Letters to the Editor

Keep lawyers out of my deep links! Plus: My "incompletes" ate my life; philosophical support for the Second Amendment.

Published August 19, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Don't link or I'll sue!



The Web sites (Universal, Ticketmaster) who have sued other
Web page authors for "deep linking" are demanding something
extraordinary and, I think, clearly unconstitutional -- control over the
content of other people's non-defamatory published material.

I know it's a truism, but it's a good one: When content restrictions
are proposed for the Internet, would an equivalent restriction be
acceptable for print media? In this case I think the answer is clearly no. Universal and Ticketmaster (or their lawyers) probably realize the
unconstitutional nature of their own position, and simply do not care.

-- Monica Wing

The truly sad thing about these lawsuits involving "deep linking" is that
there's a perfectly simple technological solution to the problem, and
there's no need for lawyers to get involved. Writing an ISAPI, NSAPI or
mod_perl module to refuse http requests that haven't gone through the
"front door" verges on trivial, and would stop anyone but a determined deep linker. And
a more sophisticated system of randomly generated URLs that take you to
the deep content would not be difficult to implement, and would be very
difficult to work around.

Ticketmaster and Universal Studios should take some of the money they're
spending on lawyers and hire a better Web development team.

-- Brock Sides

The seemingly obvious answer to the deep linking "problem" is
that management of customer traffic on a Web site is the site designer's
responsibility. If you want traffic to start at a page no matter where the
link sends it, then build that into the server and pages -- and you don't have
to worry about lost eyeballs.

-- Peter Gillespie

I am far from an expert on Ticketmaster's ad rate structure, but, if
they are like many sites, they may promote a tiered schedule of
click-through pricing, dependent on the assumption that most traffic
will come first to the front door. Their pro-formas and income models
are often built on this "old retail" thinking and their assertions of
"links control" sound like a back-office bean counter's way of
preserving the integrity of financial statements, rather than a better
way of servicing the growing retail consumer demand on the Web.

Clearly, a sale is a sale, anyway you come by it. However, many retail
sites are using the banner device to develop a secondary revenue stream. As advertisers rush to Web
sites, brands are king; Universal and Ticketmaster are powerful brands
and may be fetching click-through rates that are way out of line compared to
traffic. The deep link, which passes the browser directly to usable
content without the intervening navigation levels, disrupts the traffic
pattern and may cause higher counts inside the site than at the front
door, therefore invalidating the banner pricing model. Using TV as the
pricing example, these sites may have some exposure where advertisers,
after reviewing counts on their click-through positions, ask for billing
adjustments based on the lower "viewership" of the higher-priced

I hope the winners in these Internet struggles are the Amazons and
CDnows -- which reward sites that produce buyers, wherever they enter
the "store" -- rather than the Ticketmasters, which attempt to force linkers to comply
with a system that may support the traffic estimates, but ultimately lose the sale.

-- Russell Lawson

That's all we need: lawyers telling how to navigate the Web. I'm sure
some civil liberty or freedom of speech is being violated here, but if not,
then these legal actions need to be publicized so that people
can either a) boycott the site/company altogether or b) deep link. They can't sue everyone ... can they?

-- Sam Cirka

My life ate my homework



As a student of Sarah Lawrence College, I can attest that Eric Umansky had
the school properly pegged as lenient. Sarah Lawrence may be the only
college, in almost all respects, to embrace the "anything goes" attitude, which
vigorously extends to the academics. For every student that
can embrace a lack of boundaries and fuel creativity on their own, there are
20 others who are left to drift.

Incompletes granted to many students are part of the problem. My own experience in a freshman year
philosophy class proved to me how destructive academic leniency can be. I
was allowed to turn in a paper we were given all year to complete two months
after the school year ended. The use of the incomplete begins to make students feel that no one
really wants to read their work, and that they can truly get away with
anything. Motivation to create the best work possible is what should drive
students -- but I have often found this motivation lacking in the majority of students,
including myself, who attend "academically lenient" colleges. The incomplete
is the modern replacement for failure.

-- Nina Stotler

Laguna Niguel, Calif.

Thanks for a great story, particularly the parts about your parents -- I
laughed out loud at work. I told my mother that my diploma was "in my
office" when she visited.

There is hope (if you want it). I finally handed in my economics paper after
over a year of procrastinating --10 pages short and weak on content -- to
receive an e-mail from my professor commending me for my
determination. He claimed that in his 40 years at Penn, nobody had
actually turned in a paper to him as late as mine. On time, it would
have been a C paper, but under the circumstances, it received a B.

-- Andrew Boone

Eric Umansky deserves a lambasting. Shame on his
university: An incomplete, if not made up within one year, really ought
to become an F. No prof is about to make the effort to do this -- we
are, after all, notoriously lazy shepherds with perverse incentives: If
you never write that 50-page paper, we won't have to read it -- but a
decent student records database system could handle it automatically. It
would be one of those rare instances where the much-vaunted application
of technology in the classroom actually accomplished something useful.

-- Gene Salorio

While I can't refute the claim that Stanford allows its students to
graduate with incompletes, I do want to dispel any aspersion cast on
the school regarding its "lenient policy."

