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Do You Need Permission to Link to Someone’s Content?

Shell Holtz writes a great article on “When is a Link Not a Link” that is worth reading if you are worried about fair use of content and link citations of web page content:

For years, I’ve been getting the same question when I get to the hyperlink section of my “Writing for the Wired World” workshop: “Do you need permission to link to somebody else’s content?” I am not a lawyer, but I have read a fair amount on this subject. My understanding is that, with some very narrow exceptions, any content that is freely accessible on the web is fair game for a link.

…The question today, though, is whether the broad court findings on deep links apply to non-HTML content. Based on search engines’ ability to find Adobe Acrobat PDF files and the various search engines that scour images, audio, and video, it would be easy to assume that all publicly-accessible content is fair game for linking.

Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Do You Need Permission to Link?

Shell is right that you do not need permission to link to content from a contextual link in a post, like that link.

The question above deals with embeds, embedding content such as a video, image, or audio into your site that doesn’t belong to you.

YouTube and other video services don’t just bring in the video, they bring in the branded video player, as do many audio embeds.

If you properly embed a flickr image, it comes with a citation link back to the flickr account and source.

What about links, called hot links, to content that doesn’t bring its branding and citation with it?

Make every effort to cite the source in a link. If you cannot, consider looking elsewhere for similar or related content.

The citation link must be close to the multimedia when you publish it. It can be before, after, or in the caption, as long as it is made clear that this content does not belong to you and you have made every attempt to identify the source.

Play it safe. While you do not need permission to link to web pages and online resources, publishing the content created by someone else requires a proper citation and credit.

For more information:


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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen.

25 Comments

  1. Posted July 6, 2006 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    My thinking has always been, “If you don’t want someone to find it, link it, and share it, then don’t publish it.”

  2. voipendium
    Posted July 6, 2006 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    As a former About.com guide, I can tell you that we used to ‘deep link’ to other sites all the time. It was encouraged and required. We were told of fair use and the legalities but this was always a freat area.
    In the thousands of websites I had visited and linked to, only a handful (maybe 10) ever sent an email
    requesting we not link to their content via a ‘deep link’ and instead link to their top page domain only.

  3. voipendium
    Posted July 6, 2006 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    The word “freat” in post # 2 should read “GRAY”… not sure what happened in translation??

  4. Posted July 6, 2006 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    If you are linking TO someone’s content with a brief description of where the clicker is going, that’s giving credit to the original poster, right? I link to you at least once a week.

    Today I did a search on macrobiotics. In three of the four sites I read, the content was the same, word for word, and no one linked to whomever wrote the original article. That’s cheap in the game, I think.

  5. Posted July 6, 2006 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    voipendium: I don’t know which post is #2. I don’t find that word in my blog, so if you could be more specific, maybe I can fix the problem. Thanks.

  6. voipendium
    Posted July 6, 2006 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Lorelle. The problem in post # 2 was a ‘fatfinger’ problem on my side. All better now!
    Enjoy your blog, much.
    Be well!
    Charlie Cacioppo

  7. Posted July 6, 2006 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    I’ve always thought that linking to any public web page is ok.

    What’s not ok is to link directly to bits of content out of the original website context without permission. For instance, linking directly to somebody’s images, videos, or PDFs without the original source knowing. Whether you give credit or not (and of course you should), you’re using somebody else’s bandwidth.

    In the article discussed here: “Context really doesn’t matter. If the URL exists, you must acquit. Otherwise, if you’re putting MP3 files on the Web and you don’t want someone pointing to them from the contexts of their choice, then, instead of sending takedown notices to that someone, take down the content itself. That way, nobody will point to it. “

    I completely disagree. Context does matter. It makes clear who owns the content. The argument of “if you don’t want [hotlinks, ripoffs, defacing, etc] then don’t post to the Internet” sounds very childish to me.. Like “if you don’t want to get in a car crash, don’t drive”. How stupid! You still need/want to drive. What’s needed is a social code of conduct.

  8. Posted July 6, 2006 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    My personal opinion is linking is no holds barred – if you put something online, the very nature of the internet promotes linking. I think taking something else and presenting it as your own work is a different matter, particularly when you are doing it for commercial gain. I recently had an entire blog post stolen, reproduced on a commercially oriented site, unlinked, unattributed.

    I gave them a gentle suggestion that this wasn’t a good idea and they took it down. I didn’t ask for a takedown, I just asked for attribution. The more my work is circulated the better, but I do want people to know it’s my work.

  9. Posted July 6, 2006 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

    We could probably imagine JAVA-like rules where on-line material could be tagged as:
    – public (accessible by deep links from anywhere)
    – protected (accessible from within the same web site only)
    – private (accesible from the same web page only)

    Such a structure would definitely answer some of the above concerns, and enhance software quality by clarifying interfaces and layers.
    But maybe it is already discussed / implemented – I am no specialist.

  10. Posted July 7, 2006 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    Hmmm…. I like…
    I wonder if the tools already exist. I mean, htaccess already lets you turn off hotlinking to images and other types of files (similar to the protected level mandarine suggests). I’m no Apache expert so I don’t know how flexible it is and whether it could be expanded to indiviudal pages as opposed to global file extensions.

    But I do think that content owners should have a say on what gets linked to and how.
    Just like we do today with Search Engines. It’s not perfect, and bad robots don’t follow rules, but we do have a way of expressing our “indexing policy”.

  11. myepinoy
    Posted July 7, 2006 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    I checked Shel (not Shell by the way) Holtz’s site and found one interesting comment by Mr.Leo Bottary. He said “By the way, we’re simply sending people to their site.”. By this, they should thank us then.

