you do not agree to these terms of use, please do not use the NPR Web sites.

This is standard "terms of use" legalspeak. If you can't play by the rules, you're kicked out of the sandbox. Every publication on the Web has similar language in their copyright & disclaimer statement, terms of use , subscriber agreement or somewhere else. Don't act like this is out of the ordinary.

Nedrichards -- I'm not sure how the BBC's statement is more accomodating:
In accessing the BBC's webpages, you agree that you will access the contents solely for your own private use but not for any commercial or public use. You can download and use the service on a single CPU at a time and you can print out a single hard copy of any part of the content on the BBC's website for your personal use.

Except as permitted above, you undertake not to copy, store in any medium (including in any other website), distribute, transmit, re-transmit, broadcast, modify, or show in public any part of the BBC's website without the prior written permission of the BBC or in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
posted by me3dia at 12:29 PM on July 22, 2002


Do you really think that the New York Times isn't going to do anything if they object to the way you've linked them?

I'll agree with you on one thing, me3dia: Any linking policy that includes a phrase like, "You may link to our site so long as..." is bullshit. In the sense that all of the above policies attempt to claim certain rights that don't --and shouldn't -- exist on the Web, you have a point.

But your attempt to lump all the site policies together still seems way off-base to me. The NY Times, St. Pete Times and others like them have clearly made a decision not to worry about who links to them. This isn't just omission; they both say, "Yes, you can link to us." I figure this is because either 1) they know it's a legal fight that can't be won or 2) their tech departments actually understand and honor the fundamental spirit of the Web and don't think the power grab is right (oh, and I don't give a shit about policies that single out framing, since it's a disgusting move that deserves whatever it gets. I'm comfortable with that balance).

Do you really think the better sites weren't aware of the option of "reserving the right" to ban links when they wrote their policies? I mean, what could be possibly be a more annoying link to the NYT site than this? There's a clear difference between what NPR and the WaPo are doing, and what the NYT and St. Pete Times are doing, and we should point that out loud and clear. The objections NPR cites are complete crap; if someone's grabbing copyrighted material or implying that you endorse their site when you don't, there are already rules in place to deal with that.
posted by mediareport at 1:36 PM on July 22, 2002


Do you really think the better sites weren't aware of the option of "reserving the right" to ban links when they wrote their policies?

No, I don't think that's the case at all. I think they left it out in order to leave their options wide open. If you don't say what you will and won'y tolerate, those standards can change over time. Just because NYT and SPT say "Yes, you can link to us" doesn't mean there aren't instances in which they will object.

I see no problem with stating that repurposing copyrighted material is prohibited. Sure, it's implied in the copyright symbol at the bottom of the page, but it's also pretty standard to say something to that effect somewhere else on the site. Same goes for implied endorsements -- their credibility rests in large part on their objectivity and independence, and any link implying an endorsement could be considered a violation of that independence.

I have a client that's a non-profit disease awareness organization. Their copyright and disclaimer states that they do not endorse products, services or plans -- a policy that is based on their wish to remain objective. Shouldn't they say that links that imply endorsement are prohibited, even if such a statement isn't enforcible?
posted by me3dia at 2:01 PM on July 22, 2002


Just because NYT and SPT say "Yes, you can link to us" doesn't mean there aren't instances in which they will object.

Yeah and just because monkeys aren't flying out of my ass right now doesn't mean there won't be instances in which they will in the future. Hey, ya never know. But the fact is, the NYT and SPT don't currently object. This is a good thing, and it makes their linking policies clearly better than those at NPR and the WaPo, which both include idiotic, unnecessary power grabs.

Shouldn't they say that links that imply endorsement are prohibited, even if such a statement isn't enforcible?

Why wouldn't that be enforceable? If a site says, "Endorsed by X!!" and X hasn't in fact endorsed it, wouldn't that be fraud? Don't we have laws for that already? Someone please correct me if that's not right.
posted by mediareport at 2:17 PM on July 22, 2002


Fraud laws do protect in such cases, but it's unlikely that they'd be used. My point was mainly that simply because laws exist doesn't mean a company can't reiterate it that X is prohibited. Such a statement is not so much a warning of the law as it is a reassurance to users that the organization's ethics are intact. It's PR.

NPR has an interest in maintaining its credibility. They are very concerned about appearing in a bad light via links. They've chosen to state their right to prohibit a link (an act that essentially consists of emailing the offending site and asking it to remove the link, followed possibly by a stern letter from a lawyer) rather than leaving it implied, as the NY Times does. What's wrong with that? It seems like we're arguing about semantics more than anything here.
posted by me3dia at 2:30 PM on July 22, 2002


Fraud laws do protect in such cases, but it's unlikely that they'd be used.

