I am not that good at ranting. I don’t believe in SEO outing or spreading SEO FUD.

Today’s post is not a rant though. It’s a question.

A quick intro: since Google started cracking down on (huge) companies that have been accumulating links for ages, I am getting occasional requests to remove links here and there.

I have never sold a single link in my life, so all the links I am asked to remove are quite natural and authentic. But I am not the one to teach. If they want their links removed, sure, I do that.

Then one thing happened that got me asking: “Am I not allowed to link to other sites? I mean legally”.

One of my sites is hosted by BlueHost and a few days ago I got the following notice of alleged infringement on that website from them:

notice =of alleged infringement on your website

Wow. Of course, some misunderstandings may happen. I thought that was about an image I (or one of my contributors) may have used or some copied content.

But no. That was about the link:

(Click for a larger version that broke my theme)

So yes, I linked to the company quoting the source, right inside the article with no “dirty” anchor text (actually I linked their name when quoting the source of the stats in the article).

So my question is: what does “unauthorized” link mean? Should I ask for permission to link to each time I want to link?

The following links are specific examples of URLs that link to [company name] without authorization. [Company name] hereby notifies you that the following constitute and incorporate links to [company name] which were placed without prior permission and are therefore unauthorized.

What are your thoughts?

P.S. I removed that link because BlueHost was threatening to close my site and because I was not sure if I was right or not.

P.S. The company in question is really a huge one. I am not outing their name because, again, I don’t believe it’s the right thing to do.

More Legal Precedents:

More Reading on Similar Issues:

(or the death of the World Wide WEB)

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I am the owner of this blog as well as Brand and Community Manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas and Founder of MyBlogGuest, MyBlogU and ViralContentBee.com

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76 Comments

  1. It’s all got a bit petite if it has come to sending letters threatening legal action because they were linked to.

    They could well have received a notification in their Webmaster Tools from Google and are rapidly trying to remove a load of backlinks pointing to their website.

    Who knows!

  2. Ann,

    Most of these threats are more bluff than anything else. Yes, I’ve removed links on behalf of clients, when similarly threatened. But I doubt if there’s anything that can really be done. Under English law, maybe not US, the issuer of the threat would have to prove damage or intent to damage.

  3. Adrian Sandu says:

    “Yesterday” everyone was complaining that they don’t get backlinks and were willing to pay for them, “today” they are asking to have “unauthorized” natural links removed.

    What’s next? Password protected “public” pages?

  4. If their claim is based on the grounds that the link on your website is simply “unauthorised” doesn’t that technically mean that any business could make that same legal claim to any form negative press about their business, claiming that the references made through links or otherwise are also “unauthorised”?

  5. Its real strange that bluehost is doing such thing. But i guess as the company which has raised the complaint is big one, blue host dont want to take any risk. About giving link it should have not mattered, if the page is not abusive.

    Regards
    Amit Patekar

  6. This reminds me of the sort of nonsense that used to come up occasionally a few years ago where lawyers who had no clue about the web along with executives who had even less tried to force anyone linking to their sites to link to the home page because “that was the official way in”. It’s complete nonsense and your hosts should know better, but are probably being frightened by a big company’s law office.

    Someone should really tell these folk what the web actually is! And that links are to their benefit. If they don’t want links then they shouldn’t be on the web.

  7. What a laugh.

    Illegal means that it goes against an existing law,
    or against official/accepted rules.

    As far as I know – there are no laws regarding the linking to pages,
    and as there is no official body governing websites, their content or their conduct per-se, then it is not possible to be against any “rules” either.

  8. Thanks for the comments, guys! I have updated the article with a few links to ridiculous unauthorized linking TOS. Please check them out!

  9. Ann,

    I can’t for the life of me remember where, but I’ve seen a similar post to this (with the only difference being that the person in question outed the company that sent them the letter). In turn he received an apology and the business in question changed their policies.

    As far as I can see, there’s no way that this is covered by the DMCA, which would be the most likely way to report this non-existent infringement, so you’d be well within your rights to tell them where to go.

    I know you said you’re not a fan… but go on… out them! 😉

    Matt

  10. Solution.

    Remove their link.

    Then send me their name so I can create about 10,000 article links pointing back to them, within content about how they don’t understand how the internet works.

