Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

German press allowed to publish links

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After five years, the German computer magazine C’te has won a supreme courtw decision with the general content that it is allowed to publish links in its articles.

That this would take the involvement of the supreme court may seem absurd (and, certainly, many have marveled at the complete ignorance of the Internet and linking that previous instances have displayed).

The background story is roughly this: In 2005, C’t published an article about AnyDVDw—a tool whose abilities includes being able to circumvent the copy protection of DVDs. (A protection, which I, personally, consider unethical: There are legitimate uses being blocked, e.g. making a back-up copy or playing a DVD on a computer, while the commercial pirates have the resources to work around any protection.) The article contained a link to the website of AnyDVD-maker SlySoft. This caused the DVD-industry to go berserk: The aim of the link would be a simplification of access to a (in Germany, technically and regrettably) forbidden program and an instigation to its use.

The highly disputable justification of the software ban aside, this overlooks the very nature of links as a reference to other material—and the fact that anyone could have found the website over Google in less than a minute. Further, having followed the industry’s antics, I suspect that the there is an element of bad faith and litigation for the sake of intimidation involved—as well as a willingness to use undue means and cause undue disadvantages for others in order to gain comparatively slight advantages for itself.

Regrettably, lower instances went with the DVD industry’s take on the issue. Fortunately, with its decision from 2010-10-14 (as I gather from the last C’t, #23/2010) the supreme court has over-turned these decisions.

In a bigger picture, the issue arises when and whether a ban on links is a good idea. (Indeed, even after this decision, Germany does not have a complete freedom to link. In the above case, e.g., the interpretation of underlying intent is relevant.) My own view is that bannable cases are rare and that it is better to err on the side of too much permissiveness. In particular, I utterly reject the idea that a mere linking should be seen as an endorsement or a support of opinion/methods/whatnot. (I, myself, regularly link to content that I strongly disagree with.) Further, forbidding links will often be a slight inconvenience to those with a strong motivation—but a disproportionate obstacle for those with a fleeting interest or who merely want to check a few underlying details.

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Written by michaeleriksson

October 28, 2010 at 1:14 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , ,

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