Why not?

They've chosen to state their right to prohibit a link

On what is this so-called "right" founded?

It seems like we're arguing about semantics more than anything here.

I think that's because you keep failing to mention where NPR's "right" to prohibit linking on the World Wide Web comes from.
posted by mediareport at 2:35 PM on July 22, 2002


Well, I'm obviously raising your hackles, but I've got to ask: where is it writ that a private entity can not prohibit a link?

Bare in mind, mediareport, that we're arguing different aspects of the same side here. I'm in favor of a freer, more open Web, but I have serious problems with the concept that anything on the Web is fair game, with no recourse for entities who wish not to be associated with some other entity. Which is what you seem to be implying w/r/t NPR's fairly standard statement. The various linking policies I posted above were only a sample -- thousands more exist on all sorts of sites, so I must not be the only one who feels this way.

I mean, after all, if the KKK decided to link to your site -- in any form -- wouldn't you like to be able to say "No, don't link to me"?
posted by me3dia at 2:51 PM on July 22, 2002


me3dia - "I mean, after all, if the KKK decided to link to your site -- in any form -- wouldn't you like to be able to say "No, don't link to me"?"

I don't see where I would have any right to tell the KKK (or anyone else) not to link to my site.

Part of the confusion, seems to come from the term "link", as if it created a real connection/interdependence between sites. Actually, all a link is is a set of directions to something that is publically available. If I post a link to the Washington Post on my page, that is no different than if I wrote "The Washington Post has an interesting article on page 10. You should pick up a copy and check it out." Would you argue that the Washington Post should have the right to prevent any one from giving directions on how to find an article in their print edition? There's no difference! ("We've discovered that you are informing KKK members of how to find the editorial page in our newspaper. You'll have to stop that immediately.")

This isn't anything new. Prior to the web, we've always had the right to direct people to publically available sources of information. Framing pages is different - that's the same as photocpying pages from the newspaper and sticking those pages in my own paper. Falsely claiming endorsement is another thing. That's already illegal as well. But pointing people towards what's been published - whether or not we get along with the publishers - has always been legal.
posted by tdismukes at 4:00 PM on July 22, 2002


I mean, after all, if the KKK decided to link to your site -- in any form -- wouldn't you like to be able to say "No, don't link to me"?

Of course not. How can you claim to be in favor of a "freer, more open Web" and even ask that question? Better to ask if I'd be in favor of allowing Focus on the Family to prevent lesbian and gay sites from linking to their moronic spew to point out, in detail, how flawed the FOTF's logic is. Yeah, that'd be real smart. You're not thinking this through at all, me3dia.

Well, I'm obviously raising your hackles,

*snort* You'd do better to raise the level of logic in your argument.

but I've got to ask: where is it writ that a private entity can not prohibit a link?

Where is it writ that a private entity can't shove monkeys up my ass and order them to fly out at random intervals? The Web is a public place, friend.

The funniest thing by far about NPR's response is the way the public radio giant attempts to swagger into the great big Internet Saloon, hitch up its pants, spit in the corner (first clue it's bluffing: it misses the spittoon) and try to pull off an obvious piece of macho bullshit: "If you do not agree to these terms of use, please do not use the NPR Web sites."

It is to die for. Hey, NPR, I've got a better one for you: If you don't understand the basic structure of the public Web, why don't you just get the hell off of it? We're not impressed with your brainless bullshit. And that goes for the Washington Post, LA Times, the entire Belo Corporation and anyone else who buys into the idea that you can freely publish something and then demand control over who points to it. Screw you.
posted by mediareport at 4:27 PM on July 22, 2002


where is it writ that a private entity can not prohibit a link?

It's called "prior restraint." The creator of any document has the sole moral right to determine the content of that document. After I publish, you can sue me for libel or copyright infringement, or prosecute me for fraud or inciting to riot, but you cannot stop me ahead of time from saying whatever I want (by, say, prohibiting me from using certain text strings that happen to be interpreted by certain software programs as hyperlinks that happen to point to your site).
posted by kindall at 5:03 PM on July 22, 2002


I mean, after all, if the KKK decided to link to your site -- in any form -- wouldn't you like to be able to say "No, don't link to me"?

I haven't had the KKK specifically link to one of my sites, but as far as telling the difference between them and some of the organizations that do link to one particular site I run, I couldn't. (The site in question is a database of shortwave radio programs; the "patriot" movement in the US makes big use of shortwave to spread its message.) Personally, I'm not all that happy about it, but I decided years ago that there was no purpose to be served by asking them to remove their links. Besides, the database in question also has listings for lefty programs from Radio For Peace International in Costa Rica, and the programs of The Voice of Russia, among other things. I figure maybe some of the people who visit from the wingnut fringe sites will be intrigued enough to retune their radios from crackpot radio to something else, at least once. At least the site makes them aware that there are alternatives.