The presumption is made that, like Penn and perhaps the rest of
the schools mentioned, Stanford, in granting an incomplete, actually
awards the recipient any procrastinator's pipe dream -- a
completely elastic (read nonexistent) deadline.

Not exactly. The school's policy is actually a tad more rigorous:
Currently, Stanford University regulations state that if you do not
resolve an incomplete within a year, you fail the class. So
theoretically, only seniors can get by graduating with an incomplete
without an ugly, indelible NP (No Pass) sullying their record.

Although they may initially revel in their emancipation of sorts,
Stanford students with incompletes ultimately feel shackled and often
become the object of pity. Not only do they have the latest quarter's
course load to worry about, but last quarter's as well. It can be
downright shameful to disclose ownership of a single incomplete to one's
classmates, not to mention two or three. But such consequences are an appropriate (and perhaps necessary,
in the case of Umansky) price for slacking off in the first place.

-- David Huang

Stanford, Calif.

Cashing out


In analyzing insiders' behavior, you seem to omit one very important factor.
In many cases, executives' compensation is tied to their stock options. Considering salary alone would
bring these top execs into some sort of underdog category. In the case of
founders, often, these people didn't see a dime from the company until it
became public; then they began receiving a predefined, nominal board member
salary. That's why both founders and execs will routinely cash out their
options, regardless of the market conditions and their beliefs regarding
the company's future. If it wasn't so, and the company had to pay hard cash to
the top talent, its balance sheet would look much worse.

If you look again at dates and prices, you may notice that eBay insiders
filed for their sale in winter, when the stock's price was about $80. This
means they would have readily sold the stock at $80, thus not receiving even a
half of what they got simply because investors and day traders drove the
stock into "nosebleed" territory. Whose fault was it?

Secondly, you fail to point out that second offering is a "fixed" sale. No
one can dump such amounts of stock without causing a major drop. In
reality, what happens is that the company secures a score of "buyers" before
actually selling the stock -- be it investment banks, mutual funds or simply affluent
investors. When the sale takes place these people act on the receiving
side, thus maintaining some sort of stability. Compare this to the recent AOL
insiders' sale. These guys simply dumped shares in the open market, driving
the stock down some 20 percent. What kind of management do you prefer?

-- K. Feldman

The NRA's big guns


The tone of Mr. Tapper's article is divisive, reactionary and stereotypical.
He seems very much to want to label those who support the NRA as "toeing the
NRA line." I would be curious to know whether he uses the same language when he talks
about President Clinton, Sen. Charles Schumer, Attorney General Reno, New
York Rep. Carolyn McCarthy and others who want more gun control.
Does he imply that those individuals "toe the Handgun Control Inc. and
Violence Policy Center line"? I can't say that I've read any of his other
material, but I'd surmise from his tone that he doesn't.

While those two organizations don't have nearly the clout that the NRA has,
they still wield considerable influence. Sarah Brady chairs Handgun Control,
and I doubt whether anyone would say that she and Handgun Control are
ineffective; the Brady Bill did, after all, become the Brady Law, and the
so-called "semiautomatic assault weapon" ban was enacted with her support.

The fact of the matter is that NRA members -- the grass roots, as Tapper
calls them -- are good citizens. They write and call their congresspersons,
write letters to editors, make donations to those who support their cause and,
in general, work within the system to get what they want. For Tapper to
imply that senators and representatives who support the NRA are doing anything
different than the members of the Congressional Black Caucus -- or any other
voting bloc in Congress that takes money from and advocates its supporters'
interests -- is undiluted hogwash.

-- John Lee

Lawrence, Kan.

The one thing that was really offensive about this article was Jake Tapper's
constant proclamation that the "big guns" were toeing the NRA line because of contributions. Believe it or not, many people have firmly held views that happen to coincide with the NRA position. The NRA exists in part because
of people who have common goals and beliefs -- not vice versa.

-- Roger Brown

Napa, Calif.

Your writer says that Bush signed a "lax law" that bestowed "upon almost
anyone" the right to carry a loaded concealed weapon.
The real truth, however, is entirely different: Texas has one of
the most stringent concealed carry laws in the United States. Not only do you have to
take a course that includes classroom teaching, then pass a written test,
but you must prove your marksmanship on the gun range as well. Then you have
to have your fingerprints taken and checked, and then the state does a
criminal background check on your history.

And now that Texas has such a law, I can tell you that I
feel my family is safer when we're out in public, with me carrying a
loaded .40-caliber Glock, should we ever run up against a violent criminal
who was let out of prison early by a liberal judge more concerned
with the injustice of prison overcrowding than with the
public's right to safety and security.

-- Gregg Wendorf

McAllen, Texas

My "Outlander" thing


I, like Gavin McNett, was talked into reading a historical romance a few years
ago (though I still haven't managed to read the "Outlander" books) and I agree
that not all of them are as bad as one expects. Though not heavy reading, by
any means, most of the romances I've read have been enjoyable fluff. I do
want to correct McNett on one point though -- the "time travel historical
romance" motif has been around for far longer than the "Outlander" books. In
fact, the first historical romance I read -- "A Knight in Shining Armor" by
Jude Deveraux -- is an example of the sub-sub-genre and came out several years
before "Outlander."

-- Jonathan Miller

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