Copyright issues on the internet – how linking can get you into strife

Emma Simpson shares some rules that can help marketers and their organisations avoid a copyright infringement.

In an increasingly digitally-connected world, correctly managing issues around copyright and content has become an ever-evolving minefield.

For marketing and communications professionals looking to share useful reference articles, or articles that have come as a result of public relations efforts, there are certain rules that must be followed to keep you, your organisation and your clients out of copyright strife.

First, it’s important to understand that the author, or his or her employer, holds the copyright of an article. That means that the owner has the exclusive right to reproduce, publish (including online), communicate and adapt the work. Copyright is infringed when the material is used without permission in one of the ways exclusively reserved to the copyright owner.

Providing a link to another website is, on its own, unlikely to constitute copyright infringement – but the risk of a copyright breach is heightened when:

  • the link displayed along with text/material is copied from the linked site (for example, a summary or blurb of the linked content),
  • providing a link encourages others to infringe the copyright of the owner, and
  • it causes another party to suffer perceived financial loss (eg. loss of advertising revenue because linking may bypass a page on which paid advertisements are displayed).

 

There are three main types of linking:

  1. surface linking: linking to the homepage of the website,
  2. deep linking: linking to a particular interior sub-page of the linked website (bypassing the homepage), and
  3. framing: content is taken from the homepage and displayed within the host page or in a pop-up box.

 

Surface linking is generally accepted, provided certain precautions are taken. Deep linking can cause problems, and you should not frame copyright materials.

As a marketing and communications professional, there will be occasions when you want or need to link to other peoples’ work. Luckily, there are steps you can follow to limit the potential for problems for you, your organisation and your clients:

  • Make sure the site you are linking to is legitimate (ie. the website itself has not copied the article, or the website is not illegal or scandalous).
  • Check whether the site/article you wish to link to provides any guidance as to linking, for example:
    • Does the site encourage you to share the article (this may be the case concerning marketing materials when educators encourage readers to share their articles)? If so, it is okay to share the link.
    • Does the site expressly state that you cannot copy or link to the site (look for a copyright notice, terms of use, terms and conditions, a disclaimer etc.)? If there is an express statement, then it is not okay to share the link.
  • If the site is silent/says nothing on copying/linking – it is probably ok to share so long as you follow this list of precautions:
    • Make sure the source of the linked material is made clear to the readers (the firm) and credit the writer.
    • Do not copy parts of the webpage you are linking to as a summary of the article.
    • Make it clear that there is no relationship between you and the site you are linking to. You should include a disclaimer at the bottom of the links/section where the links are, as follows: “There is no relationship between [your organisation] and the linked web page. The content of the web page is subject to copyright of the owner/writer. You must not reproduce any part of the web page without the consent of the owner.”

 

Finally, when providing any links to clients or others in your organisation, advise them of their responsibilities, too. You may want to link to this article – but just be careful how you do it!

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Emma Simpson is a senior associate with Rigby Cooke Lawyers and specialises in copyright, privacy and intellectual property law.

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Image copyright: 123RF / everythingpossible

  • Katrina Calvi

    You mention copyright risk is heightened when ‘the link displayed along with text/material is copied from the linked site (for example, a summary or blurb of the linked content)’ but then you say as precaution to avoid copyright infringement ‘Do copy parts of the webpage you are linking to as a summary of the article’. Can you clarify?