A new campaign to ensure that linking remains free to all kicked off today.
The Right2Link campaign says the Digital Economy Bill and other market developments are threatening the information-sharing freedoms afforded by the World Wide Web.
The campaign, set up by news aggregators NewsNow, Meltwater, Alacra and Zenark, is adamant that online copyright is to be respected, but argues that it should not be at the expense of the freedom to create, circulate and follow links to online content.
According to Right2Link: "Search engines such as Google, Yahoo, Bing, as well as other new economy businesses that act as portals and link aggregators, occupy a key role in identifying links that are of interest to be read and passed on and are a key part of the World Wide Web’s system of circulating information.
"The free circulation of publicly-accessible information is threatened if individuals, businesses and search engines cannot continue to do what they are doing today without restraint."
The campaign says that recent months have seen a climate developing in which governments and media owners have articulated an 'increasingly restrictive and repressive attitude' towards internet freedoms, and in which there have been a number of disturbing developments threatening to restrict the freedom to link.
Bosses of large media corporations, such as Rupert Murdoch of News Corp and Gavin O'Reilly of Independent News & Media, have accused search engines and link aggregators of stealing their content. They have ventured to suggest that publishing headlines and short excerpts, widely accepted as permissible under the law, should be made illegal.
Many industry watchers have also voiced concerns that the UK Government's new Digital Economy Bill will threaten information sharing freedoms.
"Major print media owners have sought to establish a counter-productive precedent by demanding organisations obtain permission to use links to the newspaper websites and for forwarding them on," says Right2Link. "The danger in this precedent is that it threatens to give any media organisation or website owner the right to demand that permission be obtained before linking. They would be able to cherry-pick who they would allow to link to their web site and at what price.
"This would generate a climate of uncertainty about linking that would damage the Internet’s ethos of freedom of information exchange and restrict people’s and organisations' ability to conduct their business freely."
Right2Link warns that any organisation, including charities and government departments, is open to being threatened with legal action or targeted for “license” fees by any website owner if the freedom to link is not enshrined in law and in practice as an Internet right for all.