The future of many internet news services could be under threat as a result of a Dutch court battle.

The fight between Newsbooster - a search engine that provides direct links to news on other sites - and the Danish Newspaper Publishers Association (DPNA) ended with a first-round victory for the DPNA.

Newsbooster has accordingly been ordered to stop linking to any sites owned by the publishing group, although it still collects articles from 4,480 other newspapers around the world.

The DPNA argued that Newsbooster posed a direct threat to its online magazines, because it bypasses homepages and provides links direct to stories on pages within, rendering much advertising redundant. Newsbooster argued that it was doing what comes naturally on the web: linking to other sites. It also claimed that rather than threatening the magazines it was giving them extra publicity.

Newsbooster offers its subscribers regular email news and updates, which it gains by trawling other sites in the same way as any search engine. As a result it repeatedly reproduces stories belonging to other publications. Subscribers are taken directly to these articles via deep links.

The court said: "In view of the fact that... Newsbooster's news communication service with deep links to the principals' newspapers is in competition with the said newspapers; and that Newsbooster, in addition to competing with the principals, may impair the advertising value of the principals' websites and thus reduce the advertising revenues from banner adverts, and so on, the court finds that by reproducing and publishing the principals' headlines and articles, Newsbooster does unreasonably prejudice the principals' interests."

The verdict has divided internet publishers. Webloggers have widely condemned it, as blogs use deep links to point readers to specific articles within other sites. Bloggers argue that the nature of the internet demands that readers are allowed instant access to relevant information. They have threatened to blacklist or 'blackblog' large sites that outlaw deep linking.

However Rikki Stancich, writing for EPN World Reporter, said: "If bloggers are up in arms about content sites that do not allow deep linking and pursue in earnest this latest trend in 'blackblogging', then they may quite possibly find themselves left with no-one to link to at all, beyond their insular circle.
"Advertising is the bread and butter for many content sites and recent figures show that the trend toward online advertising is cautiously on the up. The knock-on effect of skewed traffic figures that result directly from the activity of deep linking, however, could result in the advertising world shying away from the online community as a viable market, and from content sites as a viable medium."

Meanwhile CEO, Anders Lautrup-Larsen, vowed that he would take the fight to a higher court in Copenhagen. He told dotJournalism that the verdict was unworkable because it effectively outlawed all search engines.


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