Microsoft Proceeds With Controversial Smart Tags

Posted on June 26, 2001

Microsoft has launched its Internet Explorer 6 preview with the highly controversial Smart Tags included. Smart Tags are a new feature that converts keywords into links on any publisher's, individual's or writer's webpages. Legal experts have already opined that this practice likely infringes on the copyrights of authors, because an unauthorized derivative work is created when the Smart Tags are deployed. Many content publishers are also concerned about the fact that Microsoft is, in effect, adding unauthorized links on their websites which readers may think are part of the original content. Newspapers and magazines are also concerned that these links will interfere with their on-site advertising, by adding what amount to unauthorized ads on webpages. Writers, feeling the flush of victory over the Supereme Court's decision in their favor in the Tasini case, now face another threat to their rights to control the presentation of their work. Microsoft has failed to disclose which Smart Tags will be added, but industry insiders are speculating that large companies will pay Microsoft to add links to their companies.

On its website, Microsoft shows an example of a news story on where the smart tags have converted the text for "Honeywell" into a link (represented by a dashed underline) that takes the user directly to Honeywell's website, to a stock quote and to other information about the company. This means that text on any webpage -- including new stories, articles, author's book excerpts, online fiction, book reviews, resumes, databases, etc. -- could be turned into a SmartTag link without the permission or knowledge of the creator of the content. Supposedly, website publishers can include a meta tag in a webpage that prevents the SmartTags from being displayed. Unfortunately, for publishers, the meta tag must be placed in the code of every single individual webpage on the website, a burdensome process for most publications.

This is the tag: