Legality of web links to articles? (Take II)

Subject: Legality of web links to articles? (Take II)
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 13:16:40 -0500

Kelley wonders: <<what do you do about sites that explicitly say that you
can't link or, if you do, then you have to ask? I provided about five
examples that wanted you to ask for permission. I also noted that there
were still other sites (a minority) that explicitly said, "Tough beans

Here you get into issues of both politeness (consideration for others) and

First, politeness: If someone has a formal policy that prohibits you from
linking to their site, they can't stop you from doing so, but why would you
go out of your way to antagonize them? There's plenty of free, high-quality
information out there whose owners are desperate for you to link to them.
Talking to the Webmasters might reveal that the problem isn't with linking
(they'd love to have you link to their _home page_), but rather with "deep
linking" (bypassing the home page and going right to the article annoys
them). Replacing a deep link with a "go to [home page] and search for info.
on [topic]" might satisfy their needs.

Of course, this is also a design issue. A well-designed Web site contains
easy access to information about the publisher (including a link to the home
page) on every page. That makes the argument about "go to our home page"
somewhat weak, even if the goal of sending them to your home page is to
display tacky banner advertising.

Second, law: Given that legal precedents are still being established over
linking, and that many judges are consequently ignorant of the finer points
of Internet law, a good lawyer could certainly land you in hot water if you
insist on linking to a site after being told not to do so. Even though the
doctrine of "fair use" (quoting someone or referring to their published
work, whether in print or online) has a large body of jurisprudence behind
it, judges are independent thinkers, and may choose to interpret that
jurisprudence differently for the Web. If you have a really good lawyer too,
and you link appropriately, common sense suggests that nobody could win a
suit against you. Unfortunately, common sense only overlaps the legal system
about 50% of the time.

So again, if someone really doesn't want you to link to them, even after
you've proposed compromises, why take the risk? The only people they're
hurting by refusing links are themselves. Why put it on the Web if you don't
want people to see it? Makes no sense.

<<The WEB was conceived primarily for commerce>>

No, it was designed primarily for easy exchange of information among
scientific researchers; it was only much later hijacked by commerce and
business, often to its detriment.

--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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