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In Defense of Deep Linking

Steve sent this (thanks, Steve!):

The Danish Newspaper Publisher's Association has filed for an injunction against Newsbooster for "deeplinking" directly to specific pages in various member newspapers' websites, and it's likely to be a precedent-setting case internationally. The DNPA's problem is that "the user may experience something different [than] intended." That is, they may miss the banner ads, branding, framesets, etc., that the site creators wanted them to see. The DNPA claims not to be opposed to occasional deep links, but is seeking to protect against widespread deep linking where someone else profits from repurposing a site's content. This, however, is a very slippery slope. And it's wrong.

Why is it wrong? Here's an analogy: suppose I say to my readers, "hey, take a look at page 3 of the New York Times, right below the fold - there's a great piece on genetic engineering." Readers following this suggestion may miss the front page of the Times. They may miss page two of the Times. They may miss the entire rest of the paper, with all of the ads, logos, disclaimers, and other articles it contains. But they'll see the article. An article, mind you, that they're only seeing in the first place because they read my suggestion and put some trust in it. If it was a good one, maybe they'll be more likely to check out other articles that I suggest.

Now suppose I were to charge people for a subscription service where I recommended pertinent articles in various newspapers. I would be profiting from the newspapers in the sense that I would be paid for providing an independent index and review of their publications. But I would not be profiting at the expense of the newspapers. So long as I don't actually plagiarize their material, how am I hurting them? On the contrary, I'm driving people straight to them, people who would not otherwise have purchased or seen their content.

Take away my right to do this, and you also take away from content consumers. The problem here, perhaps, is that the newspapers' business models are naïve. Don't assume people will reach your site in a certain way. Maybe there are good reasons why they follow other links into your site. Maybe it's hard to find the content they're looking for. Maybe they find your advertising model too intrusive. Study how your site is used. Fix it. Improve it. But rejoice when readers reach your site in any way! That, after all, is the point.

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