The Web Is Illegal

One of the fastest ways to get me on a tear is to question the idea of hyperlinks.

Hyperlinks are what make the web different from other media. They let you jump from here and back to here – the only link between the two pages is that I just mentioned them.

Hyperlinks came from the mind of Ted Nelson, but were first implemented and demonstrated by Tim Berners-Lee at CERN 10 years ago. They make the web possible, including web banners and email ads, not to mention all those “web alliances” we’re paying billions for.

When some lawyer claims incoming links are property, or that this link is somehow illegal because it’s not done the way Scott Adams likes it (as Jonathan Ezor implies in his new book “Clicking Through”), I get very angry. You can link to whom you want is what I write, and any attempt to prevent it in law is bogus.

Well, imagine my surprise when I came across a note from Adam Powell, the Freedom Forum’s tech correspondent, concerning the case of Jerald and Sandra Tanner of Utah. The Tanners run something called the Lighthouse Ministry, which claims “to document problems with the claims of Mormonism and compare LDS doctrines with Christianity.”

Working in Salt Lake City as a “debunker” of Mormons is a bit like trying to run a Baptist Church in Saudi Arabia, and the Tanners admit as much. They looked a bit harder for trouble when they posted a Chapter of the Mormons’ “Church Handbook of Instructions” on their site. The Mormon Fathers are about as protective of this document, apparently, as any Scientologist, and responded with a lawsuit to have it removed, citing copyright.

When the Tanners responded by mentioning a site in Australia where the whole book could be found (it wasn’t even a link, just a text mention, Sandra Tanner wrote me) everyone found themselves in the U.S. Federal courtroom of Judge Tena Campbell.

Judge Campbell found for the Church! The basis of her decision was copyright law.

International Reserve Inc., the corporation that holds copyrights used by the Church, asked that her decision banning publication of their documents be extended to offshore links. Not only were links to the book (as found in Australia) enjoined, but so were links to newspaper articles containing the web address of the Australian site! (The Church says distribution of its handbook is limited to Church leaders, and that it’s a description of Church policy and practice, not doctrine.)

Before I get angry letters from both Mormons and Christians, let me state clearly I don’t care about the doctrinal controversy. What I care about is the perversion of law in the name of preventing people from getting information. (I couldn’t find the Australian site, but here’s an excerpt of the book from a California site).

If Judge Campbell’s decision is upheld on appeal, in the name of protecting copyright, the way is clear to enjoining any link. The way is clear, in other words, for making the web illegal.

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