This article is based on UK law. It was last updated in September 2008.
If you have a website, the chances are that your site contains links to other sites. You may have heard that links can be illegal or that you need permission to link. And what about framing? Do you need permission to 'frame' another web site in a window on your site? These questions have never been fully answered by the courts, so there are no definitive legal rules. However, there are some best practice guidelines which you should try to follow.
Guidelines for safe linking
Ideally, you should first obtain permission from a site to which you want to link. This can be done by a simple email request or by a formal linking agreement. An agreement can also give the terms on which one site links to another. It may be that there is to be a reciprocal link and a provision for payment from one site to the other. For an example, see this story about Freeserve in OUT-LAW News.
If it is impractical to seek permission to link to a third party site here are some considerations:
- As a general rule, only link to a third party site if you're confident that the site would be pleased or indifferent about the link. If you are critical of the third party, it may look for ways to object to your link.
- Make it clear in how you express your links that the user is going to another site – for example, instead of "Click for more information," you could say, "For more information, see the web site of ". This is also best practice for good accessibility.
- To be absolutely safe, link to the home page of the target site. Linking anywhere else on the target site is known as 'deep linking'. Most sites are unlikely to object to deep linking. However, some sites do object to deep links. Reasons that have been given include the home page having the most prominent branding and it being a site's most lucrative third party advertising. These reasons may be flawed: a well-designed site should make its identity clear on every page, and users spend more time on internal pages than home pages, so internal pages arguably should carry the adverts.
- If the third party site objects to your link, remove it immediately.
- Do not display the brand of the target site next to the link on your site unless you have the brand owner's permission to do so. Otherwise, you risk infringing their trade mark.
- If your site is developed by another party, your web development agreement should clarify that links should not be added by the developer without your consultation – to give you the opportunity to seek permission from the other site. There is a risk that you become liable for something your web developer has done without your knowledge.
Framing tends to cause more annoyance to target sites than linking, mainly because there is more scope for confusing the user. The simple rule of thumb is that you should not frame another site within your site unless you have permission.
The likelihood of being sued over hyperlinks on your site is very small. Given that most sites are keen for others to link to them, disputes are rare. And where they arise, provided you remove any offending link, it is unlikely that the other site will raise and win a court claim. However, it is worth remembering these guidelines in order to avoid any unnecessary disputes.