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Editor's Note: Blocked Sites and Fair Use

Mar 19, 2004, 23:30 (110 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

There was a problem that occured on Linux Today this afternoon that I feel obliged to explain.

Early this morning, I posted a story from the Information Week Web site entitled, "Massachusetts Builds Open-Source Public Trough." The link to the story was contributed by long-time contributor Jason Greenwood. I surfed to the article, read it, and deemed it worthy for excerpting and linking from our site. I constructed the story and posted it, timing it to run at 1730 GMT (1230 EST).

What I did not know, and did not learn until late this afternoon, was that the publisher of Information Week, CMP Media LLC (a division of United Business Media plc), had apparently decided to block incoming links from Linux Today. I did not realize this because when I linked to the story directly from my system in Indianapolis, there was no block. (Nor, apparently, did Mr. Greenwood get blocked.)

Clearly, this is a block designed specifically for referring sites such as Linux Today. (Though, curiously, a link on NewsForge to the same story that has the exact same excerpt is currently allowed to go through unimpeded.)

Complicating matters today was the fact that I took some time off this afternoon for personal business and was not aware of the problem until my return to the home office at 2200 GMT (1700 EST). Upon learning of the situation, I immediately pulled the story down from the site, as I felt I should do until this situation is resolved.

The crux of the message on CMP's blocking page reads: "Unfortunately, we cannot satisfy this particular request because it comes from a source that is not authorized to redistribute our content..."

Linux Today's editorial staff has long maintained a very strict policy about excerpting other sites' material. We always do so under the guidelines of fair use, which essentially means we can only show a small bit of an entire story. We must also cite the originator of the story, the author, and provide a link to the story.

Fair use is one of the most important deciding factors in choosing a story to run on Linux Today: if the original article is too short, I will not post a link to it, for the simple reason that any excerpt would be too much content.

Unfortunately, CMP seems to have taken the position that fair use excerpts of their stories that send traffic to their site is no longer acceptable to them. Because of the nature of their block, even if we were to post just the link, our readers would be blocked. A URL, it has been clarified in legal decisions, is a fact, like a street address, that can be published freely by any news organization.

No one at Linux Today or Jupitermedia, our parent company, has been contacted by CMP regarding this decision. I sincerely hope that discussions can be initiated with them, so that we can link to their sites from time to time.

Until this matter is resolved, Linux Today will honor CMP's implied request and no longer link to any content on their sites. I will also begin testing all links from the Linux Today servers so that this inconvenience does not occur again. Readers should note that all past stories linking to CMP sites are likely to be blocked as well. I will try to keep referencing links to past CMP articles out of the "Related Stories" sections of future articles.

I am personally saddened by this move, as I feel it only brings harm to CMP, not Linux Today. Given the myriad of Linux news content available on the Internet, many news stories appearing on CMP sites are duplicated by other publishers' sites, including some of our own JupiterWeb sites. So, the traffic that once went to CMP sites from us will now go somewhere else.

It also harms you, the reader, as you are deprived of one more news and information source. While many news stories overlap, there are always unique slants and factoids that one reporter might have over another.

I will keep you posted as the situation moves forward.

Update: As I was making one last pass through the 'Net before retiring Friday evening, I located a new source for the exact same story mentioned here. In order to provide complete coverage to LT readers, I have re-posted the story. I still intend to inquire about CMP's new policy at the start of next week. -BKP