Internet marketers using social networks beware - linking to stories on the Internet, much as news bloggers do here on Daniweb and elsewhere, may be about to become a high risk activity. The owner of website skyscrapercity.com is being sued by the Las Vegas Review-Journal for infringement over one of its articles.
The arguments are detailed on a Mediapost site. This isn't the right forum to go through the legal arguments, which are on the link if you want them. The main thrust of the defendant's case is that the paper had offered an implied license to reproduce its material by offering to let people send links out without any charge.
There are a number of important issues in here and it's worth unravelling them. First, a load of people's reactions will be that the newspaper concerned just doesn't "get" social media. If it's going after people who publish (as distinct from 'send to individuals') links rather than whole articles then it hasn't understood that this is what social media is all about. The size of Twitter, for example, would probably be halved if you took all the Tweets with links out.
What people with this view don't necessarily take into account is that social media may not fit in with an individual company's business plan. Linking so that more people see an article might increase reader numbers but if they're not paying to see the thing it's not a sound business strategy unless you can sell a load of advertising against it. In this way social media may play against an industry's profitability and that industry might well hit back.
This is why, for example, News International and the rest of the Rupert Murdoch empire is putting its content behind a paywall (indeed it might make more sense for the Las Vegas Review-Journal to do the same rather than chase small bloggers if it wants to protect its content rather than attack people with little money). It makes no sense, frankly, that someone has to pay for a paper copy of something but can view it for nothing online, and the publishing industry is tying itself in knots trying to address this.
Defending copyright in court is one way of addressing this. The outcome of the trial might well set a precedent, at least in the State of Nevada - add to the mix that international copyright laws aren't consistent anyway and you have a massive headache trying to build any sort of coherent guideline for the Internet marketing community.
At the moment the habit is to feel free to link to anything, on the implied understanding that people put things there to be linked to. Whatever the outcome, this case demonstrates that not everyone with content online thinks so.