Is It Rude To Link To Someone Without First Asking Permission?

from the not-that-I've-ever-heard dept

Earlier this week, I wrote an analysis of some silly claims from Canadian IP lawyer James Gannon’s sarcastic suggestion that copying money is just like copying content. Gannon stopped by in our comments… and oddly did not respond to a single point that I raised about his faulty analysis. Instead, he only commented to claim that it was somehow rude or discourteous of me to link to his piece and to discuss it without first asking for permission. I found this somewhat shocking. I’ve never heard that it’s common courtesy to ask before you link to someone. Yet Gannon insisted that most people who link to him first ask his permission and he suggests, snidely, that his readership has higher “standards” in regards to how they view content.

Of course, when you combine this with Nina Paley’s excellent post about how asking permission when none is needed is rude, it seems that we have a pretty serious disagreement here. Not surprisingly, I agree wholeheartedly with Nina and find Gannon’s position both troubling and enlightening when it comes to his confused interpretation of intellectual property issues. He seems to think that a permission society is just fine. Those of us who actually create for a living know that this is not the case. It’s a distraction and an annoyance when people feel the need to keep asking you for permission to do what they naturally have the right to do. Permission society is one that is less creative and less willing and able to create. Permission society is the exact opposite of what copyright law is supposed to create. It’s not supposed to be a drag on creation. The whole point of things like fair use is that you don’t have to ask for permission because it’s inefficient to ask for permission in those cases. That he’s suggesting that it’s somehow discourteous not to ask for permission to do what the law clearly allows is really quite troubling.

In the meantime, has anyone actually ever heard that it’s common courtesy to ask someone permission to link to them? I spend a lot of time online and I link to a lot of websites (over 38,000 posts last we checked…) and no one has ever suggested that I should have asked permission first.

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Comments on “Is It Rude To Link To Someone Without First Asking Permission?”

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el_segfaulto (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It really depends on the context. If your link may lead to thousands of clicks then it could be common courtesy to give warning. I’ve also had people ask for permission to link to one of my sites as a passive-aggressive way of asking me to link back to theirs. But there is no way that linking in any way, shape, or form is stealing or even infringement.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

James Gannon's motivation ....

If you look at any IP maximalist web site, or any site seeking to profit from expanding IP you see one very simple thing. They do not allow people to comment and if they do it is highly censored. In essence they shoot down anything that can sway opinion away from what they are selling. One of the key strategies when trying to sell bullshit to a large group of people is you never debate anyone on the topic you are selling.

What he is doing by coming here, not responding to any of your points, and telling you it is “rude to not seek permission” is misdirection. He moved the argument to something else. He will never debate you in any meaningful way. He can’t …

And you fell for it… hook, line, and sinker.

James Gannon can control what you do on his blog he can not control what people post on their blogs.

John Doe says:

Re: James Gannon's motivation ....

“What he is doing by coming here, not responding to any of your points, and telling you it is “rude to not seek permission” is misdirection. He moved the argument to something else. He will never debate you in any meaningful way. He can’t …”

You have hit the nail on the head here. If he could truly defend his statements he would have done so. I am copying the link to his blog post below in hopes it will draw him out of hiding once again so he will have a second chance to defend his post. 🙂 What say ye Mr. Gannon?

Squirrel Brains (profile) says:

Re: James Gannon's motivation ....

I don’t think falling for it “hook line and sinker” is an accurate description of what is going on. Debating this issue is not stopping the debate on many other important issues that this Gannon guy would like us to stop talking about. It is simply one more thing to talk about. We can have multiple meaningful discussions at once.

Anonymous Coward says:

The answer, as it is with every headline with a question mark, is no.

Anyone who thinks it is rude to be linked to probably deserves to be linked to incessantly until they go cry in a corner, but on the other hand, that would give them page views.

Perhaps a better solution is to take a screenshot of what you would like to discuss and link to that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

>>Perhaps a better solution is to take a screenshot of what you would like to discuss and link to that.

