Re: LAW: Legality of deep linking to Web sites

From: James Wetterau (
Date: Fri Jan 19 2001 - 07:55:56 MST

The deep linking issue has some wrinkles:

1. "Links" may be presented in many contexts which radically alter the
   way they would be perceived. Links can be arranged in frames (even
   in cases where the frame borders are deliberately made obscure)
   such that the linked-to content *appears to be original to the
   linking site*, unless the browser user inspects the URL through use
   of browser utilities. Therefore, the linked to content effectively
   very closely resembles a copy, rather than a link.

2. Deep linking may be done in such a way as to strip off any framing
   components that the original content author considers essential to
   the presentation of the content, whether for economic reasons or
   because the author hoped to present the content in a particular

In concert, these two factors might work out like this:

I publish a webzine, and I have various navigational tools in a frame
on the left, and various ads in a frame across the top. The
lower-right area shows articles, which I have paid authors to write.
Moreover, I break these articles up into pages, the first of which is
a title page with some copyright information.

Imagine that somebody else links to my articles (starting always on
the second page, thereby directing users to skip over the copyright
data) in a frame on her site. This person does not make it clear in
the text what the source of the articles is. Imagine that in my
weblogs I begin to notice many more people are reading the articles,
starting on the second page, from a "REFERER-URL" indicative of the
other user's site. When I browse that site I discover that casual
users there:

a. would have no idea the content came from my site
b. would never see my advertisers' ads
c. would never see by-lines and copyright info I expect to accompany
the article.

This gives the issue a different complexion, now doesn't it? Deep
linking, especially when framed, can thus be used to accomplish
something very similar to an unauthorized copy of selected portions of
my site, under the guise of "just making a link", not a copy. I
believe these issues have not yet been tried out in court, but IANAL,
and I haven't researched it.

James Wetterau

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