Legality of web links to articles?

Subject: Legality of web links to articles?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 12 Feb 2002 10:27:09 -0500

Caitlin Gannon reports: <<I'm in the process of rebuilding and redesigning
my company's website, and I want to create the illusion of frequent change
on the home page by adding links to articles related to what we do.>>

If you're adding new links, why would you call this an illusion? Just don't
forget that change for its own sake is a useless goal: some things should
change (e.g., news, stock prices); some should change slowly, if at all
(e.g., contact information and dictionaries); and some should change with
variable frequency (e.g., updates on new versions of software only come out
when the software is updated). Have a look at a few of my articles on this

These are terser than I like, and targeted towards computer pros rather than
techwhirlers, but they discuss the concept pretty well given those
constraints. (If those links break for whatever reason, hit the home page,
click the search button, and search on my name. Look for the series of four
articles on content, structure, and relevance.) Techwhirler-centric versions
of these articles will appear on in about 6 months under my
"user's advocate" column.

<<Is there any reason why I can't put a link to a Business Week article or
Internet World or whatever?>>

Yes and no. Linking to other sites is obviously legal (otherwise there'd be
no search engines), but it's clearly illegal to open someone else's writing
in a window on your site and give the impression that the writing is your
property. My favorite solution for this is to open all links that lead away
from your site in a new browser window; this leaves your site open in the
background (think of this as putting a bookmark in a book's index while you
browse topics), but provides full evidence that you're now on someone else's
site. Best of all--and unlike the use of frames--viewers can easily bookmark
these sites and add them to their "favorites" list.

One drawback of this approach is that browsers can end up with many windows
open all over their desktop. Given how easy it is to close these windows, I
don't consider this a serious objection--particularly since this approach
leaves control in the user's hands, not yours. However, if you start getting
complaints, you can still link to other sites in two ways:
1. By abandoning your site and opening the new site in the same window. (Not
as nice as keeping your site open in the background, but heck, if they found
your site useful, they'll find their way back eventually.)
2. Via frames, with the linked site clearly and unmistakably labeled at the
top of the frame as belonging to its publisher, not you. Many drawbacks, but
at least it keeps your site handy at all times.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a
personality, and an obnoxious one at that."-Kim Roper

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