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unauthorized linking

10:11 pm on Feb 15, 2008 (gmt 0)

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I was just handed a copy of a booklet prepared by a major insurance company on risk management for web site operators. There is an extensive passage on the legal risks of unauthorized linking, which is apparently very dangerous. And we're not talking about hot-linking, framing or any of that other sketchy stuff. We're talking about simple links from one site to another.

The insurance company advises that one get permission from the other webmaster before linking to his/her site. Verbal permission will usually suffice, but written is preferred. The insurance company then lays out a list of reasons why failing to do so may result in some sort of liability. Some of these reasons even seem plausible.

I know that there are some ethical/legal concerns if the context of the linkage misrepresents the relationship between the two sites, or if deep-linking skirts pages that generate ad revenue. But overall, do webmasters ever go through the trouble of securing written permission for posting simple links? Of course, this is likely just a routine case of an insurance company advocating extreme caution. But since the web is becoming more and more of a commercial exchange, dominated by big companies, should site operators get serious about link permissions? Seems unnatural to me, but what say the rest of you?

12:48 am on Feb 16, 2008 (gmt 0)

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A bunch of words beginning with the letter U come to mind...
Unnecessary, unmanageable, useless, un.....
6:50 pm on Feb 16, 2008 (gmt 0)

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I have a site with thousands of backlinks which were never requested. This same site links to thousands of more sites, none of which I ever sought permission. These links are all deep links to articles on those sites. I've never had a problem, and nobody has ever requested that I modify or remove a link (although one author did point out that I spelled his name wrong).

Isn't all this the whole point of hyperlinks?

7:16 pm on Feb 16, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Some of these reasons even seem plausible.

If the list is published on the internet please let us know so we can link to it.

10:05 pm on Feb 16, 2008 (gmt 0)

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I'd suggest such an article was prepared by either A) a lawyer putting it in print so if in fact one of there clients does get sued they could go see we told you... claim denied or B) someone who obviously has no clue.

Take your pick, probably a combination of both. If everyone had followed that advice since the internet's inception (when Al Gore created it) it would hardly be what it is today.

10:16 pm on Feb 16, 2008 (gmt 0)

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I suspect that the lawyer (or risk manager) who wrote that is probably concerned that a link could be construed as an implicit endorsement of the site. Given the litigious climate in the US, it wouldn't surprise me if some plaintiff's attorney named a company as a defendant simply because his client said that they discovered the offending site through a link. I would hope that the courts wouldn't accept that, but you never know. It is a risk, small though it may seem.

Not long ago I found an academic site (professor) that had copied some of my pages onto his site. When I wrote to him to ask him to remove the content and replace it with a link to my site instead, he said that the university wouldn't allow him to link out. After much cajoling, he finally took the content down. I never did get the link.

10:41 am on Feb 18, 2008 (gmt 0)

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A few sites (mine included) do contain a disclaimer saying that they are not responsible for content or accuracy or external links.

I did it for the benefit of the web users who really are so dumb that they don't understand that links can go to different web sites owned by different people.