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Panel Examines Legal Risks Of Web-Site Links

Panel discusses legal limits of using hyperlinks on Web pages.
Do owners of Web sites place themselves in legal jeopardy merely by placing links on their sites? That was the issued discussed by lawyers and journalists Wednesday night at a panel co-sponsored by the Freedom Forum and the Online News Association.

The panel focused on the impact of last year's decision in the DeCSS trial, in which a judge ordered that the editors of hacker magazine 2600 could not link to DeCSS, a code that's used to break the encryption on DVDs. Journalists are worried that the decision will impair their ability to report the news and will restrict a fundamental feature of the Web.

"Hyperlinks are the engine of the Web, allowing rapid connections to be made between people and information," reads a friend-of-the-court brief filed in the case on behalf of several news organizations. "Without hyperlinks, the Web's extraordinary ability to facilitate the rapid, global dissemination of information would be severely impaired."

But the legal issues surrounding linking go beyond the DeCSS case. Businesses may find themselves being sued because of where they've directed visitors. "One of these days, there is going to be a case where one person sues another because they don't want them linking to them," said panel member Carl Kaplan, a lawyer and Cyber Law columnist for The New York Times. Other risks faced by Web-site owners include copyright infringement and libel suits.

The DeCSS case is under appeal, and that decision, expected in the next few months, will answer many questions about the legal limits of linking.