Bad idea.

A copyright maximalist would have a DCMA takedown notice and a lawsuit filed before the download was complete. It would probably qualify as fair use, but if they are whining over a link they would be screaming over a screen shot.

Anonymous Coward says:

The question...

The question could also be phrased as such:

Is it impolite to tell people about a newspaper article or editorial you read without informing the newspaper first?

Is it “common courtesy” to get permission from a TV station before you tell people to watch a rerun of a show you liked?

Should I need permission from a book publisher or author before I tell people about this wonderful book I’m reading?

The answer is “of course not, you tool.”

Andy (profile) says:

Permission to read?

Given that linking is merely bringing the material to a wider readership, does he also, by extension, believe we should ask permission before reading his article? It seems the mark of a clueless person to publish material on the internet only to object to it reaching a wider audience than those who might have come across it on the site on which he himself published it. Words fail me.

Fzzr (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The estate of William Shakespeare, playwright, has announced a class-action lawsuit against every living and dead speaker of the English language who spoke or wrote in English between January 1, 1601 and the present day. They cite the flagrant appropriation, use, and misuse of hundreds of instances of Mr. Shakespeare’s intellectual property. The suit has be brought in East Texas, due to the “especially odious” nature of the abuse of the IP in question in that district.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Back in the dark ages...

>>I did ask, and often got asked, about linking between sites. It was a bit of a courtesy, only cause the web was pretty new. But that was about 1995…

I remember being at a conference where Mosaic was introduced. The authors of the product were there and they asked people NOT to use them as their home page because they were afraid their servers would disappear in blue clouds of smoke from the heavy load. I chuckle now every time I see someone trying to get me to make them my default home page. How times have changed.

Jon B. says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

You’re correct insofar as it does actually promote the progress to force people to ask permission. When forcing people to ask permission actually impedes progress, then that’s the opposite of what copyright law is supposed to create.

If you read the sentence you quoted in context, it’s pretty clear that’s what Mike was saying.

Ccomp5950 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

There is a prior premise you probably missed (it’s validity was assumed in the post and the point itself was only listed briefly so I can understand why you missed it).

If a Permission Society leads people to be less creative (since they are having to ask permission all the time) than it does not lead to promoting the progress as progress is hindered.

halley (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Copyright law draws from the Constitution: “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” Mike’s point is that it aims to promote the progress, or in other words, foster a creative culture. Whether it is effective at this is under debate, but that’s not Mike’s point.

Copyright grants a monopoly on the actual work. Copyright does not grant any powers outside the work (such as limiting the rights of others to make references or links to the work).

Bruce Ediger (profile) says:

Re: Bustin' That FUD!

Well, copyright per se could clearly be used to prevent free speech, prevent transfer of information, prevent a large number of activities that we (society in general) find advantageous, or worthwhile. Ya with me so far?

So our representative government put in “escape valves”, like fair use, where anyone taking small excerpts (or maybe even entire reprints) for criticism, education or other uses doesn’t have to ask permission. Fair use exists to prevent bad things from arising from copyright, as they arose from earlier instantions, like the Statute of Anne.

Here comes the hard part: a hypertext link isn’t even an excerpt of an electronic document. It’s more like the street address of a library and a card catalog number, so that a human can find a particular book. So you can’t really infringe upon “intellectual property” by linking to something. Just as it’s not rude in real life to give someone directions to an address, it’s not rude on the internet to link to something. The HTML containing the link doesn’t even really *do* anything, it’s all in the browser, and the browser’s user clicking on the link.

Now, that’s a lot of material to comprehend, especially for a beginner, so be sure to post follow-up questions here.

Chris Rhodes (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Perhaps he means that IP law was set up to incentivize not only the creation of ideas, but also the spread (otherwise trade secrets would be good enough). The way they chose to do that was to restrict the use of works, but I doubt they meant to restrict the discussion of works.

That would be like claiming that common courtesy required me to ask your permission before viewing a patent you had submitted; it’s entirely contrary to the purpose of patents.

