RE: legality of web links to articles?

Subject: RE: legality of web links to articles?
From: "Sella Rush" <srush -at- MusicNet -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 12 Feb 2002 12:13:25 -0800

Wow, I started a reply to Simon that got so long it started taking over my hard drive! Didn't know I felt so strongly! To sum up the blather...

Simon's basic point--that just because someone says you can't doesn't make them legally correct, was right on the mark for me. Governing precedent is still too narrow--too specific--to make general statements about. But a mere link to another site is by no means a violation of law.

On the other hand, Arlen's comment about courtesy also has validity to me. But I think it is pretty onerous to require permission for every single link in a living document such as a web site. While a link might potentially cause cost in lost revenue to the linkee, tracking permissions definitely costs the linker in manpower and wages. Perhaps a compromise is possible--if the linker sends notice to the linkee re the link, the linkee has the option of requesting removal (especially useful if the resulting traffic will likely crunch the linkee site) and the linker has the option of honoring that request.

Isn't it obvious that this issue is less about what's morally right and all about controlling boundaries? Does anyone doubt that some large companies with lots of lawyers who are shouting "no you must not link to us" are simultaneously claiming the right to provides links to other sites at their own discretion?

I really think the best guideline we have are references and bibliographies. If you link to a site--include the attribution--where it's located, who created it (if known), etc. See Yahoo News section "Full Coverage".

And now a comment about copyright.

> Fair Use ONLY applies to educational or personal use.

This is simply not true. There are other relevant instances of fair use, notably the use of limited excerpts *without author permission* for the purposes of commentary, parody, news reporting, research and education. (Anyone think newspapers and magazines aren't commercial enterprises?) Fair use never allows an entire work to be copied and distributed, including educational use. Also, it is a common misapprehension that copyright violation has anything to do with whether the violator is a commercial enterprise or not. This is simply not relevant--a non-profit entity can violate copyright just like anyone else. (Whether the entity made money from the violation does become relevant when awarding damages, however.)

Also, since we're talking about links, it seems relevant that titles are not subject to copyright. The law says:

"The following are examples of works not subject to copyright and
applications for registration of such works cannot be entertained:
(a) Words and short phrases such as names, titles, and slogans;
familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic
ornamentation, lettering or coloring; mere listing of ingredients or


Now before anyone starts screaming, remember that some of the above, such as names, slogans, and symbols, are subject to **trademark** law. But titles are not subject to either copyright or trademark laws, which is why we get movies and books with the same titles, and which is why we can create bibliographies without getting permission from every frigging author and/or publisher.

Sella Rush
technical writer
srush -at- musicnet -dot- com

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