Monday, April 5, 2010

Hyperlinking = Publication?

The Montreal Gazette reports that the Supreme Court of Canada will hear the case of Wayne Crookes vs. Jon Newton. Crookes, an amusingly named Vancouver businessman, contends that Newton is guilty of libel for linking to "reputation-smearing articles" on his website. Crookes' basic argument is that Newton took on publishing responsibilities for the original articles when he failed to remove links to them in a post about (ironically) freedom of speech. There is no word on whether or not Crookes filed suit against any of the actual articles themselves.

The logic in all this escapes me, but then I'm just a blogger. Linking is clearly not a form of publication, if anything it is more akin to a form of citation. The British Columbia Court of Appeal must have seen things similarly when they ruled against him in 2008. Now, however, the Supreme Court has deemed the case worthy of consideration on a higher level.

It's absurd to think that Crookes might actually win, but it's worth noting that the case has gotten this far. This will represent the Supreme Court of Canada's first pronouncement on freedom of speech on the internet, and it will set an important precedent for how the internet is governed in Canada. Were the unthinkable to happen and the Supreme Court ruled in Crookes' favour it would essentially make Canadian internet users liable for any content they linked to. Thankfully that would only happen in a terrifying fascist parallel universe, like on Sliders

The Gazette, perhaps for fear of the Supreme Court's ultimate decision, chose not to link to any of the supposedly libellous articles, but did post the name of Newton's website: Here's hoping I don't get sued for that.

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