Your Business Online | Professional Jeweler

October 27, 1999
Linking Legality
Lawsuits question the basic navigation of the World Wide Web

One of the greatest features of the World Wide Web is the ability to link to other sites – in fact, the structure of the Web depends on it, as its name indicates. Search engines will only recognize your page once other sites link to it. Linking is also valuable for expanding the scope of information on your site to include other research and resources: a good collection of links can make your site a one-stop place for jewelry and gemstone information.

A handful of lawsuits in the past few years, however, raise questions about whether linking to other people's Web sites is a violation of their intellectual property rights. In 1997, Ticketmaster sued Microsoft because its Sidewalk city guide sites were "deep linking" to Ticketmaster Online – in other words, Sidewalk linked directly to pages several layers deep in Ticketmaster's site. When users linked from Sidewalk to Ticketmaster, they bypassed several pages containing strategically place banner ads on Ticketmaster pages. In its lawsuit, Ticketmaster said this was a trademark violation and demanded Microsoft link only to its home page so it could maintain some control over users' experience on its site. Microsoft argued that it was providing "free advertising" for Ticketmaster.

Unfortunately, the parties settled the suit before the matter could be decided. "I was disappointed for the Internet that deep linking hasn't been cleared of trademark problems," intellectual property attorney Jeffrey Kuester, Atlanta, GA, told Internet World magazine.

The chance may come again: in a new suit, filed this summer, Ticketmaster is going after for the same deep linking practice. In the meantime, Universal Studios is sending cease-and-desist letters to site owners who are linking to its copyrighted movie trailer pages demanding they remove links to any pages on their servers.

The debates have made Internet observers indignant. "Anyone who wants to build a home on the Web is just going to have to deal with the medium's virtual realities," says an article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Ticketmaster and Universal could restrict innermost pages by requiring registration and passwords to get inside or program advertising to appear when users come in from other sites – but they can't restrict linking, which is a First Amendment right, the article claims.

- by Stacey King