Sunday, June 27, 2004

hey, kids, come look at the dinosaur

A few years ago Fast Company was hailed as the fresh new voice of a business world being rapidly changed by technology. From their 'About Us' page:

Launched in November 1995 by Alan Webber and Bill Taylor, two former Harvard Business Review editors, Fast Company magazine was founded on a single premise: A global revolution was changing business, and business was changing the world. Discarding the old rules of business, Fast Company set to chronicle how changing companies create and compete, to highlight new business practices, and to showcase the teams and individuals who are inventing the future and reinventing business.

Sounds almost revolutionary.

But take a look at them today... they've still got one of the freshest views on modern business. They've got a website (that's hooked to the wossname... 'internet'... or sumthin) full of information that I'm sure is useful to some soulless suit somewhere. They've also got zero clue, which is a symptom rather than a disease... the actual disease being an infestation of lawyers and managers rotting the company out from the inside. One result of this disease is this lovely policy (bottom of the page) regarding linking to their webpage:

...if you like, you may link to us at no cost. This option requires the execution by you and of a one-page Web-linking agreement. Please download and sign the agreement and fax it to 617-738-5055, attn: G+J legal, As soon as you receive back the agreement signed on behalf of, you may begin linking to our content.

I remember a few years ago, visiting the webpages of companies that hadn't "got it" yet... they'd have their name, their product, and a lovely order form you could print out and mail to them with a money order. Nowadays, I won't even Ebay something if they don't take Paypal... the world got up and moved in the last 20 years, and it still surprises me that some people haven't noticed yet.

I try to give proper attribution to material I find elsewhere... if it's a person's site, or essentially non-commercial, I attribute them, but if it is a business or a media outlet, I figure the link is self-explanatory. The 'web' is called such for a reason: points connect to other points, and you can follow information or entertainment or whatever from site to site, and in most cases (one notable exception being when you're pointing out what *complete* *fucking* *idiots* they are, the other being the Slashdot Effect) you're doing the linked site a favor by directing traffic their way.

There have been a number of attempts to enforce bureaucratic bullshit like this in the past - and most of them failed spectacularly, as they should. The internet is a democratic and enabling technology... and simply linking to a site doesn't infringe on anyone's copyright the way, for instance, copying a page of their site over to your own and not mentioning where you got it would. Fair usage laws dictate that some small snippet can be used, as long as it is attributed to the copyright holder. A link is so far beneath that, in legal terms, that it is essentially a non-issue. That a company would hire lawyers to defend doorways they've left open to the world doesn't just show a fundamental lack of understanding of today's technologies, it's just bad form... it's petty and pompous and I hope their fucking stock shoots through the floor because people realize that the 'voice of new business' is speaking to them via telegraph.

(Note that the company's glitch is not about 'deep linking', wherein you link to something so deep inside the site that visitors miss out on all of the lovely marketing and branding opportunities that they'd have received had they come in through the front door. Their glitch is about linking at all, and they want you to send a fucking fax for permission? That's like mailing your neighbors a letter to ask if you can call them on the phone. How any company with a business plan could come up with such an idea is beyond me; how the supposed vanguard of the new tech business revolution fell into this particular rut calls their whole existence into question.)

For the lawyers: here's a bunch of links to shit from your client's site. Are you *really* going to help them look like total fucking knobs by addressing this issue legally? You can reach me at the email address listed on the sidebar if you're stupid enough to try, and you can reach the EFF here if you'd like to do some research on just how bright the flames you go down in will be.

(via BoingBoing) <-- proper attribution, foo. Not that BoingBoing would be so fucking stupid as to establish a policy against linking to them, or bring suit against me if I left it out. It's just good manners.

UPDATE (29 June 04): Fast Company backed down... to a slightly less stupid position. Cory Doctorow from BoingBoing as usual has some relevant insight:

Fast Company has amended its atrocious linking policy, but the one they've put in its place is only slightly better.

Fast Company permits links to the Web site. However, Fast Company reserves the right to withdraw permission for any link and requests that you not link for any impermissible purpose or in a manner that suggests that Fast Company promotes or endorses your Web site. does not allow framing of its Web site content.

The Web exists because there is no permission needed to create a link (and that includes a framing link). This is enshrined in the RFCs that defined the Web. It has been the guiding principle of the Web since the first page went online.

That permission-free world made the economy that Fast Company services possible...

This is a step in the right direction, but only a small one. The faxed-permission-form was ridiculous, but the real evil in it wasn't the ridiculousness, it was this damaging lie about permission being required for links.

I really hope that Fast Company acts like the heroes I know they can be here, changing their linking policy to something like:

The Web exists because no one has the right to grant or withhold permission for links. Fast Company exists because of the Web. Accordingly, we neither grant nor deny permission to link to our site, and urge you to do the same.

Or perhaps they could just drop the legalese altogether... if they can shake their addiction.