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Three Paths To Hyperlink Hell

Posted By on August 14, 2014

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You wouldn’t think hyperlinking would be all that controversial or a material risk consideration when building and maintaining a website. But the threat of damage to your reputation, brand, and financial security are very real, and even though your web developer may be able to upload code to a site, unless they are also aware of the need for active site management and auditing, you could find yourself on a path to hyperlink Hell.

When can a hyperlink get you in trouble?

  1. When it links to copyrighted material, even if you didn’t post the copyrighted material. When people think of copyright infringement, they generally think of plagiarism—the out-and-out reproduction of all or part of another’s work. This is direct infringement, and for the most part, business professionals know the boundaries. But there’s another level to copyright infringement called contributory infringement, and it’s a growing problem on the internet.[1] If you or someone you allow to contribute to your site’s content posts a link to material that you know infringes on someone’s copyright, you could be liable for damages and attorney’s fees.
  2. A hyperlink can also cause you trouble and damage your brand or reputation when a link to your site is placed on an untrustworthy or unsavory site. Many site owners have no idea where their traffic is coming from, but rest assured, all web traffic originates from somewhere, and it’s all traceable. Imagine a link to your professional or business site coming from a site frequented by terrorists or criminals. Not only is your reputation at stake, government agencies routinely monitor anti-government sites and other sites they deem subversive. Imagine what kind of interest they may have in you after finding a link to your site on some crazed bulletin board. There are both coding and legal solutions to solve the problem, but first, you have to be aware of it. If someone isn’t actively auditing your site, you may never know that links from a child pornography site point to you.
  3. A hyperlink can also bind you to a contract. Many sites contain hyperlink licenses in their Terms of Use or other legal notice. [2] If the legal notice is conspicuously posted, users will generally be deemed to have read it. So, if a site has a link license, and you use link to the site, you may be liable on a contract—meaning you could end up paying for each and every link you placed that points to the site with the license.

The good news is that you can be saved from hyperlink Hell. As competent web developer who understands the complexities of intellectual property and cyber law, I can audit your site and develop a plan to protect your reputation and peace of mind in the online environment. My contact information can be found under the About tab.

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[1] Intellectual Reserve, Inc. v. Utah Lighthouse Ministry, Inc., 75 F. Supp. 2d 1290, 1291 (D. Utah 1999).

[2] Delta and Matsuura, Law of the Internet, Third Edition, CCH INCORPORATED, A Wolters Kluwer business,  2013.

About the author

Jerri L. Cook is a recognized leader in rural media. She holds a B.S. in Organizational Communications and a Juris Doctor (J.D.) from Concord Law School. Exceptional legal research and writing is essential to providing effective counsel. With her proven record of excellence, Jerri L. Cook provides effective trial support for attorneys who find themselves with only a 24-hour day. Her background in communications, including content creation and internet programming, complement her academic focus on Cyber Law. E-Discovery can be daunting, but with Jerri L. Cook on the team, digital information is readily discovered and retrieved. Contact her at 715.257.4363.

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