My .02. Maybe he meant something different.

Anonymous Coward says:

Perhaps Google should be asked every time a link is provided as to if it is permissible to use? Sure thing, I can see where that will go.

The yoyo didn’t bother to answer your questions on the topic because it shot the one sided presentation full of holes that couldn’t be defended.

What was the line the judge used? When the facts are on your side, you pound on the facts. When the law is on your side you, pound on the law. When neither facts nor law is on your side, you pound on the table. Lots of table pounding going on but nothing else.

It means the only thing left to do is avoid the text and facts and complain elsewhere, because in real life beyond ‘pay me’ there is no true defense from what copyright is supposed to be and what it’s been turned into.

So instead of answering the questions, it’s bitch about exposure of public words with an effective counter argument. The event speaks loudly in it’s actions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Excuse me kind sir.

I’d like to quote your comment so that I can provide context in my (bile, pus and sarcasm filled) reply to it, which I shall post below.

So I hereby formally ask for your permission to quote your comment (which, invariably, involves either a link to or a copy of the comment, so be prepared for that eventuality).

I ask this because we are gentleman after all. And we gentleman ask for permission for these things, unlike the peasants that frequent these so-called “websites”.

Cheers and all that,
The King and Queen of Cheese.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

So, now you’re adding a complete misunderstanding of fair use rights to your lack of knowledge about the internet itself. Nice…

Also, please note that what’s mainly being criticised isn’t the simply fact that you were mardy about not being asked permission, but that you utterly failed to address any criticisms of your original article. I see that trend is continuing.

ChrisB (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Okay, you asked for it:

James: Actually, Joseph, a lot of people have asked me if they can republish/link/quote the article and I’ve agreed each time.

Mike: I have never heard it argued that it is common courtesy to ask permission to link to or quote a story. Where have you heard that?

James: Mike, most people who link or quote my content ask my permission beforehand.

Then you try to claim “it’s abundantly clear [quoting is] what I was referring”. Nice try.

Irate Pirate says:

Re: Re: James Gannon Backpedal

Thank you Chad. If Gannon was only talking about quoting and not linking, he shouldn’t have mentioned it. Now he is obviously back peddling because of that mistake.

Regarding his general argument, is it a courtesy? Yes. Is it a requirement? No, obviously. The internet is a public forum. I can understand the motivation behind those whom support permission seeking prior to republishing any content, in whole or in part, that may be private (ie: behind a wall, paid or otherwise, for which login credentials are required) but not for anything posted publicly, and knowingly no less. It’s like going to the mall and shouting out a really great idea, then expecting no one to use that idea without asking for your permission first. In what world is that a normal, logical expectation?

Then there is the context in which the original content was used that we must consider, which fair use covers and for good reason, reasons which many other posters have already commented on. They too are obvious and self evident so I shouldn’t need to repeat them here.

I’m sorry Mr. Gannon, but believing you’re right doesn’t automatically make it so, nor does reiterating that belief repeatedly. You will have to present far better reasoning than we’ve seen thus far if you wish to convince the vast majority here, as well as across the internet, that your argument is sound.

That said, I hope everyone is smart enough to see what this is really all about; deflection and distraction in an attempt to get everyone discussing this instead of the merits (or lack thereof) of the original topic, which was How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Copy, an article that has been thoroughly debunked not only here, but on a number of other respectable websites as well.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re:

James, I want to take a step back here and ask you a few simple questions. Firstly, can you explain why you think people should ask permission to quote you? You say it’s “courteous” but I really don’t understand how, given that you have shared your ideas publicly which seems like an invitation to the public to discuss them. Do you feel that it is wrong to discuss another person’s ideas without their permission?

I am also curious as to who you think it benefits to ask for permission. You? Mike? The reader? I honestly can’t see anyone who benefits from this – it simply slows everything down and makes everyone worse off. Do you see a plus here? Or is it simply that you feel it is a moral issue rather than a pragmatic one?

