Free Speech And The Legality of Linking
The ability to refer to something online by linking to it is as fundamental to the Internet as computers themselves. Without it, the net becomes a void — a black hole in CyberSpace. For millions of Canadians the internet means freedom — freedom to learn, freedom to share, freedom to explore, freedom to communicate with each other no matter who, where they are, or in what time zone, saying what they want without fear.
For almost 10 years I ran p2pnet.net, a daily blog advocating freedom of speech online and off, but, Vancouver businessman Wayne Crookes, once a power in the Green Party of Canada, wanted to change that, claiming linking to an article was the same as publishing it. When he demanded I take down a link a link which pointed to posts he claimed defamed him, I refused as I'd done before when someone had tried to use legal tactics to force me to remove something I'd posted. Crookes was, however, different. He sued me for defamation and took the case all way to the Supreme Court of Canada. The rest is now legal history.
During the hearing on December 7, 2010, Justice Louise Charron, who was on the panel, hearing the case, told Crookes’ lawyer: “It seems to me that if we accept the position you’re putting forth, then no one should ever hyperlink. Maybe I’m a chicken, but I would not dare create a hyperlink because there might be some defamatory material, and I’ll be stuck defending myself in court, and I cannot afford it. We’re sentencing the hyperlink to death, it seems to me.”
Jon Newton has been hailed as a hero for Internet free speech. But his fight has cost him dearly, taking him all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada where he won a battle that impacts us all every day in our online life. Newton, the creator and owner of www.p2pnet.net, a site that was at the centre of a ground-breaking case, was sued for defamation in 2006 over links he had in an article posted on his website. The case dragged out for years and while Jon won in the end, it was a hard-fought victory and before it ended he suffered considerable ill health and had to give up p2pnet. He now write on his new blog, www.myblogdammit.net.