Website Terms of Use that prohibit linking

a_hrefYou could define the world wide web as a system of hypertext documents connected by hyperlinks. Hyperlinks (usually just called links) are the very foundation of the web, the web would simply fall apart if you were not allowed to link to other sites. Tim Berners-Lee comments on this issue:

It is difficult to emphasize how important these issues are for society. The first amendment to the Constitution of the United States, for example, addresses the right to speak. The right to make reference to something is inherent in that right. On the web, to make reference without making a link is possible but ineffective – like speaking but with a paper bag over your head. [Link Myths]

Now some companies think different about this. Take Sony for example. On the Sony VAIO website’s terms of use (TOU) they claim that:

You must seek and obtain the written consent the operator of this site before creating any link to this site. Deep linking is strictly prohibited. All authorised links to this site must be to the home page of the site, must make it clear that this site and the Site content are distinct from the website containing the link and must make it clear that this site is owned and/or operated by Sony.

You need a written consent in order to link to their site? So according to the TOU I’m not allowed to make a deep link to this product for example? Now that’s bs like.no.other. In the real world, you may link to any site you want and to any page within a site (although there is some dispute about direct linking). With regards to deep linking, the W3C Technical Architecture Group asserts that:

…any attempt to forbid the practice of deep linking is based on a misunderstanding of the technology, and threatens to undermine the functioning of the Web as a whole. [“Deep linking” in the World Wide Web]

So why does Sony think that they can restrict users in this way? Well you didn’t read the fine print before viewing their site. See in their TOU it say that:

If you do not agree to any of these Terms (or any such other rules, guidelines etc.), you may not use this site.

If you look around, all big evil corporate websites have such a disclaimer, followed by absurd restrictions and limitations. Well I’ve got bad news for Sony. These kinds of TOUs are not legally binding. So I may in fact use their site in any way I please without fear of infringment, so long as I don’t break any national laws. But the Sony TOU gets stranger still:

You agree not to access this site by any means other than through the interface that is provided by Sony for use in accessing the site.

Do they mean the front page? Or the web browser? In any case, I have the right to access the website via whatever interface I desire. I can download the website with wget and grep through the contents if I want to, or I can just view the site with Firefox. CNN is guilty of a similar restriction, they want you to “access the Services manually by request and not programmatically by macro or other automated means.” CNN is not going to like this CLI command:

$ wget -R http://cnn.com

Back to Sony, somebody please tell me what the next bit of their TOU means:

Access to, and use of this site, including … [viewing, downloading, displaying etc.] is prohibited unless specifically permitted in these Terms.

So according to the TOU you are not even allowed to use the site at all, unless specifically permitted. Wow, now that’s pretty strict! It gets better though. They’ve found an ingenious way to fight spam:

[...] you agree to pay Sony 5 Euros for each item of ‘spam’ sent through your User account in breach of these Terms.

If anyone from Sony is reading this, know that you are required to send me a bag of peanuts for each paragraph you have read. If you don’t agree with my TOU, that’s too bad, ‘cos my TOU says that you may not leave this site without the written consent of me or my agents! This is a legally binding document, so start sending those peanuts! Really, by viewing this blog you agree to whatever rules and regulations I might come up with. Next week it could be bananas, so be sure to check this TOU regularly. C’mon Sony.

Prohibiting linking was hilarious, but Sony still has a few cards up its sleeve. Check this out:

Sony gives no Warranty that Site content is appropriate, available or permitted for use in all locations, that it is virus-free or as to its interoperability with any hardware, software or content or as to User’s ability throug h this site to access or interact with any other service providers, networks, users, or informational or computing resources through the internet.

So the Sony website is pretty much like their CDs – you’ll never know if they contain viruses or whether they’ll work with your hardware. The next bit is a common bit of nonsense that you’ll find in many other evil big company TOUs:

Without prejudice to the disclaimers and liability limitations in these Terms, no claim or action against Sony or Sony Affiliates may be brought by any person in relation to or arising out of this site unless such claim or action is commenced and notified to Sony in writing within 1 year after the date the cause of action first arose.

I’m sorry Sony, but I am allowed to bring claim or action against Sony or Sony Affiliates without any need of informing Sony in writing. I may even do so however many years after the date the cause of action first arose. Disclaimers and terms of use such as these are not binding legal agreements, so why do they exist on so many websites?

Some companies on the other hand allow linking and even encourage it, but add ludicrous demands in their TOU. Konica Minolta for example allows you to link to their site, but only on the condition that your website doesn’t slander them or contain inappropriate content. So lets not say anything bad about the fine Konica Minolta company, shall we? Fujifilm prohibits “caching unauthorized hypertext links” and even “reserves the right to disable any unauthorized links”. So if you link to Fujifilm they come knocking on your door or what?

I’ve saved the best for last – easyJet has a special Terms and Conditions page for linking. easyJet is bold enough to claim that they are in a position to mandate the conditions under which people should or should not link to their site:

“Linking to the easyJet Website by any means is subject to these Terms and Conditions.”

easyJet’s ridiculous terms tell you what colours you should use on your website:

You agree that you shall not use the colour orange (pantone reference 021C, HTML reference #FF6600) on your Website except as part of an easyJet Trade Mark used as permitted in clause 3.1 above.

You mean like this color:
:P

More bullshit:

You are permitted to provide and maintain a Link to the easyJet Website Homepage only at URL http://www.easyjet.com. You may not direct the Link to any other webpage contained within the easyJet Website.

So they don’t want you to link to their routemap for example. The link also “must not disparage easyJet“.

In local news, the Finnish News Agency (STT) prohibits linking to their news topics. Imagine a news agency that doesn’t want people to link to their online content – how ridiculous is that? In a response, the Finnish Anti-Commandeering Investigation, Training and Resources organisation TKVK (website in Finnish only) ACITR has launched a “Link to a prohibitor!”-campaign, which aims to put and end to such absurdities. The ACITR has coined the term “copyright commandeering” (Fin: tekij√§noikeuskaappaus) and define it as an instance of copyright misuse, whereby one adds more restrictions and limitations on the use of a product or service than actually permitted by applicable copyright law. The TKVK strives to bring to public attention any acts of copyright commandeering found in Finland. Now I see the need for an international movement – any volunteers?

8 thoughts on “Website Terms of Use that prohibit linking”

  1. Nice article. Found you via Digg. It’s absolutely absurd that companies such as Sony even bother with a Terms of Use. Who the heck reads those things? I guess they are just trying to cover their bases. i.e. What if an adult or racist site somehow linked to their site, I could see their link policy as a way for Sony to protect themselves. (“See!! This is why we didn’t want you crackheads linking to our site! So there!”) Anyways… nice post.

  2. Why not spray a website with demands if there is not going to be any consequences? Copyright commandeering and infringements should be treated equally.

    ps. Konica Minolta sucs.
    *a slander*
    *a presentation of inappropriate content*

  3. Hahahahhaa oh good god i laughed at this. :D:D:D
    i love the peanuts thing. Poor sony. they must owe you lots of peanuts now ;)
    Uhm yeah why the heck does ANY site bother with a TOU sinse NO1 (except u apparently) reads it. and since when did easyjet own that shade of orange? thats like me sueing Sini-cleaning-utensils for using my name.. yeah right!
    haha thanks for this blog. :D
    xx sini

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