  11. It just seems like the easiest way for businesses (who’ve been hit by penguin) to get their link removed. They’d be lucky if they got a 10% response rate by sending an email to kindly ask them to remove the link. This probably has a slightly better response rate and is likely baseless.

    People will get desperate when they no longer have traffic (and revenue) coming in to their site, and they’ll do crazy stuff just to get a little bit back before the next update. I’m sure we’ll see more stuff like this as penguin continues to knock people out of the SERPs.

  12. I’m no lawyer by any means, but there’s this wonderful thing called “fair use” that should cover you in this instance. (Depending on how you linked to the site and if they have a link policy in place. Seems to be some argument over the legality of iframes and deep linking, but I digress. Sounds like the most they could do would be to send you a link agreement.)

    Here’s a great explanation from Stanford:

    http://fairuse.stanford.edu/Copyright_and_Fair_Use_Overview/chapter6/6-c.html#1

    I’d contact a lawyer or shoot off a quick note to PopeHat or LegalZoom to get a better idea of the situation, but from the sounds of things: “I call bullshit!”

  13. I don’t think the legal threat is ever the right way to go, but Ann certainly more and more clients will start to consider removal of links from sites that don’t fit their corporate image or their marketing guidelines. Usually it would be sites like http://cheap-hosting-for-you-directory.info/listing-a-to-z.html that I think would be the types you would not linking to you no matter what the anchor text was. It’s also possible that it could be a massive over reaction/panic from their SEO agency and is wiping out almost every link they can and starting again. I’ve been asked to remove links to universities before from clients site as they said they don’t want external enquiries… as the course was for internal students only… trying to explain that their students can only find the course in google because people link to it fell on deaf ears and last time I checked they were running adwords promoting that same course…

  14. @Ian, LOL what a solution.

    @Matt, sounds so tempting but I won’t… simply for the fear that other people might suffer. I am not the one taking responsibility for the fired people or anything like that.

    @Angie, exactly! What about FAIR USE???

  15. Also, I don’t need the apologies. Like I said, I always removed links if I am asked to. No bad feelings…

    All I want to know if it’s a buff or is it really a true legal case?

  16. Bwhaha on the TOS search, did you see the result third from the bottom? The one with an affiliate program? Teaches how to make money online?

    Or second from the bottom? The one violating trademark/copyright? Priceless.

  17. @Angie, I am sure you are not linking to them because of their TOS :)))

  18. People are freaking out about links. Sounds like the letter you received could be a great black hat tactic.

    Why not send the above letter to all your competitors best links?

    Its ashame that Google has managed to make links a “bad thing” and damage the virility of the web.

  19. Did the notice come with a legal address, contact number and reference ID?
    Chances are – no.

    If it did – you check it out.
    Chances are that it’s a fake.

  20. Speaking of “legal” or “illegal” linking only makes sense if there’s an applicable law that covers linking.

    There is not.

    As others have noted, the only peripherally relevant laws here concern use of copyrighted material. But a link does not constitute use of copyrighted material, but is only a reference to that material. It is not the thing, but a representation of the thing.

    All in all, while I would personally ignore any such link removal request, I think this is troubling because it could have a chilling effect on normal hyperlinking – and so on free speech and free expression.

    We (the collective “we” – all users of the Internet) have the right to link to any material which is accessible via HTTP. Claims to contrary are both bogus and potentially dangerous.

  21. I’ve only had one link removal request and it was by phone, so I got to chat about it.

    The person seemed to be from the company that owned the website but was directed by a US company they hired fix their problem. They had received a unnatural link message from Google and have been trying to fix things since. I presome the US company was giving them contact details s they could directly do the take down requests.

    I was also happy to remove the link but put him through the paces a bit.

    The page in question is a list of 100 top websites in the Australian web industry so it could have been flagged by their “bad” detecting system because it has lots of outgoing links.

    The page also has a Toolbar PageRank of 3, in its own right (seoMoz Page Authority of 50), which should be a signal it’s not on the bad side. All the links are nofollow which I would suspect means it can’t be classes as bad (anyone know?).

    The page was about indicating which businesses were doing well in the industry. There is now a blank entry for their top 10 spot!

    We chatted, he was following orders, I removed the link.

    At least they had an unnatural link warning. I’m seeing in the forums people panicking, and in most cases they are pointing blame with no understanding. Those new link removal tools must be making a mint, and mostly from people who didn’t even get hit due to link problems.

    I feel better now.

