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Internet Links Could Take a Hit in Scottish Feud

The court's decision may set an international precedent on pointers to Web pages

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The Wisharts are the Citizen Kanes of the Shetland Islands, the windy isles 103 miles north of the Scottish mainland.

Almost every adult among the 23,000 Shetlanders reads the family's newspaper. For good measure, the Wisharts also publish a monthly magazine, local histories and poetry, and a shelf full of other books on topics ranging from trout fishing to the inevitable ponies and knitwear.

Now, with Kane-like determination, the Wisharts are feuding with an ex-editor of theirs - Jonathan Wills, a bright, uppity PhD who has worked for the BBC and The Times of London.

Scotland's highest court is to rule in the next few months on the legality of unauthorized links that Mr. Wills's electronic newspaper made to the Internet edition of the Wisharts' Shetland Times. The wrong outcome could do billions of dollars in damage to future business on the Web.

"This decision will set an international precedent regarding the ability to create pointers to business Web pages without explicit permission to do so," says Dan L. Burke, an internationally recognized expert on Internet copyright.

These links are how Netfolks scoot from one World Wide Web site to another. They click their mice on a word highlighted in a different color from surrounding text, or on an image associated with the other site. Links don't copy material. They merely point you in the right direction, just like a phone book or library catalog.

There's a better way

I run Web areas with scads of links to and from others as far off as Australia, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Let the whole cosmos read my political writings or the ads that I'll soon run on my real estate page. And if I felt otherwise? A password system could limit my readership. Or I could rig my Web site to make the links within it keep changing constantly, so that other people's areas couldn't point to individual items without permission. Who needs lawyers when technology can do the job?

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