You become a writer, by writing. You become a driver by driving. You may be licensed to drive, but if you don’t get behind the wheel and drive, you aren’t a driver, In the same way, you become a publisher by publishing.
I am just floored by the saga underlying the p2pnet article: Wayne Crookes wants to freeze the net. It seems that p2pnet Blogger Jon Newton is (and apparently has been) almost all the way through the Canadian court system because he’s being sued for defamation and libel. Next stop: Supreme Court of Canada.
Mr. Newton is in fact the publisher of a blog called p2pnet. He is being sued by Mr. Crookes for libel and defamation, not because Newton himself published anything defamatory or libelous, but because Newton linked to other articles on the Internet that Mr. Wayne Crookes of West Coast Title Search Ltd. claimed were libelous and defamatory.
The crux of Mr. Crookes’ suit is the contention that creation of hyperlinks and subsequent refusal to remove hyperlinks to alleged libelous web pages makes Newton a publisher of the source material, and therefore responsible for it. The convoluted idea is that he became a publisher of the source material through inaction.
On all of Mr. Crooke’s previous days in court against Mr. Newton, the courts have agreed that the use of an Internet hyperlink is the Internet equivalent of a footnote, therefore absolving Mr. Newton of any culpability. That seems perfectly reasonable to me. I’ll go along with the idea that a link is the Internet equivalent of a footnote that will direct you to the source.
But the Montreal Gazette article explains Mr. Crooke’s latest argument:
Crookes contends that Newton, by creating the hyperlinks and then refusing to remove them when advised they were libelous, became a publisher by his inaction.
“Given that Mr. Newton didn’t break the hyperlink and continued to act as a chain of publication, Mr. Crookes is taking the position before the court that he is in fact republishing the defamation,”
said Dermod Travis, a spokesman for Crookes, owner of the company West Coast Title Search.
Jon Newton’s article explains Mr. Crookes contention:
“linking to an article is the same as publishing it and that linking to an allegedly libelous article can, therefore, be the same as defamation.”
A slashdot comment suggests that unlinking the link would have made it into a mere textual footnote and solved the p2pnet problem is… ahem… absurd. After all, a proper footnote in a scholarly work tells you what the exact source is. If the source is a published book, I should be able to get a copy from my local bookseller, which would put the source directly into my hand. Does that mean the bookseller published it? Hardly.
Whether an Internet footnote (aka a hyperlink) is an actual hyperlink — like this earlier p2pnet story:
or a textual representation of a hyperlink like this: http://www.p2pnet.net/story/12056
it is possible for anyone to click the former or cut and paste the latter your search bar and voila, you’re at the original source.
It doesn’t even matter whether the articles p2pnet linked to were in fact defamatory.
That isn’t the issue Mr. Crookes has brought before the Canadian Supreme Court, it is whether or not including a hyperlink to source material makes you responsible for the source material. The Crookes contention is that Newton’s links to the source material makes Newton a publisher of the allegedly defamatory original source.
What is a publisher?
I would think that a publisher would have at least some element of of ownership– even if only moral– and at least some measure of control in the publication.
Book, Newspaper and Magazine publishers have traditionally asserted copyright over the material they publish, and because of this, have been able to charge advertisers to advertise in their publications and to have customers purchase a single issue or subscription.
Wikipedia has an excellent comprehensive article on what constitutes publishing, and nowhere do they say use of a hyperlink constitutes publication. Of course, Wikipedia is one of the parties Mr. Crookes has sued.
As a lowly beginner blogger, I do not have ads on any of my blogs. Even so, I am the publisher and have control over what goes into them. Although I have not been blogging long, I have learned that the point of the internet is inter connectivity. Because of this, I strive to use as many links as possible in every blog post to share my source material. By using these hyperlink footnotes, my readers have the opportunity to decide if I have misinterpreted the information provided by my sources.
The reader can read the link in my blog, but unless the reader clicks on the link, the reader cannot read the source material. Because the source material is not in my blog, it is not under my control. It is published on someone else’s website.
As a self-publishing blogger I have authority and responsibility for what is in my blog. Although I can direct people to the source of information with a link, I have no control over the information in the link. I have absolutely no power to add to or change the information on the originating site. I do not receive either royalties or advertising revenue from the originating site. It’s terribly annoying when a site I have linked to breaks the link. I know how frustrating it is to read an article with broken links. But the person creating the link has no control over the sites they link to.