  22. “Its a shame that Google has managed to make links a “bad thing” and damage the virility of the web.”

    I find it very sad as well, Jason…

  23. Ann, that’s ridiculous what they are doing.
    I think we should forget about Google at all.

  24. It seems far too drastic – don’t they have worse links to worry about? What if they had contacted someone with less integrity who had no problem giving out the name of the company and creating a PR hot fuss?

    I can’t see why the company wouldn’t contact you first, instead of getting pricey lawyers to handle the situation. It seems this company is desperately cleaning up and going about it all wrong, or they have some twisted competitors.

  25. This just appears to be another round of everyone freaking out and listening to a select few SEO experts who have made “mass link removal” the latest buzz for small businesses and uninformed site owners to go hysterical over.

    This too shall pass…

    In the meantime, think of all the ways you could get new links and nullify the effects of the links “you think” are hurting you. Focus on getting new (good) links instead of removing them.

  26. I think legally it’s not breaking any kind of law or legislature.

    However if this was a big name company with deep pockets, they probably threatened blue host with legal action. I would be willing to bet that there isn’t anything in their tos that states you can’t links to sources (of course I am just speculating)

    But all in al,l I think it’s really ridiculous. Also this makes me wonder what was the big company’s motivation of threatening legal action? Maybe there aren’t enough details here to say, but it sounds kind of silly to me that they would go to that length to have one link taken down.

  27. Oh please! Next time consult your lawyer before you link to an external site. LOL

  28. Looks like a major mix-up on behalf of Blue Host. They probably confused it with the case when someone links to infringing content (a file sharing site and such), which is not the case in your case.

    I can’t believe that LLC went as far as filing a complaint with the host. I guess there is not much you can do in this situation, except for simply remove the “illegal” links.

    But I would also raise the issue at the blue host forum. Perhaps that would make them aware of such discrepancies happening inside their company.

  29. Did you see this a few weeks ago?
    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120529/11010619116/irish-charity-told-it-needs-to-pay-license-fee-to-link-to-newspaper-article.shtml

    I can’t remember what the outcome was (apart from the fact that the newspaper was widely ridiculed) but the newspaper in question had sharing links and all sorts on their site.

    I’m not an expert but I can’t see your example being a true legal case. :S

    Perhaps we should start putting “feel free to link to this website” in our footers…

  30. Roger Weavers says:

    Hi Ann,

    This is all so ridiculous. For years we have all been frantically building backlinks now we are all trying to get them removed again.
    Why can’t Google simply say that bad links carry no weight and stop all this negative SEO crap.
    I wonder if Google was sent an email because they link to this site.

  31. marcor & delirium – both in one company

  32. To keep this short; linking to another website cannot be illegal.

    The only way they could get the link removed for LEGAL reasons would be if you are linking to them with DEFAMATORY content.

    Without seeing the content, I’m more than sure this is not the case with you.

    “Infringing material” – hmmm, sounds like they’ve copied and pasted from a template that deals with stolen content, i.e, imagery. What a bunch of blundering pillocks!

    Good job you didn’t mention the company in question, because this would be right up Anon groups street for proving a point.

    John

  33. I think companies are getting paranoid with all of the linking penalties going on. You complied with their request so there is nothing to worry about. I don’t think that we should hesitate to link out to relevant sources. If the content owner wants it taken down, they’ll let us know.

  34. Google’s Panda and Penguin has severely threatened the organic SEO of many corporate sites, which is why so many companies are fighting back with the linking.

    Perhaps the company got their rankings removed by Google, it happened to some companies already, who were thought to be linking illegally. Of course, that wasn’t the case, but when the Google hammer comes down, it comes down with a fury!

  35. Miguel Salcido says:

    This has been a debate for a very long time now and I’m glad you wrote this post about it. There are some huge brands, and even smaller sites, that have verbiage on their sites that states it is illegal to link to their site if you don’t use X approved manners of linking, and then they have a list of “approved” ways to link to them. I think that its bull and that anyone would have a very hard time trying to sue you in court over it. Anyone can link to anyone. I’m actually VERY surprised that Bluehost would fall for this and send you that notice!

    What I’m surprised no one has mentioned here is that if Google just made it possible to “block” links (in Google’s eyes that is) in Webmaster Tools then that would solve this whole thing!

