Better Be Careful Whose Links You Click...

  • Share
  • Read Later
The choppy waters of Internet copyright law just got even rougher. This week, a federal judge in Utah issued a preliminary injunction against Sandra and Jerald Tanner, whose site, which contains criticisms of the Mormon church, provides links to text pirated from the church's Handbook of Instructions. The judge, whose injunction will stand until the case is tried or settled, said it is likely the couple engaged in "contributory copyright infringement" by linking to a site they knew, or should have known, contained the unauthorized copies. The Tanners' lawyer, on the other hand, argued that since the couple were acting strictly as intermediaries — an anonymous source pointed them toward the text — they were not guilty of direct copyright infringement.

"This is a whole new category of information, and it leads to a whole new category of copyright law," says TIME technology writer Joshua Quittner. This case opens up a can of worms many in the communications arena ardently hoped would remain tightly sealed. Since the advent of web sites, communications analysts have argued that applying the same copyright laws to Internet material as are applied to physical books or music would slow the transfer of information on the Web, ostensibly negating a primary purpose of the medium: the free exchange of information. And, as every judge knows, since Internet copyright law is still in its formative stages, every case has wide-reaching impact. The Utah case is no exception. "A judge could eventually rule that this injunction harms this couple's First Amendment rights," says Quittner. "On the other hand, the courts could decide that copyright law is copyright law, no matter where it's applied."