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Letter to NPR redux

Cory DoctorowPerson was signed in when posted
02:55 PM ET (US)
The problem isn't taking technical countermeasures to confound those who would link to them.

NPR is, in essence, saying that they have the right to control the contexts in which references may be made to them. It's as though NPR is saying that I can't stand on a corner with a sign saying "NPR back door this way."

The countermeasures you describe would be preferable. To extend the analogy, countermeasures would be as though NPR is admitting that I have the right to point to their office, but they can decide only to admit those who they invite in, and the only door you can come in through is the front door.

Controlling who can access your work and under what circumstances *is* part of copyright. Controlling who can make reference to your work is *not*.

NPR's dilemma is that is doesn't mind if *some* people offer directions to its back-door. It doesn't want to use a countermeasure on its site (like requiring a login and password to visitors, or a token that it hands out to people with whom it has deals for cross-linking) because that countermeasure will confound those whom they want to link to them.

That's the creator's dilemma. If I make my work available to the public, the public will see it -- including trolls and jerks and scam artists. If I want to, I can publish a novel but only sell it by mail, offering it only to people I like. That's no way to make a living, though.

If NPR wants control over access to its material, so be it. But it has to stop asserting in public that it has the right to control access to links, the public facts that are the basis of the Web.
cypherpunksPerson was signed in when posted
12:38 PM ET (US)
Code trumps law on this issue anyway. NPR has the ability in principle to check referrer links, or to use randomly generated transient URLs for stories, or to use other technological measures to prevent deep linking. Given this technological reality, it is logical for the law to be consistent with it.

Granted, NPR has not actually gone to the trouble to do this (yet). But why is it so awful for them to impose rules which they can enforce if necessary?

It's like the difference between a "No Trespassing" sign and a brick wall topped with barbed wire. If you have the legal right to put up the wall (as NPR has the legal right to use technological measures to prevent deep linking) then putting up the sign (analogous to asking people to get permission before deep linking) should be acceptable.
illwayPerson was signed in when posted
01:56 AM ET (US)
Needless to say, you are challenging my POV (which I welcome) and giving me writing material . Thanks for your thoughtful response. I'll continue to ponder this issue since I have a vested interest in understanding it.

(p.s.: my e-mail link isn't broken...I'm attempting to curb the flow of spam...a mailform is pending.)
Cory DoctorowPerson was signed in when posted
12:30 AM ET (US)
Illway, if you'd read the letter that this quicktopic is in reference to, you'd understand clearly what the lie is:

"A link is a public fact: *This* story exists *there.* The role of copyright in our society does not extend to granting authors control over the contexts in which the existence of their work may be noted."

NPR has repeatedly taken the position that this isn't true. They're wrong. No sane copyright attorney would take this position. It does not reflect the settled practice, the case-law or the statutes.

I'm not sure what your above the law reference is about? Is it that Barlow said some silly things several years ago about copyright? What does that have to do with the price of bread or the NPR link-policy?

Your analogy *is* poor. The NPR's website is part of its body; this does not entitle it to control who can discuss the public fact of its body's existence and location.

A link doesn't touch NPR. A person who follows a link touches NPR. NPR isn't saying that it has a right to control who *visits* its site (though, in fact, it does have this right and can exercise it through trivial technical means; circumvention of those means is a criminal act under the DMCA, which allows for substantial statutory damages and criminal penalties in the case of commercial circumvention).

It's saying that it has the right to control who can give *directions* to its site.

BTW, the mailto link on your site is broken -- I attempted to send you mail last week and got a bounce.
Edited 06-28-2002 12:34 AM
illwayPerson was signed in when posted
12:17 AM ET (US)
I've yet to ascertain what "lies" and "misinformation" NPR is spewing to the masses.

This is a poor analogy, but here 'tis: The NPR website is part of the organization's body; therefore, it has the right to say who can and cannot touch its body.

