If you post a link to an article found to be libelous (on Twitter, your blog, Facebook, wherever), could you also be guilty of libel?

That’s the question the Canadian Supreme Court heard last week, and just imagine if they rule that it is, how that could change the way we use social media.

The opening segment on a recent edition of the CBC radio show Spark was a very interesting discussion with David Fewer, director of CIPPIC: The Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic on the implications.

Here’s the essence of the case:

[Vancouver businessman Wayne] Crooke is suing the publisher of a site called p2pnet for a post about free speech in Canada, written in response to a libel lawsuit brought by Crooke. In the post, publisher Jon Newton linked to the allegedly libelous articles. Crooke asked him to remove the links, but Newton refused, so Crooke accused him of defamation.

The case has been kicking around the Canadian legal system since 2006 and Crooke lost in two lower court rulings.  But the fact that their Supreme Court agreed to hear the case gives anyone linking in that country a degree of uncertainty in their writing.

All this legal wrangling up north reminded me of an article I wrote for our state technology organization’s journal a little over ten years ago* about several lawsuits over “deep linking”, the practice of hyperlinking directly to a page within a web site instead of going through the front door.

Those cases were settled after many years in court (and the exchange of big money), and a decade later no one thinks twice about linking to any page on the web.

If someone decides to import the concept of links possibly being libelous, all of that could change. At least for the very long time it takes for issues like this to wind their way through the American judicial system.

By the way, as long as you’re visiting the site for this episode of Spark, take a listen to the third segment as well.

Since this month is the 20th anniversary of the web, the producers asked another 20 year old, a college student, to parallel her life events with the major milestones of the web.  A very clever way to show just how far the web has come in a short period of time.

Hopefully, it won’t all get derailed by a large pile of legal crap, not to mention political infighting and corporate greed.


*As far as I know, no one has wasted their time to digitize the issue for the web.