Over the past month there have been
several high profile cases where owners of one web site have sued or threatened
to sue owners of
another web site for linking to them. I know on first glance
this sounds crazy, and to be honest, it *IS* crazy. After all, if
links are illegal then every search engine, every directory, and every
link list is illegal, and would have to be shut down. After all,
what is Google but a database of deep
links? Take away Yahoo's links
to other sites, to news headlines and stock quotes, and you have nothing.
over linking has even caused some web sites to stop linking to any
other web sites at all, or if they do link to them, they link only to the
homepage, instead of "deep" linking to interior content sections.
Sadly, this is a knee jerk reaction and unnecessary. I've also seen
some sites go so overboard as to start requiring other sites to sign a
written "linking" approval document before they will link to them.
I don't want to rehash the history
of linking lawsuits, but I do want to point out that the problem of
not wanting another site to deep link to your interior content or to specific
page of your site can be solved easily by non-legal means.
Deep linking is not a problem that
needs a legal solution. If you don't want someone deep linking to
your site's interior pages, you can write a script that checks the referring
URL, and then redirects anybody coming in from any page that is not on
your domain already. End of problem. This is a bit harsh, though, so let's look at better solutions.
Some sites don't like deep links
because they feel the user is missing out on banner ads (ads we all ignore
anyway) they'd see if they came through the front door. There's a
solution for this as well, and it's not a lawsuit. If you want to
make sure someone entering your site via a deep link sees your banner ads
or some other content fom your homepage, you can modify your server to
detect any offsite user entering directly via a deep link. The content
for that page can then be served in a frame that displays the banner.
Or, better yet, you launch a second pop-up window with the homepage in
it. There are several even better work arounds that won't alienate
your users, some more technical than I want to get for this column, but
just as effective.
I've been doing linking related consulting
for 8 years, and I would be thrilled to speak in court to the legal establishment
as to why lawsuits are 100% unnecessary for ALL linking related issues.
Every linking related problem has a fairly easy solution that costs less
than funding a lawsuit.
In my opinion, there are only a couple
specific instances where linking to someone else's content might be seen
as illegal (caveat: I'm not a lawyer). First, if a link on your site
when clicked loads someone else's content into a frame on your site, so
that the user has no idea where that content came from, then you're on
thin ice morally if not legally. Don't do it.
Second, if the site you are linking
to has stated on their site that linking is strictly prohibited, or requires
permission first, then don't link to them unless you have it. Some lawyers tell me linking policies
are unenforceable anyway. But rather than spending money to find out, why
not just solve the problem via your own web server software.
For the overwhelming majority of
web sites, links are gold. We all want links. If you don't
want your content linked, why did you put it online in the first place?
Lastly, for those who think all links
should be to a site's homepage only, remember that some sites are so big,
with so many thousands of pages, that if others can't deep link to the
exact page they want, there is no point in linking at all. Let me
leave you with an example to illustrate the point. I once helped
the National Library of Medicine (NLM) to bring attention to several interior
(deep) sections of their MEDLINEplus
web site. I sought links to these interior content areas on hundreds
of other topical health related sites. These sites were happy to
deep link to NLM's new interior content sections. These sites would
never have linked just to the NLM homepage, because that's ten clicks away
from the interior content area and wouldn't help their readers find the
MEDLINEplus content. Nobody would find it.
In closing let me ask you to check
your bookmarks. How many of your bookmarks go to interior pages of
sites rather than to homepages? Of my own 478 bookmarks, 440 were deep
links. If deep links are illegal, anyone with bookmarks is breaking
How silly is that?
Until next time, I remain,
Eric Ward, Link Mensch