Web Site Legal Issues
This section discusses the legal issues involved with the creation of a web site. Many of the topics discussed on this page are covered in greater detail elsewhere in BitLaw. The purpose of this page is to present in a single page the issues that must be addressed during the creation of a web site.
BitLaw's discussion of web site legal issues is divided into the following parts:
- Problems with Frames. Frames are used to subdivide web pages into multiple parts. In most cases, frames are used only to show multiple pages of content from the same site at the same time. For example, frames could be used to divide a browser into two parts, with one part containing an index for the web site and the second containing content pages. While this type of use is perfectly legal, problems can arise if a frame is used to show pages from two web sites at the same time. The use of frames in this way can mislead the viewer of a site as to the creator of its content, possibly raising issues of copyright infringement, passing off, defamation, and trademark infringement, just like the linking situations described above. The party that developed the Totalnews web site found this out by using frames to show other news organizations sites at the same time as showing their index and advertisements. The other web sites were not amused, and filed suit.
Links between pages are the raison d'etre for the world wide web. Without widespread linking, the web as we know it would not exist. Nevertheless, there are questions about the legality of such connections. For those interested in more information on any of the subjects below, Bitlaw also contains an extended discussion of linking liability.
- Derivative Work Created by Linking-In Images Found on Other Sites. When the image from another web site is incorporated into one's own page by means of an unauthorized IMG link, there is no direct copying by the creator of the link. Nonetheless, when the visiting browser retrieves the image from the other web site and combines it with the text on the current page, the creator of the web site may be guilty of contributory copyright infringement for creating a derivative work. Consequently, one should not include links to images found on another party's web site without first getting permission.
- Passing Off. One can also utilize a link to pass off another's work as one's own. For instance, one could tell the reader to click here to see some of Brad Bolin's best original comics. The link leads to a Doonesbury image which is falsely claimed to be original to Brad Bolin. Consequently, the HREF link also is a reverse passing off. Reverse passing off by using a link to pass-off another's work as one's own most likely violates state law governing competitive business practices.
- Defamation. In addition to the type of direct defamation explained above, it should be noted that a link to another's page or image could be defamatory, and hence subject someone to legal liability. An example defamatory link would be: "Some http://www.no.man/~bad_man.htm">idiot killed my cat, stole my invention, and threatened to destroy the Internet." The statement itself does not identify the party. The link itself (assuming it actually linked to someone) provides the context that turns the statement into defamation.
- Trademark Infringement. As explained above, trademark infringement occurs when one party utilizes the mark of another in such a way as to create a likelihood of confusion, mistake and/or deception with the consuming public. The confusion created can be that the defendant's products or services are the same as that of the plaintiff, or that the defendant is somehow associated, affiliated, connected, approved, authorized or sponsored by trademark owner. As a result, any link that falsely leads the end user to conclude that the web page author is affiliated, approved, or sponsored by the trademark owner could lead to a claim of trademark infringement.