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Not a problem, unless…

The Legal Genealogist absolutely loves the fact that genealogists are really starting to think about copyright issues.

I get questions all the time here to the blog about one copyright issue or another, and it’s heartwarming in so many ways to see that people care enough to want to do things right.

But there’s one question I get too frequently that really ought not to be a question — and let’s see if we can’t put it to rest.

weblinkHere’s the way the question usually goes (paraphrased from an actual question that came in yesterday): “I found a great article online and posted a link to it in my feed on Facebook. Am now thinking this might be a violation of copyright even though it is on the web. I did not post the contents, just the link, but should I still take down the post anyway?”

Not to worry.


Posting a link to someone’s online really isn’t the same thing as copying and posting the content itself.

Let’s start with the fact that the web, and the code that runs the web, really is nothing more or less than a series of links: links to files, links to photographs and videos and audios, links from one website to another. If links themselves were an issue, the whole web system wouldn’t be possible.

As explained more precisely by the Digital Media Law Project of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University:

If you publish your work online, you are already in the practice of using links to enhance your content. The Web’s basic architecture relies heavily on the ability of webpages to link to other pages to allow natural navigation between related content. It is hard to imagine the smooth functioning (or even continued existence) of the Web without hypertext links that act as a reference system identifying and enabling quick access to other material. Fortunately, courts generally agree that linking to another website does not infringe the copyrights of that site, nor does it give rise to a likelihood of confusion necessary for a federal trademark infringement claim.1

So when I add a link in the text above to the Digital Media Law Project or one to the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, I’m simply using a tool the web makes available to take you — the reader — from the reference on this website to the place where you can find the site I’m talking about. There’s no copyright concern in the slightest about simply giving you the citation to that source.

Moreover, when I add the link in the footnote to the specific material I quoted from “Linking to Copyrighted Materials” article, I have no concerns that I might be violating the copyright of the Digital Media Law Project either. The link by itself is not going to raise copyright concerns. And, I should add, I have no concerns about quoting the content either, but that’s because it’s being made available under Creative Commons license.2

Got that?

The link, as a link, isn’t a copyright problem: no court anywhere has ever held that linking to another website violates that other website’s copyright.

Now, of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any possible way a link might be a problem. Life is never quite that easy. There are problems that could exist:

• If you pull content onto your website from others’ websites using what’s called framing, the law isn’t at all clear on whether that might be regarded as copyright infringement.3

• If you pull content onto your website by calling up an image on your website that comes directly from another website through what’s called inlining, the courts aren’t clear on that either. One court said it potentially could be infringement, another said it might not be if the images were just thumbnails. But it’s murky.4

• If you provide a link on your website to material on another website that you know is infringing yet a third party’s copyright, that could get you into trouble. Some courts might figure you were really aiding and abetting the other website’s misconduct.5

• And there are some types of technology that are designed to circumvent all the legal protections technology develops for content producers, and a federal law that makes it illegal to link to sites that make that kind of circumvention technology available in violation of the law.6

But a simple straightforward link to legal material on the web?

Not a problem.

Go for it.


  1. Linking to Copyrighted Materials,” CC BY-NC-SA 3.0, Digital Media Law Project, Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( : accessed 6 Oct 2017).
  2. See generally Judy G. Russell, “Scoping the CC license,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 20 Nov 2015 ( : accessed 6 Oct 2016).
  3. See “Connecting to Other Websites,” Copyright & Fair Use, Stanford University Libraries ( : accessed 6 Oct 2016).
  4. Ibid.
  5. Linking to Copyrighted Materials: Linking to Infringing Works,” CC BY-NC-SA 3.0, Digital Media Law Project, Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( : accessed 6 Oct 2017).
  6. Ibid., “Linking to Copyrighted Materials: Linking to Circumvention Technology Proscribed by the DMCA.”
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