I just read an article on montrealgazette.com that left me shaking my head in utter disbelief at the sheer stupidity of the situation.

It seems that a Vancouver businessman, Wayne Crookes, claims that writer Jon Newton defamed him by linking to reputation-smearing articles in a 2006 post about free speech on his website, www.p2pnet.net.

Essentially he’s trying to get the courts to agree that merely linking to something amounts to the same thing as publishing it and in particular that linking to an (allegedly) libellous article can be legally the same as if you’d written the offending article yourself.

The problem with this is that links are perhaps the most important feature of the web.  Frankly I don’t see it.  Providing a link to something does not mean that you agree with what people will find there.  It is merely more information, not unlike a footnote in a book.

The difference is important.  Telling somebody where something is cannot possibly be the same thing as writing that something yourself.  If I were to write something that said Joe Blow was embezzling money to pay debts instead of using credit repair services then that would be libelous.  If on the other hand I were to link to an article that someone else wrote making such claims, all I would be doing is saying “Here’s an article so and so wrote” and the link merely shows where that article is.  In providing that link I’m not making the statements in the article being linked to, the author who wrote the article is making those statements.  I would merely be reporting the existence of it.

The thing is, while this seems like an incredibly stupid lawsuit it’s also a very important one.  If the court should rule in favor of this guy that will open the way for anyone and everyone to start a torrential flood of lawsuits against anyone and everyone that links to something that they don’t like.

In my opinion this is nonsense and that nonsense needs to be stopped cold.

Imagine an internet where links are hardly ever used because people were afraid of being sued because of something that somebody else wrote?  The internet would become a mere shadow of what it is now and freedom of speech on the Internet would become a thing of the past.

Technorati Tags: jon newton, opinion, internet, hyperlinks, libel, p2pnet, links, supreme court, canadian supreme court, wayne crooks, stupidity, lawsuit, ridiculous, freedom of speech, defamation

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