Links are a fundamental thread to the Internet and the way users find information. Without links, it would be difficult to navigate your way through the masses of information stored on the Internet.
Links are a useful e-commerce tool too. They direct potential customers to your site and help them find what they are looking for. Even if they are unsure of what it is they are after, links give them other avenues to explore.
However, there are a number of legal concerns to consider when it comes to linking, especially if you plan to link your site to another.
What is linking?
A link (or hyperlink) takes a user from one Web page or site to another with just a click of the mouse. Linking is a fundamental tool of the Internet as it helps users navigate through the wealth of information which exists on the World Wide Web.
A link to another Web site effectively “disconnects” a visitor from your site and takes this visitor straight to another Web site’s home page. Linking is just like giving another Web site extra publicity and it gives your visitors added resources.
Legally speaking, you are generally okay if you link to another site, provided this link takes the visitor outside of your site. It is only when you start “deep linking” or “framing” that you may find yourself vulnerable to legal action.
Deep linking is a technique where one site makes a link straight into another Web site and bypasses the site’s home page. Deep linking can often upset the target Web sites as they may lose out on revenue. This is because generated revenue is often tied to the number of hits they record on their home page.
As Web businesses rely on hits for advertising and revenue, deep linking may have an impact on the financial viability of the business. This brings the protection of commercial interest into play. Not only can these home page hits be the basis for advertising revenue, but also often translate into sales of other services or goods.
The consumer also bypasses any opportunity to read about the linked site’s terms and conditions of that particular site. The practice can also, yet again, trick the user into thinking the information contained on the deep linked site is affiliated or part of the original Web site.
If you plan to use deep linking, proceed with extreme caution as the law is not 100 per cent clear on your legal status.
What is framing?
Framing, on the other hand, allows for users to look at information from one Web site while it is framed by information from another site, sort of like a picture within a picture. The beauty of framing is that the user is not removed from the original Web site but can still peruse the necessary information from another site. It is generally seamless and the user doesn’t know the information is coming from another site.
Inlining is also another technique where a graphic file is shown on one Web site when it actually originates from another.
Framing carries with it a number of legalities. It may trigger a dispute based on copyright infringement and trademark law. Framing can make it seem as if the information being framed on a particular Web site actually belongs to that site. It can create the impression that the framed site endorses or associates itself with the host Web site.
The legal issue is whether the offending Web site is breaching copyright by using the information and creative work of the other Web site and passing it off as their own.
In the US, a news agency, TotalNEWS, framed news content from media outlets such as CNN and Today. The content from CNN was framed with information and advertising about TotalNEWS. The offending organisation was told to stop framing and to use links only.
However, in Australia you can get a license to frame a Web site if you have the Web site owner’s permission.