Can We Count The Ways In Which Lowe's 'License Agreement' For Linking To Its Site Is Insane?

from the rev-up-those-numbers dept

First, let me say that I occasionally do shop at Lowe’s, but not that often. There is one literally across the street from my office, so it’s easy to stop by after work — but my office is a good 25-minute drive away, so if I just need stuff on weekends, there are about six Home Depots that are much, much closer. Lowe’s also feels oddly sterile, whereas Home Depot has the feel of a place where people are actually getting stuff done. That said, I’m sort of in awe at the monumental insanity of Lowe’s having a special license agreement you’re supposed to fill out to link to its site (as pointed out by Ars Technica’s Nate Anderson):

Not quite knowing where to start, I figured I’d just list out the ways that this is just crazy:

  1. Okay, let’s start with the obvious one: you don’t need, have never needed and will never need a license to link to another website. Sorry. It’s just ridiculous to even contemplate such a thing — especially in this day and age.
  2. Yes, okay, so we’ve heard a few stories of sites doing similar things in the past… but they were either wacko sites run by nutty people, or they happened a decade or more ago, before people understood the web. Well, or a government-connected bureaucracy. That this would be a giant retailer in 2012 requiring such a license to link? That’s just insane.
  3. Note that they have not one, but three separate licenses to link. The other two are much more about if you’re using logos or other trademarks, which is only slightly more understandable (though there are plenty of situations under which you wouldn’t need a license to use their logo or marks either…). But this highlights the key insanity. If it had just been one license that talked about logo/mark usage, they may have been able to claim that’s really all they meant. But here, they’ve specifically carved out the situation under which no logo/mark is being used. In other words, they’ve deliberately carved out the situation in which no license would ever be needed…. and then offered up a license for that. That’s insane.
  4. The only way to send the signed license in is to fax it. Yes. The only way. For a license about internet links. Is to fax it. Fax. That’s insane.
  5. Lowe’s insists that it can terminate this license for any reason. Except… um… such a license is not valid and anyone can link to them. So, terminate away.
  6. When Anderson contacted Lowe’s PR about this, rather than taking down the bogus license or just running and hiding in shame for being digitally clueless, the company stood by the license:

    “Managing link agreements is part of protecting our brand,” is the polite reply I received. “The process we have in place to handle links to is a business decision.”

    Let’s be clear about this: nothing in that statement makes one iota of sense. It’s pure insanity. Managing link agreements does nothing to protect your brand, because it’s licensing something that doesn’t require a license because you have no control over it. At all. In fact, it’s the opposite of protecting your brand, because it makes your brand, and your entire company, look clueless. Also, it may have been a “business decision,” but it’s one that makes no sense, carries no legal weight, and makes the company seem entirely ridiculous.

Of course, it looks like it might be working in keeping people from actually linking to Lowe’s. If I do a quick search to see how many sites are linking to Lowe’s, Google tells me 822. If I do the same for Home Depot, it’s 27,700. Perhaps Lowe’s might want to stop restricting how people link to it…

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Companies: lowes

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Comments on “Can We Count The Ways In Which Lowe's 'License Agreement' For Linking To Its Site Is Insane?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

What Loews wants to do is control who links to them and who does not. It’s not legally easy to say no to a link. However, it does touch some interesting topics.

1 – Is a link to their website a form of use of mark or other? If your html is an integral document and includes “” in it, are you using their mark?

2 – If you benefit in some manner from having a link (say Google ranking you higher as an authority), does that link draw benefit from an association with Lowes that may not in fact exist?

3 – While Lowes could use certain tool to block traffic from those links to their sites, it would do nothing to change the previous two issues.

If is a registered trademark, it COULD be questionable. It’s not likely to work out, but they are on the very thin edge of things with this.

Scote (profile) says:

“If is a registered trademark, it COULD be questionable. It’s not likely to work out, but they are on the very thin edge of things with this.”

Or, in other words, Mike is right.

Use of the name “Lowes” to refer to “Lowes”–such you an I are doing–is legal, as is linking using “Lowes”. I don’t have to call “Lowes” “The big hardware retailer that isn’t Home Depot”. Nor is permission required to link to a site, no more than I need permission to say “cross reference page A2 of Today’s Chronicle”.

I think the only question is what idiot at Lowes decided this was a good idea? This is from the failed internet playbooks of the 90’s

Lowe’s legal department is a decade behind the times. That or they’ve hired Steve Gibson :-0

Anonymous Coward says:

LOL! This is quite possibly the dumbest corporate thing I’ve seen in a very long time. It makes me want to just get have links to them spread in blog posts everywhere. Now that I think about it you could make a game out of it. Scatter them everywhere in obscure places that don’t seem to make sense for no apparent reason and then have people report where they’ve seen the link appear and what else was on the page. Could end up having some really creative combinations show up there too. 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:


What Loews wants to do is control who links to them and who does not.

Yes, and as the article says, this is insane.

It’s not legally possible to say no to a link.


If your html is an integral document and includes “” in it, are you using their mark?

