Advice on ‘Deep Linking’

In the process of designing a website, for educational, instructional or any other use, it is quite likely that you will have to use hyperlinks in order to allow people to jump to another page or another website. In some cases you may need to ‘deep link’. This is the creation of a link to a web page which is at a lower level than the home page and, in recent years, there has been some debate about the degree to which this is legally permissible.

Below are some points which you should consider before setting up ‘deep links’ on a web page. Although there is no direct legislation relating to this area, the guidance is largely based on legal cases which have established some precedent in this field.

Bad practice

  1. Beware of ‘deep linking’ to sites which host banner advertisements. There may be particular advertisements on the home page for which the site owner derives an income. In by-passing these, you may inadvertently be depriving the site owner of this benefit.

  2. The site owner may have included information on the home page which is required before moving on further into the site. For instance, there may be a set of terms and conditions, or perhaps warnings relating to the site’s contents. Any users would be required, perhaps legally required, to read such material before referring to other pages at a lower level.

  3. Recent cases have highlighted the problem of ‘deep linking’ into online databases. Unless you have permission, do not by-pass the home page of a database. It might be argued that, under the amended Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, a third party is guilty of infringing a database right if that party extracts or re-uses a substantial part of the database’s contents.

  4. Avoid linking to news items on a site owned by a newspaper or other news provider. Such practices have been particularly prone to litigation both in the European Union and in the United States.

  5. The use of frames is another practice which should be discouraged. This allows the linking from one website to another without the user being necessarily aware that the site is external and that its copyright belongs to another individual.

Best practice

  1. Make it clear what you are doing and who you are linking to.

  2. If possible ensure that the hyperlink opens up in a new page.

  3. Display a disclaimer statement concerning the web content of external sites.

  4. If possible, inform the web site owners that you are linking to their site. You may even be able to gain their permission to ‘deep link’ if appropriate.

  5. If you do wish to ‘deep link’, check the content of the home page to ensure that there is no commercial or legal necessity for users to refer to that page first. If there is any information about linking to the site which imposes any restrictions or conditions (e.g. ‘you should inform the webmaster if you wish to link to this site’) you should abide by those conditions.

  6. Link to the home page if possible.

There are no hard and fast rules as to what you can safely ‘deep link’ to. For instance, although most Higher Education institutions are amenable to and occasionally encourage ‘deep linking’ to them, there are still numerous instances of University web pages clearly discouraging the practice and advising a link to their home page.

It is generally accepted that ‘deep linking’ to government websites is permissible but there are standard notification procedures which need to be followed. These are detailed in the ‘Terms and Conditions’ section of http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/SiteInformation/DG_020455

Similarly, many other sites are providing contact points or detailed guidance as to how to ‘deep link’ to them. Look out for these and follow the appropriate instructions.