Magazine for Senior Financial Executives: Latter Day Suits – copyright law and the Internet

Latter Day Suits – copyright law and the Internet – Brief Article

John Edwards

It seems an ongoing dispute involving the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints could have a serious impact on what companies post on their corporate Web sites.

Last December, U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell issued a preliminary injunction against a home page operated by disgruntled former Mormons Jerald and Sandra Tanner. It seems the Tanner’s Utah Lighthouse Ministry site (www.utlm.org) provided links to third-party Web pages that contained copyrighted text taken from a handbook owned by the Latter-Day Saints.

But some attorneys say the court’s injunction–if made permanent–could have chilling consequences for corporations. Stephen Lesavich, an attorney with McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff, a Chicago law firm, says companies could be courting trouble by linking to Web pages featuring material that’s been lifted, without permission, from a copyright holder. “Several recent legal battles have made linking to external Web sites a risky practice,” Lesavich says.

The Tanner case isn’t the first copyright dispute over Internet linking. Lesavich notes that even sites that link to materials owned by copyright holders have run into legal problems. Tickets.com was sued last July by competitor Ticketmaster over alleged copyright violations related to “deep linking”–the practice of bypassing a site’s home page and connecting to pages buried within. That dispute remains unresolved. In addition, eBay has recently sought to keep competitors from linking to its auction database.

But the Mormon case might set the precedent. Observers say the threat of lawsuits could keep businesses from using the Net to its full potential. Says James Grady, an analyst at tech research firm Giga Information Group: “It could stifle Web sites ranging from search engines to online shopping malls.”

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