What Is Hyperlinking? Legal Ramifications and the Future of Hyperlinks

No, that pointing finger on your screen isn't a childhood flashback of Mom telling you to go clean your room. It means you have stumbled upon a hyperlink, ready to send you somewhere else (not your room). Read on to learn a bit about hyperlinks. You can also learn how they may be on the way out if a few shortsighted politicians get their way.

Let's break it down. A hyperlink is a command embedded within a word or phrase that, when clicked, takes you to another location, whether that is to another Web page, a document, a video clip, or even an image. After all, just reading there are 19 things you didn't know about Justin Bieber isn't the same as visiting a page to find out what they are, as you can do here! Think of a hyperlink as your own personal librarian. She walks beside you as you browse the library to find everything you need to complete that overdue essay. When you stumble upon something useful and want even more information about it, BOOM, here you go, check THIS out!

For the most part, linking and framing are not copyright infringement under copyright law. The reason is simple: the protected content does not reside on the server of the linking person. That doesn't mean we live in the Wild West of hyperlinking though, as lawsuits do occur. Some EU countries hold very negative views toward deep linking and unauthorized framing, and it could be about to get far worse.

Famous Cases of Hyperlinking

Two major cases occurred in the United States in 1997: Washington Post v. Total News and Ticketmaster v. Microsoft. In February of that year, Total News faced a suit for framing stories on its site from the Post, Dow Jones (Wall Street Journal), Reuters, the Los Angeles Times, and CNN. A settlement occurred when Total News agreed to link without framing. In April, Ticketmaster Corp. decided to sue Microsoft Corp. based on a claim of deep linking. In layman's terms, Ticketmaster took issue with Microsoft's technique of bypassing the home page and subsequent intermediate pages, thereby diluting the value. The public consensus was that Ticketmaster had no foundation for the claim, due in part to implied license and voluntary risk assumption. A confidential settlement occurred in 1999, after which Microsoft began linking to the Ticketmaster home page. Kelly v. Arriba Soft Corp. became the first landmark case, in 2002. Kelly took issue with Arriba linking to images that resided deep within its website. As an aside, in defense of the Plaintiffs in these cases: imagine your site has a highly incentivized home page that asks users to sign up for newsletters, pay for a membership to view certain content, or donate to keep the site up and running. Would you want surfers to be able to bypass all that and go right to the good stuff? That is a stretch from the examples here, but you get the idea. On we go… Anyway, the court ruled that Arriba was offering a novelty, a way to search images visually rather than verbally. Kelly was also unable to prove much in the way of economic impact. Fair use won out. Perfect 10, Inc. v. Amazon Inc. was a virtual carbon copy. It was an important case because it was the first time a court addressed copyright status as it related to linking, stating that no infringement occurred because Google servers did not house the actual images. This case has stood as the poster child for fair use since then.

Status of Hyperlinking

The status of hyperlinking in the EU stabilized in 2014 thanks to a European Court of Justice ruling that said embedded work is free from copyright laws. That lasted until early in 2016 when two members of the French Parliament began a mission to take away one of the greatest benefits of the Internet. Their idea: unless you have express permission, you can't link to another website. Good grief! The Bill for the Digital Republic would eliminate most hyperlinks. They want to hold hosts and ISPs responsible for allowing access to anything protected by a copyright code. Ultimately, this is "Let's punch Google in the gut" disguised as "Let's fight piracy." In September of 2016, Playboy's Dutch publishers won a victory relating to photos uploaded to a file-sharing site. GeenStijl posted links that allowed users to download leaked photos in 2011. The consequences of this decision could send Internet users into a tailspin. Copyright owners now have the ammunition they need to sue any publication. The effect could be that thousands if not millions of websites voluntarily choose to avoid hyperlinks altogether.


What would the Internet be without hyperlinks? Hopefully, we don't have to find out, but there is real concern that recent rulings and bills will put a dent in free linking. Sure, some hyperlinks are merely a gateway to piracy. Just like some of the guys sitting in the corners of coffee shops around the world are just waiting for you to connect to free and open Wi-Fi so they can steal your information. "Some" doesn't mean "all" though, so whether it's hyperlinks or open Wi-Fi, the answer isn't to simply ban it all. Speaking of which, one solution that covers many of your worries is a secure VPN provided by ZenMate. No one can gain access to your devices, and no one will know that it was you that accidentally (or was it?) clicked on that link to download photos of Bieber's Top 10 Hairstyles.

Let your friends know!