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Deep links are legal in Germany. Official

Sensible people, the Germans

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Deep-linking has won the legal thumbs-up in Germany.

The Germany Federal Court of Justice ruled Friday, July 18, that Paperboy, an online search engine, neither violated copyright nor competition law.

According to Links & Law, a web site which campaigns against legal attempts to stop deep linking, the plaintiffs' argument against the headline scraper was that such deep links are illegal, because they "take users directly to news articles, bypassing introductory pages and advertising, thus depriving the plaintiffs of revenue from their advertisements".

Couldn't the plaintiff, publishing firm Verlagsruppe Holtzbrinck, sell more advertising on the traffic generated by deep-links to interesting storys?

Most Internet publishers welcome a deep link to a story, courtesy of a Slashdot or a Drudge Report, or a prominent position on Google News. They know this traffic ain't going to come along every day, and they know it ain't "their" traffic.

People who use news headline scrapers are news junkies rather than website brand loyalists and they aren't going to come in through the front page just to find the one story that they want to read, which they only know they want to read because they saw the headline on the news scraper.

The German court also thought the plaintiff's demand that users must start with the home page was unreasonable, says Links and Law.

"The court stressed the importance of deep links for the internet and held that it is up to the plaintiffs to prevent deep links with technical measures, if they don't like them. The court did not answer the question if the circumvention of these measures would be illegal."

Unhidden Depths

In March 2003, another case brought by Holtzbrinck subsidiary Mainpost against Newsclub.de, a news headline aggregator, for deep-linking was terminated, following a cease and desist agreement. However, it was accepted that the legality or otherwise of deep linking was to be established by the Paperboy case, a Newsclub.de press release said at the time.

Germany's Copyright law, in common with other EC member countries, is soon to change, so the deep-linking argument could be resurrected in a later date.

Without deep linking, the Internet as we know it, Jim, would collapse. You couldn't have a search engine, for example. But some grey areas do need to be addressed.

Many publishers are moving to curtail or block permanent deep links, as more free content moves behind registration screens or is shepherded after a few days into paid-for archives. This month for instance, The NY Times confirmed that it was talking to Google over removing copies of articles cached on the search engine's servers.

More problematic is deep linking to commercial Internet databases without the permission of the content owner. By far the most prominent dispute concerning this was in the US courts between Ticketmaster and Microsoft in 1999. The case was settled out of court with MS agreeing to stop deep linking to Ticketmaster's services.

However the definitive case, establishing the legality of deep linking in the US, was in March 2000, when Ticketmaster lost a similar case against Tickets.com. ®

Some Deep Links

Germany: deep linking lunacy continues
Guest editorial by Christian Kohlschütter, NewsClub.de
Search Engine Watch: Deep Linking Lunacy
Bechtold: The Link Controversy Page
Jakob Nielsen: Deep Linking is Good linking

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