$100 000 Fine for Website Linking

Hi everyone.

I was dumbstruck and believe me, it takes a lot to get me speechless… While reading through some article, I came across an issue that relating to “linking” to other websites. In the article reference was made to Standard Bank’s website Terms and Conditions of Access, which states that they DO NOT allow linking to their website without permission.

Well, I thought of this and it seems fair, because all they are saying is… ‘just make sure you get our permission‘ … That’s not to harsh, is it?

Being the curious person that I am, this lead to a hunt and I found quite a few websites of well known companies in South Africa that have similar clauses. This was getting strange. What left me dumbstruck was the News Corporation saga. They acted on this “linking prohibition” and prevented NewsNow from aggregating their newspaper sites. This then lead to NewsNow launching a campaign against the prohibition of website linking.

In Peru a blogger was sentenced to three years in jail and fined over $100,000 for linking to various news reports and even Google received a fine of approximately $3100 for a wrongful link.

I found articles of companies that does this deliberately as a sole source of income. They set up websites and as soon as you create a link to any section on their site, you are slammed and end up in court. Well, this got me thinking and ‘NO’ not thinking of creating a new source of income!

If I can use the Standard Bank example, I actually agree with them to not allow people to simply link my website, unless it is through a channel I make available (ex. pingbacks, social integrations, etc.). If I should link the ICT Jurist blog to any bank or high trafficked website, eventually I will benefit from an SEO perspective. The link will actually draw people to my site and I’ve unofficially test this.

For a few years we have been using various web-based applications, hosted internally and in the cloud. All the links to these applications were automatically added to every user’s favourites menu of their browser. After a some two years or so, I created an internal company portal. Our 200+ users use the portal daily to see what is happening in and around the company, like upcoming birthdays, pictures of departmental events, company policies and so forth. What is important in this instance, was a side-bar menu we created that contained links to the same web-based application. So users had two ways to access web-based systems, one through the favourites menu and two, through the sidebar of the company portal.

Then one day, approximately a year after creating the sidebar menu, I did a security upgrade to the core of the system. This lead to the sidebar menu not functioning and being temporarily disabled. To my utter surprise, our phones did not stop ringing! People logged helpdesk tickets and complaints about the external applications not working or not being able to access it. Note… “Applications not working…” They completely forgot about the favourites menu, because they became so accustomed to the sidebar.

Reviewing the portal access statistics, we found that users opened the site to quickly read internal news and events and then logged in to the other web applications from the sidebar. It appears that this was the second thing they did once logged in.

Having experienced this I can therefore understand the whole issue around hyperlinking and getting permission. Why would this blog hyperlink to Standard Bank if it has nothing to do with banking or providing banking products? The only reason would be to advance its SEO ranking or status! If visitors then use this blog as the access point to Standard Bank, it will negatively impact on Standard Bank’s rankings.

On the other hand, does this make such a huge difference for a provider like Standard Bank? My opinion is “No“, because no matter where their clients come from, SEO from a linking perspective will not have a huge impact on them. It would be a different story if there were a hundred competing banks in South Africa.

Needless to say, I support this “permission” clause, because I would like to review the site that wants to link to this blog. Even if it is just to see what the relation is to each other. It would be senseless to allow a similar blog to link to this one and drive visitors away.

What I would maybe change in these prohibiting clauses, is to expand on the reason for requiring permission as part of a review process.

My advice is to think carefully before you link to any website and make sure you read their Terms and Conditions.



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