Well, gadzooks. Following on from my last post here, I went exploring and checking my compliance with the detail of the CIPR social media guidelines.
The guidelines have been substantially revised this year and now form part of my professional Code of Conduct. They point out to PR practitioners the need to bear in mind the potential legal issues surrounding the use of social media, including the laws on copyright and intellectual property.
And thus, on investigation, it looks like I'm breaking the law at every turn - and chances are, so is everyone else who is writing a blog, putting links on their website, tweeting about interesting stuff in the press, or even emailing each other links to something worth reading.
I'm talking about 'deep linking', the practice of creating hyperlinks that go direct to a site's interior pages rather than just the home page. We do this all the time - for example, if I tell you there's something fabulous you must read on Building's website, I am highly likely to post a link that takes you directly there, not just link you to www.building.co.uk and leave you to try and fish out the relevant page yourself.
As one of the leading authorities on the Internet, Jakob Neilson, has written: "Deep linking is good linking... A website is like a house with a million entrances: the front door is simply one among many ways to get in. A good website will accommodate visitors who choose alternative routes... Deep linking is your friend: it gets users to their preferred destination as quickly as possible."
- www.architectsjournal.co.uk - "We welcome hot links to the home page of our website, but not 'deep linking' by which we mean that you may not include a link to any page of our website that is not the home page." (The same goes for cnplus, nceplus and the other sites operated by Emap).
- www.building.co.uk - "Any link to this website without our written permission is prohibited. Notwithstanding authorisation to link to this website, linking to any page other that the initial start page of www.building.co.uk is prohibited...." (The same goes for BD, BSD and the other sites operated by UBM).
- www.telegraph.co.uk - "You must not deeplink to... the site without our prior written permission."
- www.timesonline.co.uk - "...in accessing [our] websites, you agree not to... set up links to any microsite, except the home page of the website, without our express written permission..."
But wait...Hoorah, a solitary voice of sanity:
- www.ft.com: "A site or service that links to FT.com may link to the home page.. and on an ad hoc, non-systematic basis deeplink to other pages of FT.com..."
Both Contract Journal and the Guardian also seem marvellously free of convoluted T&Cs on linking too, unless I've missed something.
Unsurprisingly, it turns out that there is still a lot of legal debate on this issue. Reviewing case law is not my forte, but allegedly (a good legal term), linking to news items on a site owned by a newspaper or other news provider is particularly problematic, and this has been prone to litigation both in the EU and States.
So what to do? "Sue me, punk" is one thought that jumps to mind - the law's an ass, and in the right mood I'm always up for a good fight against nonsense like this. But for now, I think we shall probably have to contact all the key media we link to and ask permission to link to news stories rather than just the home page. I'll let you know how we get on - it will be an interesting exercise in its own right. In the meantime, expect to see more links than usual to FT.com until it's sorted.
Got any other advice? Please do let me know if you have been affected by the issues raised in this story, as the BBC might say.