Links are the lifeblood of the internet. Here’s some mud for your lifeblood.

The Irish Times has continued to engage… somewhat… in the “URLs can/can’t be copyrighted and we do/do not want you to link to us” debacle.

This time they’ve rolled out Johnny Ryan (Twitter: @johnnyryan), who is “chief innovation officer of The Irish Times and author of A History of the Internet and the Digital Future (2010).”  In an article titled “Links are the lifeblood of the internet”, he muddies the waters even while claiming we should keep things clear.

Ryan’s opinion piece makes several claims.  He says:

“However, mere linking of content is not at issue.”


“Conflating the unlicensed reproduction of content with the mere use of urls is drawing attention from the key issues of the copyright debate.”

Unfortunately, it is Ryan and the Irish Times themselves who are conflating the issues, not anyone else.

This is not about copying or reproduction of content. It is about linking to articles with a bare URL, as I did above.

What is needed is simple:

  • The Irish Times needs to state clearly and simply and with an official hat on (rather than on Twitter where “views are my own” or in an opinion piece!) that anyone – individual or commercial – may link to their content because a URL is not copyrightable, not because the Irish Times is giving them permission or waiving some hypothetical licence requirement.
  • They also need to use whatever structures are in place – whether that’s an EGM or board meeting or whatever – to inform NNI of this and to seek to have them, and the other owners/members of NNI recognise reality.  Because the NNI operates the NLI, and both are still saying that “a licence is required to an online article even without uploading any of the content.”  And the NNI is lobbying to have this made law!
  • They need to get the NNI/NLI to apologise to and make a donation to Women’s Aid.

In the longer term, they may want to consider the wisdom of employing what seems to be a single-purpose company, Cullen Communications, as what appears to be the only people “working” in/for both the NNI and NLI.  Because their communication skills to date seem somewhat lacking.

In fairness to the Irish Times, they are at least engaging, however disingenuously.  So, too, did the Sunday Business Post yesterday.  I won’t link to their article because, y’know, it’s behind a firewall – the option open to anyone who doesn’t want the public, or Google, or whoever, linking to them…


4 thoughts on “Links are the lifeblood of the internet. Here’s some mud for your lifeblood.

  1. To be clear here, The Irish Times position is that URLs are not covered by copyright. I understand why you suggest there is a lack of clarity, not least because the references in our terms of service have to be updated, but the position of The Irish Times is that URL are free.

    • That still contradicts The Irish Times published position:

      “Links are not permitted other than to the Home Page, except with prior written consent. In relation to any other form of linking or use of material, users must receive prior written permission.”

      So yes, the Copyright page needs to be updated. When can we expect that?

  2. Ryan’s take on the origins of the web is inaccurate. He refers to a browser called “cello” which never existed but a Unix X windowing system called ViolaWWW did exist, He fails to mention the first widely used browser called Mosaic that morphed into Netscape.
    Links are but signposts (URL) to other locations and quoting briefly of what is behind the signpost(URL) is fair use, which is recognised as being analogous to an abstract of the work in question. To say that this fair use doctrine is only applicable in the US is risible and would not stand up, if challenged, based on the widespread publication of abstracts of print published material.
    Also the copyright of URL’s was ruled ineligible in a case taken by BT, but doubtless a guy who proclaims to have written a history of the internet should know this.

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