Magazine article Information Today

To Link or Not to Link

Magazine article Information Today

To Link or Not to Link

Article excerpt

I recall learning about hyperlinks and hypertext in library school back in the mid1980s. It sounded like an interesting, possibly valuable means of interconnecting various information sources. But to be honest, I wasn't completely sure if and how the concept would really work, so I didn't pay too much attention to it. Cut to a few years later when I first used Mosaic and the World Wide Web and finally understood what all the fuss was about. The Web's use of hyperlinks to transition seamlessly between information resources-regardless of the content's location-has brought about a sea change in how those resources are created, distributed, managed, and employed.

Of course, no such change is without its growing pains. Hypertext and hyperlinks are going through a number of them as Web-- based content providers grapple with copyright, competition, misappropriation, and even trespass issues associated with links and linking. Several lawsuits have flared up within the last few months between "linker" and "linkee." Some Web sites have also developed policies, procedures, and permissions that must be pursued before they will permit a link to them.

So now the questions are coming. Is permission required before linking to an external Web site? Will placing links on Web pages lead to copyright or other liability? Will these issues result in the loss of the interactivity and flexibility that are the cornerstones of Web research?

Web Sites and Copyright

There's never been any significant doubt that Web sites and individual Web pages can be (and in most cases are) copyrighted. Title 17, Section 102 of the Copyright Act of 1976 (available at provides that "original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium" may be copyrighted. Web pages that are fixed in the tangible medium of computer language on servers easily qualify for this protection. The copyright itself is actually a bundle of rights controlled by the copyright owner, including the right to reproduce, prepare derivatives, distribute, perform, and display the work publicly.

Although the Web is globally available to anyone with computer access and a connection, posting a Web page is not the same as placing a creative product in the public domain. Copyright owners still control their various rights to the content of their pages. The temporary copy of a Web page that is created by a browser and stored in your desktop's RAM or cache is generally permitted by the copyright owner. Courts have even identified such copies as a necessary part of the basic Web process. However, downloading the page to your hard drive, cutting and pasting portions of the content for personal use, or incorporating content into your own page usually exceed the permission given by the copyright owner and may be considered infringement.

Similarly, the copyright owner also controls the public-display right to the Web site. This includes the structure, organization, and presentation of individual pages. Some practices of linking to Web pages have raised legal questions about whether linking could violate this display right as well as other legal rights outside the copyright arena.

Deep-Linking Lawsuits

The basic process of linking between Web pages is described as "analogous to using a library's card index to get reference to particular items, albeit faster and more efficiently." However, copyright expert Raymond Nimmer cautions that as linking moves beyond "mere reference" the process can run afoul of the law. Several recent lawsuits illustrate where these legal lines are being formed.

One such case involved the Ticketmaster ( and Tickets .com ( sites. Ticketmaster developed an online ticket-sales system to complement its existing outlet and phone-sales system. had a somewhat different online model that sold tickets to some events directly, but it also maintained a database of events for which it was not the authorized service. …

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