The Evils of Linking

One of the things I never thought about before taking on copyright duties at the college was the minefield of issues surrounding the issue of hyperlinking directly to specific content on the Internet (otherwise known as deep-linking).

In the latest news on this front (as discussed at Digital Copyright Canada) a Texas judge has found a web site operator, Robert Davis, liable for copyright infringement because his site linked to another site’s audio content. I know when I read this story my mind was full of stereotypical images of a judge wearing a ten-gallon hat, and making comments about the Internet being a series of tubes.

After reading the complete article it appears that if the defendant had actually hired a lawyer, the judge would have been made aware of previous cases and been clearly shown that this person was not copying or taking possession of this audio content in any way, he was simply providing access to the copyright owners’ content.

One of the main issues in this case was that the owners of the audio were streaming this content through a media player that they could sell ad-time on. Robert Davis was providing the direct link to the audio stream so people could listen to the audio in the audio player of their choice (thereby depriving them of their ad revenue).

While I am happy to put up with most advertising tied to on-line content if that is what it takes to make it freely available and allows the creators to continue to produce more content, I must admit I do the exact same thing with a local radio station’s on-line feed. They kept playing this annoyingly loud ad before the stream would start and when someone told me what the exact URL was to the audio feed I started using that and getting the programming immediately through the Windows Media Player.

At our school we work closely with the online course developers and educators to ensure that all material being placed online is being done in compliance with copright laws. Some ask about providing direct links to content on Youtube and other video sharing sites for their students to see. Since so much of this requested material is copyrighted content uploaded by individuals users (not the copyright holders) we advise them against doing this. There have been enough reports of people getting in trouble for doing this that I feel comfortable with our stance.

The more cloudy issue is the simple act of creating a URL directly to a page on another person’s web site. From all that I have read, one should feel they are not violating the law by creating a deep-link, as long as you clearly state that the link will take the user to another person’s web site and you do not imply that you in any way have ownership of the content on that site.

However, we came across another case of a teacher wanting to link to specific content on a company’s web site but when we checked the legal notices, they stated that you should not deep-link to their web site. Now I have no doubt that if we simply allowed them to put the deep-link up and this company found out about it, that there is no way we would be dragged in front of a judge. We were simply creating a direct path to content this company is making available on the World Wide Web. If they are so concerned about how people access this content they should put it behind a pay-wall or other lock-down mechanism.

While the debate over the future of copyright law in Canada continues between user-rights advocates and rights holders I sincerly hope that whatever form the new legislation takes, educational uses like the ones we try to facilitate will be clearly protected in law, whether this is through specific educational exemptions of through a shift from our concept of fair-dealing to a model closer to the U.S. one of fair-use.

January 29 Update

Google’s gonna get you!

googles.jpg

As Google’s inevitable march towards world domination continues, there is more news on their entry into the educational sphere.

They have shifted their Librarian Newsletter into a blog. While this should help us to keep on top of the latest news on nifty tools like Google Earth and Google Scholar, this development has provided another opportunity for those who cast a wary eye on Google’s intentions to speak their minds.

Over at Library Stuff they speculate that this is another step in Google’s “brainwashing” of librarians so they can go in and scan all of our books. While I wouldn’t go that far, there is an undeniable push and pull between library staff’s desire to get students to learn to research with our tried and tested tools and an acknowledgement that students today are used to tools like Google and we need to integrate them in our approaches to information literacy. See this report from the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative for more information about this.

In other Google news, Lakehead University in Thunder Bay Ontario has, according to this press release, “recently aligned with Google to be the first large-scale deployment of Google Apps for Education in Canada.”

This arrangement might concern those uncomfortable with the entire university’s email, calendering systems, etc. being hosted by Google and not the university’s own I.T. department but for the cost of $0 it’s not a bad trade-off. The other benefit mentioned there and in this article about Arizona State’s adoption of the Google Apps, is the amount of money and labour that can now be redirected to more forward looking projects than making sure that ageing email server the school purchased 8 years ago keeps from breaking down twice a day.

These web-based Apps will also constantly receive updates and improved functionality, which I can only see as the way ahead from the current model of purchasing a fairly static suite of software tools that can’t take advantage of evolving tools and technologies.

Speaking as someone who works at a school that has not yet established a central email system for the students, I can’t help but feel a little jealous of our friends on Lake Superior.