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Mistakes were made

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Welcome, now get out

May 2nd, 2002 · No Comments · Uncategorized

There’s a rather large public plaza that opened up not too far from my apartment. I guess city requirements dictate that large developments are required to have a certain amount of footage open to the public, but this seems to go above and beyond. It’s huge, covering almost an entire city block. Inside it are a number of little shops, selling everything from food to bestsellers. There’s a big main entrance on one side, but the perimeter is dotted with smaller gates, making it a pleasant shortcut, one I enjoy using to break up the monotony of all too familiar sidewalks. I’ve also learned to appreciate the cinnamon rolls available at a kiosk there.

It was in an attempt to enjoy one of those cinnamon rolls that I ran afoul of the law.

Today, as I usually do, I entered from one of the smaller side entrances, the one closest to where I get my cinnamon rolls before continuing across to the other side of the plaza. I was making my selection when two security guards, accompanied by a police officer came up from behind me.

“Excuse me, sir,” said the cop, “I’m going to have to write you a summons for trespassing.”

The two security guards behind the police officer glowered at me, like I was some sort of hoodlum.

“I beg your pardon?”

The cop flipped open that little cop book and put his pen to it.

“You are trespassing, and the owners of the plaza wish to press charges. You can either pay the fine, or contest it in front of a judge. Can I have your name?” the cop said.

“All I want is a cinnamon roll. I didn’t realize that was against the law.”

One of the burly security goons thrust a little pamphlet at me.

“You’ve violated the regulations of Belo Plaza several times, and now we’re going to prosecute you,” the security guard said.

I took the small glossy tri-fold from his thick fingers: “Belo Plaza – Terms of use”

I flipped it open, only to find lots of small print.

“Look, I’ve never seen these, and if I broken any regulation, I have no idea what it is.”

The two security guards nodded at each other, triumphantly.

“Exactly!” said the other security guard. “If you had come in the main entrance, you’d have seen the regulations, which specifically state that visitors to the plaza must enter from the main entrance.”

I looked at the cop in complete disbelief. He nodded slightly, but seemed to be sympathetic to my plight. I think he knew it was ridiculous too.

“If you only want people coming in the main entrance, then why do you have open entrances all around the edges of the park?”

“Those are exits,” said the guard, seeming quite satisfied with his explanation.

“Why does it matter where I enter from? That’s insane.”

The other guard was getting annoyed now.

“Look here,” he said. “This is private property. Just because it’s open to the public doesn’t mean it’s public property. The owners of this plaza can dictate exactly how it can be used. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to enter the property.”

“Fine, fine, fine,” I said, resigned. I looked at the cop. “Can I just leave now, then? I didn’t know I was bothering owners, and I’ll be happy to leave and never come back. I really don’t want a ticket.”

The cop almost look relieved. He nodded, and closed the book.

“Sure thing. Just leave the premises,” the cop said.

“No problem, officer. I am so out of here.”

I looked at one of the guards, knowing I should keep my mouth shut, but unable to stop myself.

“Can either of you two tell me why? What’s the big deal?”

“This space is a commercial space, buddy. All this nice grass and greenery and paved paths are paid for by the stores that rent space, and by advertisers who put up signs. In order to be fair to those people, we want to make sure that everyone has to pass through the plaza in a certain way. That’s how it was designed, and that’s how we make money to keep this place. People who just walk across the plaza from one side to the other are basically stealing from us.”

His righteousness was palpable.

“You do realize,” I said slowly, “that I was about to make a purchase from one of those very stores before you decided I was a criminal.”

The guard shrugged.

“You also realize that I will never, ever come back here. I will never patronize any store in this plaza again. And I’ll be sure to tell other people not to come here.”

The security goons were unmoved. I threw my hands up and walked towards the nearest exit, still clutching the Belo Plaza terms of use pamphlet in my tense fist.

When I reached the exit, I turned around and shouted at the guards. “Did it ever occur to anyone to put gates over these exits, so people can’t enter from the street?”

* * *


This didn’t really happen, of course. Not to me. But a version of it did happen, in a virtual, on-line sort of way.

The story above seems ridiculous, and indeed, it is ridiculous when a web site sics lawyers on another site, telling them that permission is needed to link to anything other than the front page. How a newspaper website like the Dallas News can think it makes sense to tell people to not link to their stories just goes to show you how much the people at Belo actually use the Internet.

When I link to a site, I’m making an endorsement. It’s free advertising for the other site. If there’s a site out there that doesn’t want my traffic, no problem. Fine by me. I encountered this once with a webmaster who was running Clint Eastwood’s site. He had engineered his site so that links always redirected to the main page. So if you wanted to link to a specific page about a Clint Eastwood movie, you simply couldn’t do it. To me, that’s a fine example of a webmaster with his head up his ass, but at least he used engineering to assure that no one would ever go to his site. I can at least respect that from a technical standpoint. It sure beats using wolf packs of lawyers to use the premise of “copyright” to scare everyone away.

It’s amazing that the well paid lawyers at Belo are so dense as to think an URL can be copyrighted. You can no more copyright an URL as you can a phone number or an address. Facts cannot be copyrighted.

When I read about this stupidity of the Dallas News and Belo, I wanted to slap someone. But, upon deeper reflection, I realized this is a fine case of self-limiting stupidity. Let Dallas News and Belo chase away people who link. If they want the Internet to behave totally different for them, and they are so dimwitted as to be able to build a site that works like they want (build it with Flash, that’ll stop the links!), let them have what they want.

I’m sure at some point they’ll go after Google for indexing their “deep content” and sending people to anything other than the front page. They will get less and less traffic as they enjoy the irrelevance that they so desire. Their advertisers, upset with the getting almost nil exposure, front page or otherwise, will go away. And Belo will be yet another case of clueless Internet road kill.

Problem solved. Internet Darwinism at work. Enjoy your swim in the tar pit, Belo.

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