On Linking

Consider this comment by a Miss Demeanor from Mr Brown’s recent post:

Hello Mr. Brown, I have been reading your blog for months now in fact and I hope you don't mind but now I've bothered to start a blog I've linked you because I'm too lazy to type out the url everytime I come online.

Please tell me if you don't want to be affiliated with me. I will not be offended in any way. Have a nice day.

Even though the World Wide Web has been in existence for over a decade now, people still ask such questions; questions about fundamental elements that make up the very fabric of the world wide web. Questions that arise out of misguided notions fueled in large measure my entities spreading ideas that are not just wrong but evil.

You do not need someone’s permission to link to them!

This idea that I might need an approval before I can link to some site is both stupid and evil. It’s stupid because it’s not-enforcable. It’s evil because it destroys what makes the world wide web a web, the ability to freely link to any resource. If every linker needed the linkee’s permission, the web would never have scaled into the complex and extremely useful resource it’s become today. Heck, we wouldn’t have PageRank and Google if linking wasn’t unencumbered.

Moreover, free linking is built into the very architecture of the Web. From Wikipedia:

The World Wide Web had a number of differences from other hypertext systems that were then in place. The WWW required only unidirectional links rather than bidirectional ones. This made it possible for someone to link to another resource without action by the owner of that resource.

(emphasis mine)

So why and how did we arrive at this situation where people think they need permission to link? Because there are numerous companies/websites that believe that they can dictate who can link to them and say as much in their site’s terms of use document. All thanks to an interpretation of copyright law that only a lunatic can appreciate. Take a look at dontlink.com and this boingboing entry for examples.

Funnily enough, quite often, these stupid policies are not even reciprocal in spirit. Here’s an example from Clover Tours taken from dontlink.com:

LINKS. Our site may contain links to other sites that we do not operate or control. We are not responsible for these other sites. We provide these links for your information and convenience. We do not recommend the contents of these other sites. These links are not an indication of our association with the owners or operators of any of these other sites. You are free to access these other sites, but you do so at your own risk. You agree not to create a link from any Web site, including any site controlled by you, to our site.

Do you see how insanely idiotic this entire business is?! This is what Cory Doctorow had to say about NPR’s linking policy in a Wired story:

"They (NPR) don't have the right to grant permission for any link, and they in fact don't have the right to withdraw the right. The real problem is that NPR, a credible news agency, promulgates something that is utterly untrue. And that this chills speech. NPR owes the Internet an apology, not a minor revision to its policy."

The sad thing is, Tim Berners-Lee, the architect of the World Wide Web, wrote about this way back in 1997. Read Links and Law.

So I urge everyone reading this to go and blog about it because we really, really have to disabuse people of this notion that linking needs approval. No, it doesn’t! And to suggest otherwise is EVIL!