Seems to me that the most rabid advocates of cyberculture deem themselves above the law. I don't see this issue as a "freedom-repression thing". I wonder if it's simply a self-promotion thing, like the hyperlinks in this message. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Cory DoctorowPerson was signed in when posted
10:22 PM ET (US)
I've received three emails from people describing C&Ds from NPR. I've urged all three to submit to, but none have as yet. It's not for me to retell their stories, but I hope they come forward.
frayingPerson was signed in when posted
10:10 PM ET (US)
Hey Cory, I feel you. I really do.

But in the linking frenzy, I still have yet to hear a story of anyone who's gotten a C&D letter. Care to share?
Cory DoctorowPerson was signed in when posted
10:01 PM ET (US)
Derek, NPR's policy has resulted in two immediate, visible harms that are not inconsequential, and that this policy won't undo:

1. They've served people with C&D letters, causing them to take their sites offline, silencing voices on the Web.

2. They've convinced reasonable people -- friends who've emailed me -- that there's a basis for believing that some links can be infringing.

The fact that they haven't stopped me from linking to them is irrelevant. I work within earshot of half-a-dozen of the finest civil liberties and copyright lawyers in the world. I'm not worried about being served with a C&D.

What I'm worried about is two things, mirroring the points above:

1. That people have been misinformed (and continue to be misinformed) by NPR about the nature of links and copyright. Reasonable people have a generally justifiable trust of NPR's thoroughness and accuracy, and on the basis of that trust, they have chosen to believe NPR's misinformation. Until NPR retracts its statements, those people will go on believing something that is both untruthful and harmful.

2. That people have already been C&Ded by NPR and that this policy -- with its threat of "withdrawal of permission" -- opens the door to future intimidation. Most people don't have the good fortune to be surrounded by rabid civil-liberties and copyright lawyers, and when faced with a letter from NPR's legal department, they're likely to fold. NPR's policy can only indicate that they intend to send out intimidating letters, bullying more people into silence.

I appreciate the approbation, but it's not a victory by half. Sure, they took down the form, and that's good news, but they're still using their journalistic credibility to disseminate harmful and erroneous information. Until they stop it, they've lost my support.
frayingPerson was signed in when posted
09:48 PM ET (US)
Oh, Cory. If only we had you kicking up dust back in the days of David Siegel and his single pixel gif tricks. Now *that* was a danger to the web.

If you think one lonely page on is gonna do that much damage to the internet as we know it, well, then I understand your continued abuse of this dead horse.

But, really, I don't think NPR is that powerful. They've never stopped you from linking to them, and we all know that they can't. We all linked to them before this fuss, and we'll all link to them long after. And now, thanks to you, they've said it's okay. Hooray!

Like I said elsewhere: I'm happy with the new policy. They've differentiated between linking and framing, and they've made it more clear what kind of links they don't want. Sure, they're still under the delusion that they have some semblance control over it, and you're right to point out that they don't. But lawyers always have illusions of control, and in the end, even they know they can't stop us.

I count this as a victory. You should, too. Pat yourself on the back and sleep well tonight.
Cory DoctorowPerson was signed in when posted
08:17 PM ET (US)
Because they are convincing reasonable people that there is a risk of infringement from linking. If reasonable people believe this, reasonable people won't make Web pages.

Crazy people get to say crazy things without drawing fire because no one takes crazy people seriously. People take NPR seriously, so when it tells harmful lies -- and persists and persists and persists in telling those lies -- it needs to be taken to task.

As I said, I would trade 1000 NPRs for the Web. NPR's respectability makes it a danger to the Web. I would be just as hard on any other major American news agency that took this position, regardless of its politics.

That's not a circular firing squad. This isn't a left-right thing, it's a freedom-repression thing.
cypherpunksPerson was signed in when posted
08:07 PM ET (US)
You know, if it was an organization you couldn't stand, some right wing religious rights group or something, that had a bad links policy, you wouldn't do anything. But because it's a group that you like, you're giving them no end of grief. This is what people mean when they talk about interest groups forming a circular firing squad. Why don't you cut these guys some slack, if you broadly favor what they do?

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