Linking to other sites is a great way to make your website more appealing. It is easy to forget that content linking on websites can lead to copyright claims just like any other content. When creating your website, do not link without thinking about whether you have the legal right to do so. There have been lawsuits in the past because offending websites integrated links to other websites in ways that implied the two sites were associated or endorsing each other. Even worse, linking like this can make it appear that there is just one site, completely neglecting one of the benefits of increased traffic, ad revenue, and notoriety. There are subtler violations that can still lead to legal issues, however. The three practices you must be careful of are deep linking, framing, and inlining.
Types of Links
Deep Linking – If a link leads to an inner page of a website, as opposed to the introductory or home pages, it is a deep link. These home pages are usually where a site’s banner ads will be, which is how they receive some revenue. Deep links can deprive sites of money, but this type of link also makes it difficult for viewers to realize they are on a new website.
Framing – This method allows portions of one website to be visible on another site. Framing can be very appealing because it adds a lot of attractive content to a page, but it is dangerous because it gives a stronger impression that the content is owned by the framing website rather than a simple link. Framing is especially common for news sites to present current events.
Inlining – Inlining is similar to framing. It allows a viewer to see a graphic file from another website without leaving the site he or she is browsing. This can provide a more seamless browsing experience, but it also can be viewed as stealing content.
If a website uses links improperly, the owner will face legal issues because of copyright infringement. If your site contains content from another site without citing the source, it is obvious this violates the owner’s copyright, but this violation may be more common than you think. If the inclusion of other site’s content alters its appearance, the way visitors view it, or imply association or endorsement, it is still a violation of copyright law. There have been copyright suits in the past that have resulted in the offending site having to remove its links or change its website.
What to Do
There are a few practices you can take to ensure you never run into legal issues with your website. The simplest option is to limit yourself to text links that do not link to deep pages of other sites. These types of link nearly never lead to copyright claims or other legal issues. If you are going to use a more complicated link, ask permission from the content owner. This is a simple practice that protects you from backlash. If permission is granted, a written understanding should be given by both parties, either in a contract or just an email conversation.
Your other option is to include disclaimers. When linking, make sure it is perfectly clear the linked site is not associated with your own in any way and does not endorse you. This practice has caused certain lawsuits to be ruled in favor of the offending website. While including a disclaimer is not as legally sound as asking permission, and may be less appealing than having a clean link, it may be necessary if you cannot gain permission for any reason.
Remember that it is your responsibility to avoid including content on your website that will harm the visibility, ad revenue, or reputation of any other website.