Finally, if you do believe that this is a moral issue, can you explain why you feel other people should be bound by those morals, which seem rather esoteric? In most of the modern western world, it is firmly established that quoting people for the purpose of analysis or criticism is not only legal but in fact essential to maintaining a free society. This idea predates the internet by generations, and it has its own moral component: the popular consensus that any attempt to suppress discussion or stymie the flow of ideas is wrong, and that anyone who believes they can control what other people say must have despotic tendencies. If you really want to argue that the opposite is true, I think you have an uphill ethical argument ahead of you…

John Doe says:

Re: Re:

Wow, you came back. I would give you props for that but you again deflected without addressing the issues. Not only that, you have added your misunderstanding of fair use to your misunderstanding of internet etiquette.

Since you have already taken quite a beating, and deservedly so, I will refrain from further barbs. I would just ask that you address the issues here since you do not allow comments on your own blog. I am sure most here would gladly participate in a civil dialog. (profile) says:

Re: Abundantly clear, my ass!

Mike, you copied 3 entire paragraphs from my original article

So what, ever heard of fair use?

and it’s abundantly clear that’s what I was referring to when I said a simple ask would have been appreciated.

So why didn’t you phrase it like said? Abundantly clear it was apparently only to your twisted mind. Don’t blame us for that.

In my second comment, I pointed out that most people who link and quote my work ask me first or let me know.

Which is completely and utterly unnecessary. Apparently a lot of of those people don’t have a clue. Which – of course – we already knew since they cheered you on for your ridiculous ‘copying money is just like copying content’ bullshit.

Alexei (profile) says:

Another interesting (and ironic) point: at the end of Mr. Gannon’s article there is a section “Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)” with two links. I’m absolutely sure that this piece of software first generates e-mails to authors of those possibly related posts and prompts them to assert their consent. Otherwise shame to the programmer!

Nicole (user link) says:

Wait…..isn’t that the goal? To create content on the web that people find worthy of linking back to? It should be seen as a compliment, not “rude”. The only time I have asked permission to link to an article was because the author posted a “reprint policy” stating he would like to be asked. (Thought it was weird,) but hey, maybe he’s still stuck in the 90’s?

Julian Sanchez (profile) says:


I’ve been a professional writer & blogger for about a decade now, have been pretty routinely quoted or linked by other folks throughout that decade, and have never — not a single time in ten years — had any of the hundreds of people who quoted me ask permission to reproduce anything short of the entirety of a long article. Gannon’s notion of what is “common” is utterly bizarre; I have never heard any of the many writers I know describe anything remotely similar. Like Nina Paley, it would be an absolute nuisance if I had to read (let alone respond to) an email every time somebody excerpted something I’d written. For someone like Andrew Sullivan or Cory Doctorow, I have to assume it would be totally crippling.

Benjamin (profile) says:

Let's do some math.

Well, Mr. Gannon, I was going to post a snarky comment indicating the number of incoming links that you have to, and suggesting that you couldn’t possibly be responding to e-mails from everyone who linked to you.

However, upon closer examination, it appears that you only have about 1500 links coming into that domain, and only about 110 of them are unique. The rest are likely blogs.

So, it appears that not only do you have plenty of time to approve all those links, but your contend doesn’t appear to be as in demand as you might want to believe.

In contrast, Techdirt shows upwards of a half a million total incoming links, and well more than a thousand of those are unique (this is difficult to quantify above one thousand). What I think is rude is that you’re chastising someone for offing you such exposure. Perhaps you should make a donation to Techdirt.

In fact, the original Techdirt post discussing your work indicates 34 backlinks – roughly 30% of the existing exposure that you’ve been able to develop on your own. I’m very sorry that fair use prevents you from seeing a 30% increase in revenue from your online efforts.

Rikuo (profile) says:

I think the only reason Gannon wants others to ask permission is so that, whenever he opens his email inbox, the (very few) emails he sees there are proof that someone actually read his articles and, for some reason, want to expose other people to them.
That would be the only reason I can think of that makes any kind of sense. If you were famous, like Doctorow, wouldn’t it be annoying, time-wasting and pointless to have to reply to ten trillion emails just to say its okay to link?