  12. Posted July 7, 2006 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    I am always amazed when I see this topic still bouncing around, mostly because I was surprised it was an issue in the first place. I encountered this question first from a student while I was teaching web development at UCSB in 2000. At the time I flatly said it was a rediculous notion, but decided a more diplomatic answer was needed. Here is what I came up with:

    1) Linking to a site is no different than giving direction to the local restraunt. Deep linking is no different than giving directions to the restroom inside a local restraunt. Last I checked there is no legal precedent against this.

    2) It is a very simple matter to put a small piece of PHP or ASP code to be included in all pages you do not want linked to that checks the referring URL and bounces you if it does not come from a “cleared” domain.

    I can’t believe money is being spent in court on this. Geeze, get over it already :-)

    Cheers,
    John

  13. Posted July 8, 2006 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    Hi Lorelle!

    As I’ve said before, I do follow links from your blog.
    Interesting matter as ususal, even if old on the web and elsewhere.
    I relly don’t understand how you manage to travel, write AND find/recommend good reading.
    You certainly do though.

    On the linking/deep linking thing I’d like to see a little bit on your own thoughts, when and if you get the time and inspiration.

    I’d spit out a few words of my own, were it not so damn hot in Sweden right now.

    May your flag fly!

  14. Posted July 12, 2006 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    I would agree completely with the content being fair game for a link. I’ve recently discovered a blog, however, where the “author” has taken my posts – verbatim – and posted them as her own. No link. No attribution. No nothing. The kicker? She emailed me to tell me so, that she was “inspired” by my words.

    It’s an extremely uncomfortable situation, for starters, that I’m not exactly sure how to deal with properly.

  15. Posted July 12, 2006 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    What To Do When Someone Steals Your Content should help.

  16. Posted July 13, 2006 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    I’ve recently discovered that a site called Yogacara Network is reproducing my content without acknowledging me as the original author. It appears that the site is a splog, aggregating content from dozens of sites purely to profit from Google ads. I’m very angry about this but I’m not sure what to do. I’ve contacted the site, telling them they are violating copyright law, but have not received a reply. I’ve also contacted other bloggers informing them that their content is being stolen. Hopefully, if the site’s host receives enough complaints, they might pull the site down.

    I posted something about it recently:

    http://neurophilosophy.wordpress.com/2006/07/11/is-my-content-being-stolen/

  17. Posted July 17, 2006 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Look at music from the 80;s Eddy Van Halen started his thing and then everyone else started doing it. People started buying/selling on Ebay and then more people started doing it! Copying and modifying is what the motorcycle and car manufacturers do just look at the honda’s that look like Harley Davidsons does prestige matter?. How about Toyota remember how lame know they got a Lexus that looks like a BMW does prestige matter? We live in a progressive society thats what makes us strong! just imagine if the first man with fire said to the second guy when he got fire “hey you got fire now you know that was my idea ive had it for awhile put that out!. Things would grow stale and die if people are not inspired to do better sometimes it works sometimes its just a lesser copy, look at the history of the internet it started with government scientist and there ideas were modified by people with vision to the benefit of all! Staying on top is hard making a come back is possible, but above all else you can not stop progress. There is nothing new in this world but I bet there is a better mousetrap on the horizon and also one made in china that is probably crappier but someone is going to buy it are you?
    Laters Jeff Hansen

  18. Sandra V.
    Posted January 12, 2010 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    What is the etiquette for posting a utube link on your website as reference to where/how the product you sell has been used by a customer ???? thanks ya’ll

  19. Posted May 4, 2010 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    I am in the process of developing a web based personal stylist. With tips and info. on how and what to wear and when. I would like to link to designers websites (homepages), and possibly even have photos or drawing of there current stock. So I would need to put a link to the designers website so that if the person on my site is interested in purchasing the item they know where to get it. Would I have to get permission to do this?

    Please help!!!

    Thanks
    xo

    • Posted May 7, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      As the article says, you do not have to get permission to link. I don’t know how else to say that, or maybe I’m not understanding your question. If you use their photographs or designs without their permission, if their site and content is copyrighted, you cannot use them, but links are free. Always have been.

  20. Anonymous
    Posted June 20, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    Hi – sorry if this sounds ignorant but what is considered a link? Does this mean that I can summarize something I read from – lets say Yahoo – and then link to it and post credit somewhere on the page? If this is correct then can someone explain why when I asked Yahoo for permission I was denied the right to use the link? Thank you.

    • Posted June 20, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

      A link is a link. It is the title or a word to phrase wrapped with an HTML hypertext anchor tag. This requires no permission. You may summarize the content, but you cannot copy and publish someone else’s content beyond Fair Use restrictions, which many consider 10% or 200-400 words with a link for credit to the original source.

      Do you mean Yahoo the search engine, Yahoo the news, or what? For specifics on Yahoo’s copyright and Fair Use policies, ask them. For more information on copyright, see Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today and What Do You Do When Someone Steals Your Content.

  21. Posted October 4, 2013 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    very helpful, thank you. only one comment. i came looking for advice on how to use a link in a newsletter i edit. i want to link to a website and also tell my readers a little about it. i want to know if i can quote their own blurb without obtaining consent. am i just a nuisance if i ask for it? should i just reword it? it’s a free ad for them and relevant info for my readers. so i appreciate your telling people how to defend against people like me who might borrow three or four lines of copy from a website, but i do want to know what etiquette is involved in doing that correctly. just a point.

    • Posted October 5, 2013 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      You must ask permission before using their words in marketing. Does matter what you assume the benefit might be to them. You’ve moved from citation (quoting) to advertising. You making money from those words, it using them with the potential to make money, changes things. Permission required.

    • Posted October 6, 2013 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

      thank you very much for this, Lorelle. much appreciated!.


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