If the source material that Jon Newton or any online publisher links to proves to be libelous or defamatory, then I would expect the originator of the libel and/or defamation to face a court challenge. I have grave reservations about censorship of web content based on allegations, rather than rule of law. If the material is alleged to be defamatory or libelous, the law can investigate. If convicted the originating website will take the offending material down one way or another.
If that happened, Jon Newton’s links would have been broken. He would not have been asked to act as judge and jury. The LAW would have filled those functions. Yet it seems that he is being sued because he did not himself break the links based only on allegations.
Jon Newton is a blogger, not a judge. Bloggers engage in online discussion, and express opinions and disseminate information, not pronouncements of law.
This is a huge issue that could well lead to ramifications for the freedom of the entire Internet.
Mainstream Canadian Media is near silent
As I write this, I’m a little bit nervous. I don’t have a lawyer. What if I get sued? I’m just a mom with a blog, trying to make sure that the Internet continues to be a wonderful interactive place, to do my bit to see that the world our kids inherit is as good as it can be.
One of the first things I learned as a parent is that children learn best from modeling. Freedom of speech is incalculably important, and I have always taught the importance of standing up for what you believe in. Using fear and allegations to censor and suppress dissent is never a good thing for society.
All that is necessary for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.
An issue this important should be getting big headlines in Canada at least. Talked about on the Radio. Top of the hour on the TV news. But no. I only heard about this from an online friend Haris in Malaysia who was reDenting British writer/journalist/blogger glynmoody. Not from the Canadian news media.
The “News media” has a mystique which has built over the years.
The legend grew as great reporters risked their life and liberty so that great newspapers and radio/tv stations could honestly inform citizens about what was happening in the world.
Reporters like Ireland’s Veronica Guerin risked and lost their lives exposing drug dealers to make the world safe, and reporters like Woodward and Bernstein risked their liberty reporting about corruption at the highest level of the American government to make the world better for succeeding generations. Many reporters have risked their lives for a story over years, many have gone to jail in order to protect their sources. Many have died.
Getting these news stories was important. But the value to society only came into play when the newspaper published the story.
@haris CNN screenshot. Their Newspulse shows Wikileaks vid as most popular story. They still won’t feature it. http://file.status.net/identica/greggish-20100406T032041-cgghd33.png
Unfortunately there has been an ever increasing trend to sacrifice the news to profits. Newspaper, radio and television newsrooms have been gutted and gutted and gutted some more. Reporting the news started coming second to ratings. Objectivity lost out to advertisers. Today the news is “packaged”, and quite often editorial content seems handed down from above.
As news outlets have been bought and sold and sold some more they have ended up as tiny pawns in gigantic media corporations. I don’t know if they’ve lost their voices, or if they are afraid to report for fear of being shut down entirely.
There are precious few independent news purveyors left in the world. And even those few are scrambling for advertising to survive. In today’s world advertisers seem to dictate the news.
But what they are NOT doing is providing the news without fear or favor,
In Canada, the “news media” is NOT telling Canadians about Usage Based Billing. Around the world there has been barely a breath about the secret A.C.T.A. treaty being aggressively pursued by many supposedly democratic governments in secret… because they know very well their citizens would not agree.
And we are still a nation at war. Why? I don’t know. It certainly doesn’t strike me as a just war. Worse, bad things happen. Canada has not behaved well in Afghanistan. Our military and our government is implicated under a cloud of torture which continues to be covered up. Even Pierre Berton wouldn’t have been able to make this one palatable. I suspect it would have sickened Canada’s esteemed biographer as much as it sickens me.
Bad things are continuing to happen. Canada is no longer the lily white peace keeping force. We aren’t helping anyone. Continuing to hang around and prop up this war that is bad for all of us; it lends credibility to the war that shouldn’t be.
And today another horrendous story has broken, which again was brought to my attention from the other side if the world, from wikileaks via Haris, who lead me to a blog post by biologist P.Z. Myers: We have seen evil, and it is us Unlike professor Myers, I can’t watch the “Collateral Murder” video which shows the casual slaughter of Iraqi journalists. But I can help spread the word.
What ever happened to the Canadian news media? Shouldn’t intrepid reporters be spilling these stories? Two Iraqi journalists lost their lives… and for what? Why aren’t their brethren standing up for them?
Why isn’t the news media doing its job?
That’s why net neutrality is so important. Not just for internet freedom. But for freedom.