Think before you link: website linking and copyright infringement
One of the many marvels of the internet is the ability to surf infinitely between websites to seek information needed. One way that website owners encourage this is through linking – adding hyperlinks to content in pages that lead users directly to another website. In return they hope to receive inbound links from other sites linking to their site, improving their volume of traffic and their SEO. But website owners rarely seek permission from the company to do this and as such risk violating copyright laws.
The risks can surface when one side suffers, even a perceived, financial loss. For example, a company may argue that a link to a sub-page of their site rather than the homepage, known as a deep link, is damaging in that it limits brand and advertising exposure. Or the company linked to may have had legal action taken against them, in which case the company with the link would become party to this for linking their content or services.
As a general rule of thumb, do not link to external sites:
- Without copyright holders’ consent
- If they contain unlawful material such as obscene or defamatory information
- With restricted content such as work only available to subscribers of the site
Even short snippets of text in titles of links can qualify for copyright protection while key words and domain names share a similar nature to trademarks. It is advised to obtain permission and consider publishing a disclaimer that explains that websites linked or embedded are not commercially connected to your website.
Readers should note that the above EU regime is subject to change due to the UK leaving the European Union.