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Texas Newspaper Attempts to Stifle Free Speech

May 9, 2002

Texas Newspaper Attempts to Stifle Free Speech

Dallas Morning News Claims Copyright Infringement Where Hyperlinks Bypass Advertising-Laden Home Page

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Dallas Morning News’ claim that hyperlinks allowing Web users to bypass its home page violate copyright laws is entirely without merit, Public Citizen told the newspaper in a letter sent to its attorney today. The newspaper’s contention that links to articles violate copyright laws threatens the viability of the Web itself, since it specifically allows users to move to sites of interest by following such links.

Dallas Web activist Avi Adelman received a letter from an attorney for The Dallas Morning News’ parent company Belo Corporation in late April. It complained that certain “deep” hyperlinks on his site, www.barkingdogs.org, that connect to the newspaper’s site could not be made without the newspaper’s permission. The hyperlinks accompanied Adelman’s coverage of a fire at a bar in the Lower Greenville neighborhood and allowed Web users to see what The Dallas Morning News had reported about the fire.

The lawyer’s response to an inquiry from Adelman suggested that Belo Corporation would not have objected had Adelman linked to the newspaper’s home page, because users would have seen much more advertising while following links to the story Adelman had cited. However, directing Internet users to an exact Web page is no more a copyright violation than is listing the page number of a story in a print edition of a newspaper, Public Citizen’s letter points out.

“It’s easy for these companies to try to intimidate an Internet user with copyright laws, but their complaint doesn’t have any weight,” said Public Citizen Litigation Group attorney Paul Alan Levy, who wrote the letter and has been involved in many cases defending free speech on the Internet. “When they try to justify this claim, they will fall short.”

Click here to view a copy of Levy’s letter.