Use these tips to determine when and how to link your Web site to another site.

The ability to hyper-link from one Web page to another is what creates the "web" of the World Wide Web. Hyper-links can be within a Web site or from one Web site to another. Without such linking the Web would be a much less powerful tool. Adding many links to a company's site, assuming the links are to other sites which users of the company site find useful, enables the company to help its users and add value to its site. For companies, the concern is what, if any, liabilities a company incurs by linking its Web site to another Web site.

Linking and framing

In general, a company can legally link to another Web site without the agreement of the target Web site. After some early struggles with whether such linking was appropriate, it appears from recent judicial opinions that no permission is needed from the target to place a hyper-link on your company's Web site. In fact, many Web sites encourage such linking. As diverse a group as and the Financial Times of London both expressly permit linking. On their Web sites you will find explicit instructions on what linking they deem acceptable. Amazon will even pay a commission on sales from referred users.

Framing of another's Web site within your Web site is more questionable. When framing, the target Web site pages appear inside a "frame" or box which can contain your name and site headings. To a user unaware of the frame, it can appear that the content of the target Web site is really one and part of your Web site. This can be seen to be copyright infringement by creating a new and unauthorized derivative work. In addition, the targeted/framed Web site might also charge misrepresentation and various other claims based on unfair competition due to the potential confusion which would be created in a user's mind as to the source of the content.

When linking to a target there are several key cautions:

  • Review the target Web site to determine if there are any prohibitions or restrictions on linking. Any such prohibitions would usually be found in the site's terms of use policies, which will ordinarily be found under the "terms and conditions" hyper-link on the target's home page. While these prohibitions and restrictions may not always be legally enforceable, it is advisable to comply when possible. If you cannot comply you should seek the advice of an attorney.

  • The hyper-link should be displayed in a manner that does not suggest or imply endorsement of your company or Web site by the target. You cannot use someone else's trademark without their permission. This means, in general, you should not use the logos of the target, but rather the simple plain text hyper-links. Nor may you use a hyper-link in a manner that would suggest the endorsement or approval of your goods or services by the target absent written agreement from the target.

  • You should not hyper-link in a frame without legal advice.

    Your liability

    Having decided to link to another Web site, are you liable for information or activities on that target site? This is an area of developing law. However, so long as it is clear that the user has left your site and is at another site, and that you have not endorsed or otherwise recommended or guaranteed the target site, there would seem to be no reason to impose liability for merely linking two sites.

    To avoid liability in linking to another site:

  • Many commentators suggest using disclaimers. Such a disclaimer should clearly state that the user is leaving your company's site and going to another site and that your company is not responsible for that site or any activities that take place on that site, or products or services offered or sold at that site.

  • Do not pass along additional information to the target site. If you provide user information to a third party you may be responsible for that information, how the third party uses the information and how the third party treats the user.

  • Again, avoid framing the target site. By framing, you create the appearance of endorsement or approval - or worse yet, apparent responsibility for the target's activities.

    Of course, if you are setting up a Web site you should be sure to have legal advice for all of the main issues including linking, Web hosting agreements, privacy policies and other matters.