Bloggers beware

I was asked at the last minute to sit in on a meeting this morning. I fully expected this legal briefing on Intellectual Property Rights to be an almighty snooze, and was counting on the coffee provided to keep me awake, but it proved to be unexpectedly interesting.

One point in particular caught my attention: the legality of deeplinking. This is an issue of which I’d been made aware some years ago when I worked for a consultancy, one of whose major clients was an online advertising trade association. The problem is that some sites don’t like deeplinking (i.e. when someone links directly to a page inside the site, rather than just the homepage) for reasons related to advertising. An advertiser will pay a large sum of money to have their banner ad on the homepage of, say, a well-known newspaper’s website, but don’t necessarily want to pay to have that ad on every page on the site on the off-chance that someone will come in directly to a page other than the homepage. Therefore, in order to keep the advertisers happy, the site insists that anyone linking to them has to link to the homepage so that we all see the ad before then clicking a link to the page we were actually looking for further in. 

Now many sites allow deeplinking, but you have to check first in their terms and conditions to see if this is the case. If they don’t specify, the law says you’re not allowed to do it. So if I want to link to this story, say, I have to check here first. And if it doesn’t say “go ahead – deeplink away”, I have to just link to the main page and hope that you can somehow find on your own the article to which I was trying to draw your attention.

Never mind that I’m sending them traffic and that, once they’ve landed on the page I linked to they may then explore more of that site, including the homepage. As an analogy, imagine that I pass you a copy of a physical newspaper or magazine, open to a specific page and show you an article which I think you may find interesting. Then a lawyer taps you on the shoulder, takes the paper out of your hand and closes it, hands it to your friend and insists that they first look at the cover and flick through the contents page in order to find the article I was trying to share…