Drizzt says:


While I don’t know of a “common policy” to ask for permission to link to somebody, I can see, that it might be nice to know that somebody linked to you in the case, that the linking entity is a page with lots of traffic. Because if a high-traffic site links to something, there is a high likelihood, that the linked to site might cave under the load (most likely only a problem for smaller sites on smaller systems, but still). In this case it might be very appreciated to be forewarned or asked (the latter might be the case if there are costly traffic limits involved in the hosting deal). That said: I wouldn’t ask for permission, but in case I’m a high-traffic site might warn the other side or even ask, whether I should mirror the content. On the other hand I wouldn’t expect to be asked if someone wanted to link to some of my websites, in fact I can say for certain, that nobody asked me so far an still I’m seeing lots of traffic on some parts of those sites which comes mainly from one of three to five sources.


Drizzt says:

Re: Re: Notifications

So check your log files then.

While I’m constantly monitoring my servers through several channels I have seen enough small/private sites to know they don’t. Simply because they don’t have the time to do it. They’re paid for other things, not for monitoring their private site. And with some of the cheaper website hosting deals it is almost impossible to set up some meaningful monitoring. So again: while I personally would neither expect to be asked nor to be notified, I can see a reason why someone with lots of traffic linking to a small site should at least notify them. I wouldn’t say, this is a requirement but I’d assume it’d be much appreciated.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re:

…would have been nice and friendly and collegial and all that…

And yet we have content creators like Nina saying that they actually find it annoying and LESS friendly when people ask for permission. Add that to the fact that virtually NOBODY on the internet does this, and it seems like Gannon is coming out of crazy left field…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

He wasn’t saying that you are legally required

Who said he was? It’s not present in the article. Nice straw man you have there.

He was saying it would have been nice and friendly and collegial and all that.

Yes, and Mike is saying it’s incorrect. I haven’t seen anyone post that they agree (not even you, you just began arguing a straw man.)

Enough bluster already.

Quite. If it bothers you, perhaps you should stop doing it.

Anonymous Coward says:

How rude of you to link to his creative content without both his permission and paying him for it. I’m sure he spent a lot of valuable brain power in creating said content (it costs money to buy food to fuel the brain after all, he deserves compensation for that!!) After following the link you posted and reading the title I left him a message asking him for permission to read his article and apologized for reading the title prior to his giving consent.

I am currently anxiously waiting for and anticipating a visit it from IP enforcement officers to confront me for wrongfully reading the Title of his blog without asking for permission first. I’m so ashamed….

Trails (profile) says:

Tsk tsk

Actually, Mike, a lot of people have asked Joseph Gannon if they can discuss/link/point out the stupidity of his comments and he’s agreed each time. While Joseph Gannon recognizes Masnick’s fair use rights to discuss his astoundingly idiotic commentary, the common courtesy would have been appreciated.

Most people who point out his ass backwardness ask his permission beforehand. Most, not all. That’s been his experience. Your results may have varied. Maybe the boards you typically comment on have different standards when it comes to such things.

Christopher Parsons (user link) says:

Yes, I have heard of this and get asked whether people can link to my work on occasion. My experience is that two ‘groups’ of people make these requests: (a) people who are either web-naive or copyright sensitive [e.g. I don’t want to infringe on you copyright, can I link?); (b) academics who have had a ‘permission culture’ branded into their skulls.

RobShaver (profile) says:

I think you're too harsh. Here's what I sent using Gannon's contact page

Dear James Gannon,

I read your comment over on TechDirt and couldn’t agree more. Linking to your blog without permission, written permission, is rude and should be illegal. In fact I think READING your blog without getting permission would be rude too.

This etiquette should be extended to book as well. When you buy a book or borrow one from the library you should have to get the written permission from the author before you read it. It’s really the polite thing to do.

