Demon removed access to newsgroups from 11 subscribers last week after they posted links to a Web page about an ongoing libel case against Demon.
The move hinges on the legal question of whether ISPs can be held responsible for the contents of sites they have links to.
Demon said the subscribers posted articles on newsgroups that allegedly defamed Laurence Godfrey, a scientist suing Demon for its failure to remove a libellous message. Justifying the ban on the 11, Demon explained: "We may also be liable if a link is provided to defamatory material held on another server."
This is not the first time links on a Web page have been the subject of legal wrangling. Yaman Akdeniz, head of Cyber Rights and Cyber Liberties UK, said: "There is no legal authority on this issue. A few years ago the Shetland Times tried to argue that the links provided by Shetland News were in breach of copyright."
Those two companies eventually settled out of court, and there is still no legal precedent. But Akdeniz pointed out that linking forms the basis of the Internet. "Web search engines could not operate without this capability, (so) linking should be distinguished from publishing," he said.
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