The only limitation I put on linking is that I programmed the site in such a way that if you try to set up a form on your site that accesses the database directly, it'll break by the following day. There's a note in my source code notifying webmasters of this. I only do that because the author of the database also sells the information in book form, and I want users to see the link to the information about the book. Beyond that, hell, it's the web. I can't control what happens. Anyone who wants to link can. I'm not going to agree with all of them, and that's fine. That's just the nature of the beast.
posted by geneablogy at 5:20 PM on July 22, 2002


Let's assume that folks like the Danish court responsible for this ridiculous decision that will hopefully get overturned on appeal succeed in forcing everyone on the Web to get written permission before linking.

Will that extend to, say, Word documents whose default settings automatically turn anything that starts with "http://" into an active link? How exactly will NPR police that? And if they can't, why then should they be allowed to refuse an active link on the Web? And, heavens! What if someone NPR finds objectionable (left-handed socialist diabetics come to mind) writes a Usenet post that includes an NPR link in simple text format? Wouldn't most newsgroup-reading software turn that clear free speech into a link anyway? How the hell is NPR going to control that?

Good lord, NPR. YOU'RE BEING FOOLS.
posted by mediareport at 5:57 PM on July 22, 2002


Let's all take a deep, cleansing breath and look at the document at hand:

Copyrights; Trademarks
Nobody seems to have a problem with any of this. Fine.

Framing
NPR does not allow framing of its Web sites.
Everyone's OK with that, too. Great.

Links to NPR Web Sites
NPR encourages and permits links to content on NPR Web sites. We're all in agreement that this is a good thing. Seems pretty safe. However, NPR is an organization committed to the highest journalistic ethics and standards and to independent, noncommercial journalism, both in fact and appearance. A statement of position, nothing controversial. Therefore, the linking should not (a) suggest that NPR promotes or endorses any third party's causes, ideas, Web sites, products or services, -- Which is fraud, -- or (b) use NPR content for inappropriate commercial purposes. -- Which is misappropriation of copyrighted material. We reserve the right to withdraw permission for any link.
And here's the sticking point. They say they reserve the right to withdraw permission -- in other words, they reserve the right to say "Take our link off your site." There's no prior restraint -- they're talking about links that are already made -- and there's no threat of prosecution. My interpretation of this line on closer inspection, especially since it's right after two instances in which a link would be illegal, is that if you violate one of these rules, they're going to ask you to stop.

Links to Third Party Sites
No one takes issue with this.

Miscellaneous
These terms of use, together with the Discussion Board rules, represent the entire understanding of the parties regarding the use of the NPR Web Sites and supersede any previous documents, correspondence, conversations, or other oral or written understanding related to these terms of use. These terms of use shall be governed by and construed under District of Columbia law without regard to its choice of law rules, and, where applicable, the laws of the United States. A modification or waiver of a part of these terms of use shall not constitute a waiver or modification of any other portion of the terms of use. Standard legal disclaimer. No biggy...or is it?

Consent to Terms
By using the NPR Web sites, you agree to be bound by these terms of use. Again, standard legalese. When you use MetaFilter, you're bound to Matt's terms of use. If you do not agree to these terms of use, please do not use the NPR Web sites. Another bone of contention, one I really don't understand. This is analogous to the favorite MeFi statement, "If you don't like a post, don't read it." If you can't play by the rules, don't come to the playground. What's the problem? We reserve the right, at our discretion, to modify, add or delete portions of these terms at any time... Yadda yadda yadda, more legal B.S.

The only time these rules make any difference at all is if NPR actually enforces them. They never have, to my knowledge (do you know of an occasion?), and they probably never will. Hundreds of other websites have similar statements that also aren't enforced -- are you going to rail against all of them, too?

Re: my comments about the KKK linking to a site -- please make the distinction here between being able to request that a link not be made and actually having it happen. I don't think for a moment that my asking somebody to remove a link to my site will necessarily do it, but I sure as hell would like to tell them to. Whether they oblige is up to them.
posted by me3dia at 8:28 PM on July 22, 2002


Once more, with feeling:

If I post a link to the Washington Post on my page, that is no different than if I wrote "The Washington Post has an interesting article on page 10. You should pick up a copy and check it out." Would you argue that the Washington Post should have the right to prevent any one from giving directions on how to find an article in their print edition? There's no difference!

This is the only point that needs to be made. The policy is nothing more than dust in the wind.
posted by sudama at 8:09 AM on July 25, 2002


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