by Jeremy Malcolm, Internet lawyer
A reader of this column recently asked me, "If a group of people start a website that provides links (as a directory) to other sites, what personal liability do we hold and how do we protect ourselves from any liability (eg a disclaimer)?"
Linking to other Web sites does not require the permission of the owner of the linked site, although it is a common courtesy to at least inform the site owner of your link. The only case in which a site owner can complain about your link is if it is an "inline" link that makes the content of the linked site appear as part of the page that links to it, or a frame within that page. The reason is that linking in this way can mislead people into thinking that the other site's content is part of yours, or that you are affiliated with the other site in some way.
There are some other more obscure legal issues that could result from the inclusion of a link on a Web site. Obviously, the linking text should not be defamatory ("Click here for the Web site of the world's biggest conman"), nor should you use a linking image if you don't have the permission of the owner of the copyright or trademark in that image.
It is probably stating the obvious, but many Web sites include a disclaimer stating that the content of linked sites is beyond the control of the site owner and does not necessarily represent the site owner's policy or opinion. The dual purpose of such a disclaimer is to ensure that the linked Web site cannot claim that you are wrongfully claiming its endorsement or affiliation, and also so that visitors to your Web site cannot blame you for possibly misleading or illegal content they may find on the linked site.