On 18 October 2007, British police arrested the owner of TV-Links[1] and shut down his website, www.tv-links.co.uk. This popular site[2] had provided links to a variety of copyrighted programs. If one missed an episode of The Sopranos or LOST, TV-Links would have it. One could watch programs, cartoons, documentaries. Some of this material was not copyrighted; some of the material came from mainstream sites such as videos.google.com. If one didn’t feel like going out to the movies, many current releases were available. If TV-Links had actually hosted the material, then it would be in clear violation of copyright laws; however, TV-Links scrupulously avoided hosting any material, and only provided links to other websites. Many of these other websites, such as http://www.ouou.com/, are located in Asia. The countries hosting the offending material may include countries which have not signed intellectual property treaties, and hence are not subject to draconian laws such as the DMCA. America’s DMCA is not a world-wide law, yet.

The end of TV-Links brings up disturbing questions. The Internet is based on upon links of information to other information. If police action infringes upon this structure, the Internet will alter beyond recognition. Imagine a web page that had no links to any other information, for fear of being sued if one of those other sites put up copyright infringing material.

Is it a crime to merely link to information? Can a person be put in jail for making a link of his website to another page that shows content which, in its home country, is legal? Would it be illegal then to put the web address of a copyright-infringing site on a t-shirt? In a painting? Anti-Internet extremists would insist that, yes, this would be the case. The situation would be no different than a person offering information on how to kill; even if that person did not personally murder, he encouraged others to do this illegal act. This example seems extreme, but the strange reasoning of the DMCA makes committing a crime and making a few clicks on a blog equivalent in the eyes of the law.

The case of TV-Links is cause for pause among many bloggers and site owners. Imagine that you make a link to a video on YouTube. Much of the content on YouTube violates the DMCA; YouTube quickly removes infringing content that is brought to its attention, but some companies do not protest, happy for the added exposure on this site. You might imagine that if a video is allowed on YouTube, then you can make a link to it; however, under the logic of the attack on TV-Links, you are a violator as well. Will the police come knocking on your door, instead of YouTube’s?

When you make a search on Google, this search engine will return many sites that contain copyrighted material. Is Google violating the law? One might argue that the primary purpose of Google is not copyright infringement, while the primary purpose of TV-Links was copyright infringement. However, this gray distinction would require a case-by-case determination of which sites were in compliance of the law based on a fuzzy “intent” standard.

The Wayback Machine, www.archive.org/index.php, is a site that caches old website and is very useful for research. The Wayback Machine could therefore be in violation of the law if any of its cached information violated copyright law. And, in fact, The Wayback Machine had old pages of TV-Links, including the working links from that page, archived after TV-Links was shut down. For the sake of fairness, then, the operators of The Wayback Machine should have been arrested as well.



[1] Sheriff, Lucy, 2007. “TV-Links man was arrested under trademark laws.” The Register, 23 October 2007. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/10/23/tv_links_trademark_law/ Retrieved 27 October 2007.

[2] According to Alexa, http://www.alexa.com/data/details/traffic_details?url=tv-links.co.uk, in the three months before its closure, TV-Links was ranked in the top 200 sites on the Internet, and was viewed by 0.293% of all Internet users.

1 Comment:

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