And after reading anything you should not tell anyone about what you read unless you have received further permission to do so. This is especially true if you care so much about what was written that it stuck in your mind so that you can recite it verbatim. This would be a blatant copyright violation, don’t you think?

So this is why I have not read anything in your blog, but came straight to your contact page (Well … I did read the menus and some titles, but I promise not to reveal anything I saw.)

Warmest regards,


KnownHuman (profile) says:

Permission Culture

I actually did run into an issue with linking and permission before. I was working on a project that was attempting to leverage data from the BBB. Doing my due diligence, I perused the BBB’s ToU and the first item on the list regards hyperlinking.

There’s a short list of organizations that link to the BBB without prior written approval, everyone else must get it and then can only do using terms permitted by the BBB.

Compared to them, Gannon seems down right permissive.

Memyself says:

Those of us who actually create for a living know that this is not the case. It’s a distraction and an annoyance when people feel the need to keep asking you for permission to do what they naturally have the right to do.

While I agree that it is absurd to ask permission to link, I was unaware you were qualified to speak for all creative people in matters of permission.

Anonymous Coward says:

James Gannon said it’s common courtesy to ask for permission to link and quote his work.

By the way, I also asked for permission to refer to his statement.

I also asked for permission to refer to his agreement.

I also asked for permission to refer to his agreement to the agreement.

Since I quickly saw a pattern forming, I have set up an automated mail script to recursively request permission for all future agreements as well. Rest assured, James Gannon, I fully support your need for permission.

Please note that it is common courtesy to respond to said requests. All one hundred of them. Sorry, one hundred and one. One hundred and two…

Michael (profile) says:

Legal to Threaten

It may be legal to link to someone’s site, but that doesn’t mean people won’t threaten to sue anyway.

A teacher I had in high school 2005 once taught a brief introduction to internet usage and avoiding plagiarism etc.

He told us about how he used to use a certain copyright lawyer’s blog as a reference, until receiving a threat from the lawyer for linking to the site. My teacher settled.

Wes (profile) says:


The only circumstance I can think of where one may want to ask permission before linking is if your linking will obviously drive more traffic to a website than they can handle. Flooding a someone’s webpage with more traffic than it normally gets can cause all sorts of problems, see the old /. effect for examples.

Simon Chamberlain (profile) says:

I've certainly seen...

websites state ‘don’t link to us without permission’, although this tends to be sites that want people not to deeplink to individual pages/articles. When I’m preparing newsletters at work, I sometimes get asked if we can link to articles on the free web. Not copy all their text, just link to them.

I personally think this is nonsense, and not considered common courtesy by most web users, but it’s certainly a minority opinion out there.

Gregg L. DesElms (profile) says:

A copy of what I just wrote to Mr. Gannon

Dear Mr. Gannon,

I read on the TechDirt web site about the whole business of whether or not Mr. Masnick should have first sought your permission to link to your site from his; and I wanted to share some thinking about it with you, if you’ll permit me (and I’ll bet you’re getting all kinds of hate email over it, so I hope you don’t think this is yet another bit of that).

First, I should tell you that I find disconcerting much of what Mr. Masnick writes; and I’m generally speaking, far more supportive of IP rights than he. I don’t post much on his site, but I have several posts there which take strong issue with some of his positions (as well as several which don’t, mind you).

I’ve also been some 35 years in IT and have been on the Internet since MANY years before the Worldwide Web part of it even existed. And I’ve taken a keen interest, just generally, in IP law (albeit from a lay perspective) such that I probably know more about it than the average guy walkin’ down the street (though, of course, I’d never dare take-on someone with YOUR kind of expertise).

I’m also rather schooled in “netiquette,” just generally. I’ve been around since the very beginning of chat rooms, USENET, forums, etc.; and I participated in some of the Internet’s earliest discussions about what “netiquette” even was. And there’s no shortage, out there, of postings and other writings by me trying to take others to school over their bad netiquette.

