Do You Need Permission to Link to a Website?

Can the owner of a web site accessible on the public internet refuse to allow some other person to post a link to that site, identifying whose site it is? Can the owner of the site insist that the person who wants to post the link enter into a licence agreement?

Does it make a difference to the answer if the person who wants to post a link wants to identify the site in part by the use of the principal trade mark (or logo, more likely) registered by the owner of the site? Or would it be cleaner for the person who wants to post the link NOT to use the trade mark and just to identify the site by name?

For example: Would I need a licence to say this (on my own site):

“You may be interested in what [Company X] has to offer in this area. “


“You may be interested in what [Company X’s trade-marked logo] has to offer in this area. “

There is no question here of any copying of the content of the web site by the person posting the link. There may be some generic description of why the content may be of interest, e.g. “You may be interested that [Company X] offers a line of bedding and duvets that are based on Norwegian designs but that look to work very nicely in the Canadian climate too.[link]” or “You may be interested that [Company X] provides counselling services to people suffering from [malady Y] [link].”

Would it matter what line of business my own site was in? How and why?

Would it matter to the intellectual property issues if the site posting the link were critical rather than encouraging or neutral? E.g. “You will not be persuaded by the flimsy not to say meretricious arguments found on [Company X]’s site, [link], hoping to get the government to give them special favours that any sensible person would refuse.’ I don’t understand why the IP arguments would be any different than my examples A or B above.

Do you routinely (or exceptionally) insist on or agree to enter into such a licence? Why?


  1. What would the injury/cause of action be in any of these cases?

    Surely I can write the word Xerox without interfering with their trade mark, even if I’m a competitor, no? A fortiori, then, the URL for Xerox.

    It’s conceivable that under certain circumstances I’d run afoul of privacy legislation, though given the very notion of DNS propagation, that’d be a rare situation I think.

    Of course, these, and others are rules aimed principally at different, earlier situations and arrangements. The whole business of the web and hyperlinking is sui generis (so far as anything can be), and if there are to be rules, they should emanate from legislatures that have given the internet a great deal of thought. Hyperlinking is the life and soul of the web, as, I think, Tim Berners-Lee has said a few times. From my point of view, you’re either out there or you’re not, and the point of being out is to get linked to (just ask every SEO person in the biz) so you’ll be visited. If you don’t want attention from the great unwashed, lock your site down.

    Linking is the least pernicious thing I can imagine, akin, perhaps, to someone pointing at you in public.

  2. Does a business owner have the right to prevent people from giving the business’ address to others?

    I don’t see how a hyperlink is any different.

    I must admit I have very little sympathy for people who insist on imposing the permission culture on the internet. Linking to a website provides them with exposure, and if they don’t want that, hey, why would I want to bother with it anyway.

  3. Dyspeptic Curmudgeon

    A link is akin to a footnote, a pointer to a source of information which is NOT interpreted by the writer.

    More importantly, the idiot-savants of the ‘security’ culture-hive want to make the posting of a LINK to a site posting “hate speech”, itself a crime.
    It is more than mildly insane for a business to demand that you obtain a licence from them, to post their URL. It is orders of magnitude of delusion worse to criminalize the posting of a link. This is anarcho-tyranny. The craziness exposed by this is frightening. No logical rational adult proposed this idiocy. At least no adult who has sat through first year criminal law.

    Now we have a majority government, it is just, JUST, possible that amendments to the crime bill might be considered. This is apparently buried in C61.

    I won’t start on how irrational the copyright provisions actually are. Thought you actually *bought* that dvd? Think again.

    Email your (new) MP.

  4. Bergeron Clifford

    Hi John,

    The short answer is that no, you will not be infringing on any copyrights if you link to a specific website The Digital Millennium Copyright Act covers the “online laws” and you may look through the official documents if you want to make sure that you don’t infringe on anyone’s right. However, the short answer is that most websites will actually appreciate you linking to them.

    I hope this helped,