Surrealist lawyers in virtual space

MEANWHILE, in the weird and wonderful world of online lawsuits... Verlagsgruppe G. Von Holtzbrink, owners of Nature, Macmillan books and a slew of German newspapers, is suing the online "meta-news" service www.newsclub.de. What this does is to list online news - mostly of the geeky kind - by category, providing direct links to the original stories on other websites, including newspapers'.

You might think they'd welcome the extra visits to their pages, which directly bring in more advertising revenue. After all, if you publish a book, having it listed in library catalogues is generally a Good Thing. Even if you publish a freesheet and someone independently flyposts it around town, that's illegal but you can probably up your ad rates.... Aber nein. The Mainpost newspaper group is suing. It wants everyone to come in through its front door. First, perhaps it should buy a wider door - it took us 20 minutes to get in.

The NUJ supported the Shetland News site when it faced a similar threat from the Shetland Times. The case was settled with the News agreeing to include a link to the Times' home page alongside such direct story links. That's what the Freelance website did when it linked this story directly from www.theregister.co.uk.

And the Recording Industries Association of America is pressing Internet Service Providers to stop anyone accessing web sites that it doesn't like, for any reason, ever. At issue is www.listen4ever.com which, like the more notorious Napster, allowed people to swap digitised music - both their own compositions and others'.

As lawyer Fred von Lohmann notes, "You don't hold a crowbar manufacturer responsible if its product is used to break into a house." And, we would add, only crocodiles shed tears when a burglar gets broken into.

Last modified: 14 September 2002 - © 2002 contributors
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