I’ve also run some fairly large and popular web sites to which many wanted to link… the biggest and most famous of them being the LACI PETERSON web site (the family-owned and -opearated site which kept the world informed during the tragic missing person case of the pregnant Modesto, California woman who disappeared on Christmas Eve 2002, and whose body, and that of her unborn fetus, washed-up in the San Francisco Bay about three months later; and whose husband was later convicted of her murder and now sits on death row). I ask, by the way, that no one judge my web work by that site, as it is today. Whomever took it over after I left has fairly ruined it.

On every site I’ve ever run, there have always been a relatively small percentage of people who email and ask permission before they link to the site. I mention the LACI PETERSON site, though, in part, because with a site getting as many thousands of hits per minute as it was getting back then (and the number of emails that I ask you to imagine), even a so-called “small percentage” was a whole lotta’ permission requests.

I’ve never really understood it, though, because if one goes back and reads about what the creators of the Worldwide Web part of the Internet had in mind in terms of hyperlinking and how it was all supposed to work, one can see, clearly and unambiguously, (and I was around, back then, so I also remember) that unlimited hyperlinking — and not only without first securing anyone’s permssion to so do, but, even more importantly, without anyone even giving it a second thought — was the whole POINT of it all.

The very notion of asking permission to link flies in the face of why the Worldwide Web part of the Internet was conceived during the late 1980s and early 1990s, and then finally brought online in 1994, in the first place. The notion of evan asking is a throwback to an earllier way of thinking about the entirely different paradigm of the printed word… only on PAPER.

Given the very nature and logistics of the web, presuming that Able should have to ask for Baker’s permission in order for Able to link to Baker’s site is counterintuitive; so much so, in fact, that I know many webmasters (especially those who run BIG sites… like, for example, the LACI PETERSON site that I ran) who get really irritated by even being asked.

“Why are you even ASKING me this,” they think to themselves. “Just do it, and stop bothering me about it. You don’t need my permission, for godsake! Geez.” That, I think, is kinda’ the point, albeit less directly, that Nina Paley makes in that to which Mr. Masnick links, above.

Believe me when I tell you that the vast majority of those on the Internet think as I’m describing… hence the reason Mr. Masnick is now making such a big deal about it, now, on his site. Er… well… maybe that, plus he admittedly doesn’t have much respect for some of your (and many other IP lawyers’) legal positions, and so he’s kinda’ pokin’ at you a little… which is understandable, you have to admit.

And, seriously, Mr. Gannon, I’m not simply agreeing with Mr. Masnic, here, as a means of taking sides or anything like that. I’m not one of his minions (which it might surprise him to learn that he even had, if he actually has any) who’s now bothering you about it as a means of also kinda’ pokin’ at you. I remind that I often don’t agree with Mr. Masnick; and would never blindly follow him — or anyone else, for that matter — and so, I assure you that what I’m writing to you, here, really from my heart; and is the way it is, to wit:

It is simply not generally considered necessary (and some even consider it an inconvenience and/or imposition) for one web site owner to ask the owner of a different web site for permission to link thereto. It is not only NOT a breach of netiquette to just go ahead and link, but the asking actually shows things down and kinda’ goofs-up very POINT of the hyperlinking nature of the Internet’s Worldwide Web.

Therefore, it’s debatable whether or not someone taking the time to email you and ask you is really being considerate. It’s actually being a little bit inconsiderate, considering how everything’s supposed to work. While it might seem like they’ve making a nice gesture, they’re actually mucking-up the works, in a way.

It’s worthy of note, too, that all the major search engines clearly get this concept, as evidenced by how they rank a given web site higher in search results based, in part, on how many OTHER web sites link to it…

…in other words, the more popular is a site, based on how many other sties link to it, the higher its search engine rankings. If a site owner wants his/her site to rank more highly in search results, then it is in his/her interest to have literally millions of other sites out there linking back to his/her site. Eventually, literally millions of sites linked-back to the LACI PETERSON site; and we calculated, one day, that if only a tiny fraction of those sites cause a linkback per hour, we’d be getting more visits in a morning than what vast majority of other web sites get in a year.