  36. @Miguel Salcido
    Google have considered, for some time, a Link Disavowal tool.
    They originally thought it was unnecessary, as they generally handle dodgy links well enough.
    After the Penguin Fiasco – that consideration has been revisited – and the chances are high (though still not 100%) that we will see such a tool.

  37. Maybe the site you are linking to was thinking that your site is doing spammy things or something that is not legal with their policies. Google really make me sick nowadays because of this change but I know we can get over it..

  38. My lawyers will be sending you a letter requesting all of the links that people are asking you to remove – please, please, please, please be changed to linking to my sites.

    Thanks 😀

    It’s no longer the wild west of the internet – Welcome to the 20’s and Prohibition.

  39. Joke show. For real. It seems you should be able to link to business on your own site. Of course, why fight it when some behemoth is threatening.

  40. I personally would have taken the link down and then named them in the blog post. But then, that’s me. Where will it end? Companies threatening legal action because your website is on the same IP as theirs? Legal threats because sites that link to you also link to them?

    This is an interNET isn’t it?

  41. Hello Ann,

    Linking to a website is not illegal. In fact, their entire complaint actually sounds STUPID. They’re saying that the links are illegal because you didn’t get prior authorization to link. What EXACTLY are they claiming the own the copyrights on?

    This is abusive, bullying behavior by a company.

    Darren

  42. It’s all about bluff I know google send lot’s of people this type of legal threatening. Anyone has the authority to remove the unwanted links.

  43. Rahul Roy says:

    I agree with Geoff Jackson, may be they are getting a notification in their Webmaster Tools from Google about unnatural links. Btw did you post this problem in Google’s webmaster forum?

  44. if you not allowed others people link to your website then you will also not be able to get your backlinks from others site.

  45. I just don’t know on what basis they can ask for removal of a link to their site. If the link was placed within a sentence that was accusing them of doing something wrong, then maybe they’d have a case, and if the accusation was untrue, they might say it is libel. This has to be all down to Penguin.

  46. I have just had a very similar notice from a company asking me to remove a link. It was guest post where the author had put in his byline that he used this company for his backups. The anchor was their website address It basically said (I am not afraid to out the company as the email was threatening with legal action under DMCA law which is pathetic)

    “He now uses zetta.net to store his backups and never worries about losing his business files!

    For the life of me I cant work out why they would want this removed. I dont run a spam site 85% of the articles are written by me.

    People like this and practices like this will be the death of the internet and if you cant share a link without permission then google is in a lot of trouble.

    I can understand wanting you link removed from sites that libel you but this is just nonsense and harmful.

    Needless to say I have removed the link and sent a very harsh email in reply.

    Apologies for the rant but as you can tell I am quite annoyed. I should say its not the request to remove the link that has annoyed me but the manner in which it was done. A simple can you remove the link to our site would have been fine instead of this you have 3 days or we sue nonsense

  47. D Alan Redd says:

    I distinctly remember, back in the day .. when we had all of those FFA pages floating around and mutual link exchanges were commonplace, reading in the terms of use of one of those big box store websites that linking to their home page was considered a violation of their TOS .. I’ve been looking for the particular site but can’t remember .. it’s been so long ago it seems 2004-05? maybe?

    There were others too, because I was linking right along with everyone else at the time .. and when it came to the big guys and links, I always read their TOS before moving to place a link.

    I’ll keep looking around tho’ and post here when I can remember/find the tos’s that specifically mentions the linking.

  48. SEO has always been a hilarious discipline. All the more so in the post-Panda world 🙂

  49. I was paid by a marketing company to post a blog article about their client, a fashion startup, a few months ago. Three days ago I got an email from the marketing company saying the client (the fashion company) wanted the link to their site removed). It doesn’t make any sense to I simply said that I only edit publications if there is a content error. What would be the purpose of paying someone to write a sponsored post and then asking them to remove the links to the site? (No reason was given in the email).

  50. @Ashley

    Sounds like the client in question realised their marketing company was paying for links and insisted they remove them. This is becoming very common with SEO companies which base their strategies on link building and paid links.

    I had to liaise with the former SEO company for one of our clients over the last few weeks to have thousands of spam links removed. They had hundreds of domains with rotating links appearing, all on the same server and all with random, irrelevant content.

    Our client’s rankings are all doing fine, except for the keywords used in these links. I even got into a debate over whether the links were indeed spam with the SEO company’s Ops director. It’s sad that marketing agencies still do this as it’s business owners who suffer.

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