Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Clueless in Oklahoma
Some of us have lived online for so long (in my case, since 1996) that we're like fish who have to remind ourselves we're wet. And we can easily forget that many millions of our fellow citizens have only a passing acquaintance with the Internet. Millions more may never have been online, ever--and some of those millions are as suspicious of the Internet as their great-grandparents may have been of the horseless carriage.

So anyway: fairly early in the life of the Internet, it became generally accepted that links are non-copyrightable. It's only logical--if I put something up on the web, I can't stop you from linking to it by claming that the material at the link is copyrighted. You're only directing your readers to something that already exists. If merely linking without reprinting text is a copyright violation, then so is recommending a book or article to somebody.

The Tulsa World newspaper doesn't get that, though. Tulsa blogger Michael Bates got a nasty letter from the paper demanding that he remove all links to World material on his site because the paper says such links are in violation of copyright. His post on the affair is getting massive linkage on the web tonight from both liberals and conservatives, who stand united (for once) in thinking that this is about the dumbest damn thing we've heard in a long time.

Bates also explains the role of the World in Tulsa politics--which sheds more light on the paper's reasons for harassing him. The paper is the house organ of that portion of the Tulsa community that has run things down there to its own benefit for a long time--people who are used to getting what they want and to smacking down those they perceive to be their inferiors. A blogger--one guy with an Internet connection--is definitely getting above his raising, and that will never do. But by making Bates an Internet cause celebre, the paper's hamfisted threats have now backfired in a way it could never have imagined. One thing's for sure--the World will understand the Internet a little bit better now.

(Man, they've got some godawful newspapers in Oklahoma. In fact, Oklahoma City's The Oklahoman might be the worst newspaper I've ever seen. Papers like the World and The Oklahoman help explain some of the dimwits Oklahoma voters have sent to Washington--Imhofe, Istook, Coburn--although as Bates notes, voters in Tulsa recently failed to elect several World-endorsed city council candidates, which caused great consternation at the paper.)

Electronic Frontier Foundation founder (and sometime Grateful Dead lyricist) John Perry Barlow said it best, way back in the mid 90s when the Internet first burst to public consciousness and elected officials raced to regulate it: "We are in danger of getting government by the clueless, over a place they've never been, using means they don't possess." Clearly, the clueless don't have to be elected officials.

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