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Legal Limits of Web Links

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If interactivity is the
defining characteristic of the Internet in general, linking is the defining
characteristic of the Web in particular. By creating hypertext documents and
including links to related information within or outside their sites, people
can greatly multiply the information they provide.


Anybody who uses the Web becomes
quickly aware of these links. But you may not be aware that there are different
types of links and that some can create legal liability for both business and
personal sites.


Stop, Thief!


The most common type of external
Web link takes you to the opening or home page of another Web site, whose
owners are usually appreciative. This is the sort of linking that Google and
other Web search engines use to determine which Web sites they list first.
Being included among the first page of sites returned in a Google search can be
crucial for a site’s success.


But some links aren’t as
appreciated. Think of Web sites that link not to the home page of another site
but to an image or to text within that site, and make it seem that this content
is an integral part of their own sites. Links of this sort—typically
referred to as direct links or inline links—and the practice of using
them are sometimes referred to as bandwidth theft.


Bandwidth is being stolen partly
because the Web site doing this type of linking typically does it without
permission and often does it without crediting the linked site, and also
because these links increase the use of the linked sites, and possibly their
maintenance costs, without providing any benefits to them.


In addition, links of this sort
can be copyright violations, resulting in nasty cease-and-desist letters.
Internet service providers and Web hosts have been known to shut down sites
caught using inline links.


Preventing content of yours from
being inline linked in this way is possible. You can use code that determines
when a link request is coming from another site and automatically supply
different content—such as the message “Don’t direct link”—when it
does. Alternatively, you can use a manual method: when a Web-site creator
discovers that another site has engaged in image theft, the image that’s being
linked to can be manually replaced with a “shock image” to try to teach the
other site a lesson.


Deep-Linking Dangers


Another type of link is called a
deep link. Here, a Web site links not to the home page of another site but to
one of its internal pages. The practice has generally been considered acceptable
since the Web went public in 1991. It benefits surfers because it takes them
directly to relevant content.


But some commercial Web sites have
objected to this practice and even sued sites that have used it; Ticketmaster’s
high-profile cases against its rivals constitute a notable example. In other
cases, sites have objected to deep linking because they want surfers to enter
through their ad-revenue–generating home pages and other internal pages.


As a result, some legal experts
recommend asking permission to create a deep link to another site, said Jeanne
Jennings (www.jeannejennings.com),
an online marketing consultant in Washington, D.C., who advises medium-sized to
large companies with an Internet presence. A less-cumbersome approach is to
check that the site doesn’t have a posted policy against deep linking, and
that’s what Jennings recommends to her clients, she said in a phone interview.


Reid Goldsborough is a
syndicated columnist and author of the book <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway
He can be reached at reidgold@netaxs.com<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt;font-style:normal’> or <span



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