Linking and Slashdotting: Ethics and Law

A plea for goliath-to-david linking ethics (big site to small site) on Kuro5hin has sparked some discussion about the ethics of knowingly bringing the Slashdot effect down on a little site (reminds me of the old Hacktivism trick of distributed denial of service attacks through javascript -- one instance was called "Floodnet"). Specifically, zonker argues that big sites aught not to link without permission (and offer to mirror with permission as well). bIPlog says that it is a sensible argument and the flipside of the many arguments against a "right to link." I disagree.

For starters, that analysis is too simplistic. Linking to publicly available sources ought to be allowed. Launching distributed denial of service attacks against them is not good manners, whether by linking or by javascript manic page reloading. But these two statements are not opposed. Whether distributed denial of service by high profile link should be illegal is another question. Section 502(c)(5) of the California Penal Code may already go that far.

Another problem with zonker's proscription is that it argues that mirroring/caching should require permission (be opt-in) but the web would be a much less beautiful place if that were the case (think of the problems Google or the Internet Archive would face -- or even IE or Netscape and caching).

Instead, I would argue that sites like Slashdot should:

  • Provide caches of the first page or movie or image on which they are reporting for pages that do not have advertising (but leave direct links for very large sites and pages supported by advertising)
  • Keep links off that page pointing to the real site; and
  • Remove the caches after a limited (short) time.

That way advertising supported sites get the maximum amount of advertising, but sites not supported by advertising on the about to be slashdotted pages are not overwhelmed. I would not require permission for linking or caching. That permission is implicit in the posting of a publicly accessible web page. Prohibiting linking in order to deal with slashdotting is not a sensible argument.

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