You do not need permission to link to another website’s home page. Courts generally agree that linking to another website does not infringe the copyrights of that site, nor does it give rise to a likelihood of confusion necessary for a federal trademark infringement claim. However, there are a couple of things that we need to be careful of regarding external links:
Linking to infringing works
Avoid a situation where you knowingly link to works that clearly infringe upon someone’s copyright, like pirated music files or video clips of commercially distributed movies and music videos. In this situation, you might be liable for what is known as “contributory copyright infringement”. “Contributory copyright infringement occurs by ‘intentionally inducing or encouraging direct infringement’ of a copyrighted work.” As long as you do not know that a work infringes someone’s copyright, then you cannot be held liable for contributory infringement for directing users to that work. On the other hand, it is not necessarily safe to simply claim that you “didn’t know” when the circumstances make it clear the material you link to is infringing. Use your common sense. Fred von Lohmann gives the following rules of thumb to help avoid contributory copyright infringement (specifically with reference to embedding videos):
- don’t embed videos that are obviously infringing, and
- consider removing embedded videos once you’ve been notified by a copyright owner that they are infringing.
- Relatedly, you may be able to protect yourself against claims of contributory copyright infringement by complying with the notice-and-takedown procedures of the the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). For details, see Notice-and-Takedown.
Linking to sites with a No Deep Linking policy
Many copyright experts believe that deep linking (links that bypass a website’s home page) is not copyright infringement — after all, the author of a novel can’t prevent readers from reading the end first if they so desire, so why should a website owner have the right to determine in what order a user can access a website? Some well-known websites such as Amazon.com welcome deep links. However, if a commercial website has no linking policy or says that deep links are not allowed, it’s wise to ask for permission before deep linking (Source).
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