Summarized by Kent Larsen
Ruling against Tanners could have effect on Internet (Copyright Ruling Targets Web Links)
PC World News (IDG) 13Dec99 N1
By Stephen Lawson, IDG News Service
U.S. District Court Judge Tena Campbell's injunction against LDS Church
critics Jerald and Sandra Tanner could have wide-ranging implications
for the Internet, according to observers. They say that the decision
could limit the ability of websites to link to other sites, shutting
linking when it is not known if the site is violating someone's
Judge Campbell's ruling was meant to prevent the Tanners from placing a
link on their site telling visitors where they could get electronic
copies of the LDS Church's Handbook of Instructions. The electronic
copies were being distributed in violation of the copyright law.
The Tanners had posted parts of the book themselves, but agreed to take
them down in the because of an earlier restraining order by Judge
Campbell. The Church then objected when the Tanners posted information
on how to get the Handbook at other websites, claiming that the Tanners
were guilty of "contributory infringement" of the church's copyright.
Now Internet Law experts say that the ruling may make website operators
more cautious about what links they provide. "This could have some
far-reaching, chilling effects if people are worried about liability,"
says attorney Robert Gorman of the law firm Fulbright &Jaworski, in New
York. He says that while the ruling seems reasonable on it face, its
impact could be much broader. "On the surface it's not totally out of
line, in the sense that the judge has the legal background to say that
people who are encouraging unauthorized reproduction of copyright
materials are liable to charges of contributory infringement," he says.
But Gorman says that the Internet is a different medium and traditional
copyright law may be difficult to apply there. "To restrict access just
because there could be something unauthorized in the greater scheme of
things will potentially have a much greater chilling effect," Gorman
Another expert, Thomas Lipscomb of the Institute for the Digital Future,
condemned the ruling, saying that simply providing addresses or links is
free speech, not a crime. "If I tell you that you can fly to Taiwan and
buy $50,000 worth of pirated software for $1000, and you do it, what am
I guilty of?" he asks. He says that "Once the assorted Jurassic Park of
conventional publishers starts to try to make money in this area,
they're going to enforce their copyrights vigorously."
But traditional publishers have argued that the difficulty in enforcing
copyright on the web is keeping them from making material available.
They claim that copyright infringement on the Internet is rampant.
Even among LDS websites and e-mail lists the situation sometimes seems
out of control, with graphic images regularly taken from the LDS
Church's website and scanned from LDS sources. The text of LDS-related
articles regularly appear, sometimes without even attribution, in
violation of the copyright law.