National Public Radio has dropped the controversial requirement that other people’s Web sites ask permission before linking. Many thanks to NPR ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin for speaking out on this issue even though I realize he isn’t exactly in charge of NPR.

While the new policy is a major improvement, I dislike NPR’s prohibition against framing of its Web page. Not good. What’s the problem as long as Joe or Jane Blogger does not misrepresent the source of the content?

I also have difficulty with the rule that “the linking should not (a) suggest that NPR promotes or endorses any third party’s causes, ideas, Web sites, products or services, or (b) use NPR content for inappropriate commercial purposes. We reserve the right to withdraw permission for any link.” Look, how many people are going to say, “NPR endorses the Association for Golden Retriever Killing”? That’s a limited risk at most. On the Web, linking just does not imply endorsement unless there is explicit language saying so.

Too, I’m a grouchy about “inappropriate commercial purposes.” What’s “inappropriate”? Even a fee-based site that charged money for a critical examination of NPR content should be allowed to make free use of links–in fact, especially a site like that. Analyzing NPR content is not the way to great riches. What’s more, criticism is healthy. And if a fee makes the site more sustainable, then, reluctantly, given my preference for the free, I can tolerate that. At any rate, no pun intended, I like the idea of people having full freedom to make derivative works. That’s what the Web is all about.

In another problem with NPR, I notice that the network says, “We reserve the right to withdraw permission for any link.” Any? Even if it doesn’t mislead surfers? If backed by courts, this could open the way to reprisals by NPR against critics.

While I can understand the usefulness of good linking policies in pre-empting bad ones–not everyone would agree, mind you–I’m don’t think that even the new NPR policy is in the “good” category. Progress? Much. But no nirvana here.

Furthermore, keep in mind efforts by governments to internationalize Net law and reduce geographical barriers. What happens in the future if the barriers aren’t so formidable, and if NPR puts up a link that offends a government or business overseas. The network’s Web side could suffer.

Of course, the bottom line won’t just be the policies but how they’re enforced. I’m hoping that NPR will ignore the sillier parts of the policy revisions.

Meanwhile stay turned for a news story tomorrow on one of my favorite Web sites, Wired News, which has energetically kept up with the important linking issue. I learned of NPR’s latest policy when reporter Farhad Manjoo called for comment. Needless to say, I eagerly await the chance to link to Farhad’s next Wired News story. How ironic that a private “commercial” news organization is far more open-minded about linking than is National Public Radio.


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