What Is Legal And Appropriate When Linking To Online Material?

April 3rd, 2013

LinkingI got a question about what the linking etiquette/law is when linking to online copyrighted material like the WSJ article and Redfin article on real estate photography. Is it legal to link to copyrighted material or quote copyrighted material or use charts from copyrighted material?

The law that deals with this subject is called “fair use“. It generally says that:

Fair use is a limitation and exception to the exclusive right granted by copyright law to the author of a creative work. In United States copyright law, fair use is a doctrine that permits limited use of copyrighted material without acquiring permission from the rights holders. Examples of fair use include commentary, search engines, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching, library archiving and scholarship. It provides for the legal, unlicensed citation or incorporation of copyrighted material in another author’s work under a four-factor balancing test.

In other words it is legal and acceptable etiquette to:

  1. Link to the articles like I did in the first paragraph above.
  2. Quote from the articles (a few sentences or paragraph) and link to (give credit to) the source like I did above with the Wikipedia quote.

I usually stop here although I notice that other blogs sometimes include as much as 10% or 25% of an article in a citation. In the end how far you go is a personal risk calculation. My approach is to do the two items above. So far no one has complained or asked me to take down a reference. You should know that in most website stats you can see every site that is linking to your content. So what you link to is visible to the owner of the site if they choose to see it.

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7 Responses to “What Is Legal And Appropriate When Linking To Online Material?”

  • Very informative and useful. Thanks.

  • Good information, Larry.
    But if you disclose the source of the article when using something from the author, who wrote it, I guess it is no problem.
    Is it?

  • Larry, I have been wondering about this also. In a reverse thought, how legal is it for these publishers to pull photographs from other online articles and include them in their stories?

    An exterior twilight image I shot is being used in the online brochure for the Ellison Lake Tahoe mansion listed at $28.5m I am thrilled they are using my image but it is now showing up all over the web with no reference to where the photo came from and/or a credit to the photographer.


    The Business Insider article (below) might be the only one of a few that actually acknowledges and credits me (& the other photographer) for my image.

    What I am seeing with the referencing source is that it is linked to the article above it in the chain of ‘borrowed’ content so the newer articles have no real link to the first source that has the original photographer credits.

    Is it considered fair use for these publishers to publish photos taken from other online articles? If so, then I would say it is legal for you to link to copyrighted material regarding real estate photography.

  • @Sinead- My non-lawyer opinion is that both of the references you site go way beyond what I consider a standard linking etiquette. Neither of these sites would have an article without your photos. I would send them a take-down notice. They are using your photos and apparently more than just one… it looks like a whole shoot!!

  • Or better yet invoice them for the usage!

  • Larry, I actually only took the one exterior twilight image from that batch. If it were the entire collection, I’d go bananas. Either way- it’s still crazy!
    Chris- I like your idea of invoicing for usage… wonder how far that would go??

  • Something else to think about is the more links to your site the better your search engine optimization for your site.

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