The difference between piracy and linking

Rupert Murdoch doesn’t understand the difference between piracy and linking. So I’ll explain it in terms any middle-school-aged kid should be able to understand.

Linking is what Google does. Do a Google search for my name, my blog name, or something I wrote about, and Google provides links so you can read it. Just like a library card catalog told you where to find a book on the shelf. It’s good. I get literally 10 times as much traffic from search engines as I get from readers who visit my site on a regular basis. And links–whether they’re from search engines or other web sites–are the way I got the overwhelming majority of those regular readers in the first place.

I link too–almost on a daily basis–either to material that inspired what I wrote about, backs up the point I’m trying to make, or otherwise provides something useful.

Here’s an example of a gray area. The other day I wrote about Linux, ARM, and UEFI and Microsoft’s policies toward it. Another blog site, Linux-Arm.info, grabbed about half the post and provided a link to me. Quoting and linking is permitted under Fair Use; the question is just how much of the content you can quote before you cross the line from fair use to copyright violation. I’m not exactly worried about it because links drive content to my site and improve my search engine rankings, and it looks like the site just arbitrarily grabs 3 or 4 paragraphs and mine happened to be a fairly short post.

Google News does something very similar, but grabs the first paragraph or two. Google News doesn’t hurt, because if grabbing and displaying the headline and first paragraph along with a link keeps someone from reading the story, they probably weren’t going to read the whole thing anyway, let alone click any of the ads. The amount of traffic you gain from the link is going to outweigh any losses if the content has any value whatsoever.

An example of piracy is a site grabbing the entire post and republishing it. That qualifies as theft, because then it’s forcing me to compete with my own content for ad revenue without compensation.

What about if a site pirates my content, then another site links to the pirated content? The problem isn’t the people linking to the content; it’s the people who stole the content. Take down the pirated content, and the links are worthless. And besides, if nobody linked to the pirated content, how would you know someone pirated it?

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