For a long time, linking (or hyperlinking) was considered a normal and benign practice for online businesses and individuals. The practice of using text or images to direct an Internet visitor to another page is called “linking”, and now has surprisingly ample legal ramifications.
The Internet now has more copyrighting, trademark and registration problems than the world of hard copies and paper-bound volumes, and breaches of these laws in an Internet setting can lead to lawsuits or even criminal charges. Most websites have a “linking” page in which links to other relevant sources can be found, and this has been used as a popular marketing strategy. But are you complying with legal and ethical standards in your linking practices?
Legal Linking Issues
1. Linking using copyrighted or trademarked images or phrases.
Let’s say that you run a company that sells vending machines. Obviously, those vending machines will be full of name-brand products, such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Dasani. On your Internet website, you link to these companies using their logos or pictures of the bottles that you obtained from the websites. This is definitely a legal linking issue because you have just violated copyright and trademark laws. This could similarly be a problem if you use a tagline reserved by a company, such as “Have it Your Way” or “Just Do It”.
2. Linking to websites that use copyrighted or trademarked images illegally.
You are not only responsible for what you place directly on your website, but also those websites to which you provide links. When you place a link on your website, you are effectively advertising the other website, and could find yourself in legal trouble.
3. Linking to websites using false advertisements.
This could go one of two ways. On the one hand, you might falsely advertise an Internet scheme as a legitimate business, in which case visitors could hold you liable for money they’ve lost. Secondly, if you post a link to a website with a defamatory or incorrect phrase, the offended company could hold you legally liable for lost profits.
When linking on the Internet, protect yourself from potential legal situations using the following tips:
1. Simple Linking
If is always better to offer a simple, plain-text link with little or no added information. This protects you from falsifying information or infringing upon copyrighted or trademarked symbols.
2. Avoid “Deep” Linking
Rather than linking directly to a specific page in another website (called deep links), link to the home page so that the visitor can find what he or she needs. This insures that the visitor will have every opportunity to find out what the website contains, and will not bypass any warnings, privacy policies, descriptions or advertisements.
3. Include a Link Disclaimer