And in the case of a site with literally millions of other sites linking back to it, it would take said site’s owner literally YEARS just to read and respond to all the email link requests even if only a tiny fraction of them had the “courtesy” to ask.

Think of it this way: Imagine that you print (or XEROX) a bunch of one-page fliers of some kind… oh… say… fliers which announce some talk that you’re giving at a local law library or bookstore or something. When you printed them, you obviously expected that as many people as possible would see and read them.

Assuming that people should ask permission first before linking to your web site would be approximately equivalent to assuming that people with your flier in their hands should call and ask your permission first before showing it to someone standing next to them. It’s just silly and unnecessary. And, in fact, I’ll bet you’d be irritated with anyone who bothered you with it.

This is simply a situation where you, obviously, have not connected the flier analogy with the very nature of the Worldwide Web part of the Internet. Only if the web content were behind some kind of paywall or other construct which required that the reader have (or acquire) an account and then login in order to read said content might your permission presumption make at least a LITTLE philosophical sense, but only if the link somehow bypassed the login. However, even in THAT case, the registration and/or login process, itself, provides all the IP-related safeguards that would be necessary.

I fear that Mr. Masnick’s having called you on your IP-related opinions is what was REALLY gnawing at you (and I can understand that… his points can sometimes sting), but instead of arguing them on their merits, I fear that you deflected to what was actually a non-issue. This is a common thing, by the way, which all humans do; so no shame, there. We’ve all done it, and I’m sure we’ll all do it again. It’s just the way humans are.

Anyway, I just wanted to share these thoughts with you. From my reading of your stuff, you seem like a good enough guy, good at what he does, works really hard at it, cares very much about it, and is out there sharing his notions about it with whomever will read it…

…which is the whole reason you even HAVE a site… no? If you wanted to control who saw it, you’d have a registration/login thing going on, no? And since you don’t, are you saying that you don’t appreciate the additional visits to your site that Mr. Masnick, whether or not welcome, is sending you?

Any serious, experienced, professional web designer in the world will say that when it comes to site visits, it’s a little like the ol’ “I don’t care what they say, as long as they spell my name right” sort of thing. A visitor is a visitor, regardless whether friend or foe. The whole point of having a web page is to have visitors to read what’s on it. Period. It doesn’t matter, an experienced webmaster will tell you, from whence they came.

And a key tool in driving more visitors to a site is to have lots of others link back to it. Those are what are called “viral marketing” events; and there’s nary a webmaster on the planet who wouldn’t almost give a right arm for tons and tons of linkbacks — with not a request for permission among ’em — of the type that I suspect Mr. Masnick’s site is now giving yours.

Demanding that others first get your permission stands in the way of how all that works; and the solution, in any case, given the technology of the intended paradigm, is not to chide Mr. Masnick and his readers but, rather, to just assume that they’ll link, and so, then, to put your words behind a login/password barrier of some kind if you don’t want them read. Then, it wouldn’t matter who links to your site; and, in fact, in that circumstance, said linking without your permission would, at worst, cause more people to register on your site so they could read your words.

Again, that’s how it all works. That was the design plan, from the very beginning. It’s hyperlinking at its intended finest.

I know this is flip, and I’m just kidding of course, but if I were in your shoes, knowing how many readers Mr. Masnick has, and how many visitors to your site he’s likely now sent you, you should be pulling out your checkbook. Again, I’m just kidding… er… well… you know… sorta’.

Hope that helps! Keep-up the good work.


Gregg L. DesElms
Napa, California USA
gregg at greggdeselms dot com

Munna Hossain (user link) says:


Nice article. Thanks for your thinking. But I think it is not very important to get a permission to link someone. Because you have not enough time as well as that person may feel boring. It is a natural process that we get a link from others sites.
So I think it is not very important but if that person has an option that you need a permission from him. Then you can try to get a permission.

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