Doesn’t matter. Trademark gives you the ability to control false association, not complete usage. By definition a hyperlink to their website points to their website, so there no improper usage.

If you benefit in some manner from having a link (say Google ranking you higher as an authority), does that link draw benefit from an association with Lowes that may not in fact exist?

No. Simply including the link in no way implies that they endorse your site, which is the only thing that trademark is concerned with.

If is a registered trademark, it COULD be questionable.

No, it couldn’t. These are not “associate with us” licenses, these are for *linking*, which does not need a license.

Anonymous Coward says:

Lowe?s hereby grants Licensee a non-assignable, non-exclusive, royalty-free license solely to create a hypertext link between Licensee?s Internet website, http://www._________________, and any page of Lowe?s Internet website ( (?the Link?), subject to the following terms and conditions:

Notice how they assume your lowest-level subdomain is called “www”.

The Link shall be so configured that the Uniform Resource Locator (URL) of the Lowe?s website ( will be displayed continuously in a user?s browser once that user?s link is completed and throughout the entire duration of that user?s link.

Um, what? I’ve never seen the word “link” used that way before.

Murray (profile) says:

This is good for business (Home Depot's business)

So my friend wants to buy a snowblower and asks me which one I suggest. I go online and look at the various models at the various stores. I find good ones at Home Depot and at Lowe’s. Guess which link I’m going to send to my friend?

Maybe Lowe’s Marketing should have a talk with Lowe’s Legal Department.

GMacGuffin says:

Old-School Legal Templates ...

This is very similar to some old-school agreements I have seen in legal forms guides. Part of the issue was a trespass to chattel claim where an aggregator was enjoined from using bots to aggregate info from eBay. eBay, Inc. v Bidder’s Edge, Inc. (ND Cal 2000) 100 F Supp 2d 1058. (That’s right, 2000.)

Probably someone at Lowe’s legal (apparently without an email address or Internet knowledge) thought this was a good way to set the stage for potential copyright claims for links (although case law has since killed any chance of that), or potential trademark claims (although ways to actually infringe TM via links are severely limited).

Mostly, it’s just insane. (Oh, and good for your SEO too, if by “good” you mean hobbling your page rank by limiting the number of unique inbound links.) Yeah. Insane.

Jay (profile) says:

MPAA expanding

In light of recent defeats on SOPA, Chris Dodd has decided to expand the MPAA business structure to home furnishing districts. “We hope to show other property owners that linking on the internet can be a profitable business,” says the head of the Motion Picture Association of America. “We plan to increase linking by 200% with the revenue from licensing.”

Of course, when asked how the revenue was going to increase, the Lowe’s CEO, Robert Niblock laughed off any suggestions. “We are confident in the financial successes of Hollywood in this endeavor,” he stated. “The linking license will make us a far better company than we have been in the past.” The past, that Lowe’s discusses is their decision to pull their funding from All American Muslim in a decision that caused quite a controversy when it came to light that the charges were from a biased third party. When our reporters pointed out the inconsistency, Robert Niblick’s face paled and he merely muttered “No comment” in regards to the story.

Chris Dodd however piped up for his newest business associate. “We remain confident that our strategy of enforcing these licenses on the populace will be very very lucrative for both parties. We already have a number of Democrats that can push the legislation to increase the penalties for foreign sites that choose to ignore the license agreement. You see, we’ve changed. We can show compassion as we defend these trademarks.”

It is obvious that the MPAA’s expansion will be a new source of revenue in the coming months. Lowe’s seems quite excited. But will their licenses be linked more on Google?

Only time will tell.

charlie potatoes (profile) says:


Ok… I am herewith announcing that no one may link to my site, without a license… Now, you guys can all plot how you are going to post this link everywhere… I miss the point. Isn’t Lowe’s getting a sack full of freebies out of this? Sort of the Streisand Effect in reverse? Why do I want to spread Low Life Lowe’s link around the net? Looks like they aren’t the ones asleep at the wheel. Seems so stupid it’s pretty smart to me.

ken (profile) says:

Agreement Meant To Stifle Criticism.

What is worse is what is contained in their agreement. It says they can terminate the agreement at any time but go on to say you cannot even mention lowe’s on your site again let along link to them. This would include any critisism of them so this really is a heavy-handed move to combat negative online reviews or criticism.

Torg (profile) says:


Sent an email. Did I miss anything?

I was recently made aware of your company’s license agreement for allowing other websites to link to yours. While I consider this an exciting new direction for your company policy, the details have left me wondering a few things.
I’ve noticed a disturbing trend among corporations to neglect to treat their physical locations with the same care that they treat their online locations, and feel that your current policy could be further reinforced by requiring that only registered tour guides and approved navigational apps be permitted to direct people to your many convenient locations. Are there currently any plans to implement such a model?
Are there any ways to acquire a linking license besides faxing a form to your company? I do not believe there are any fax machines in my area, and a more accessible option would be appreciated.
Are links in private correspondences as well as public websites prohibited, and if so should I forward all offending emails to you or are you already monitoring those yourselves?
For that matter, is forwarding an email in which the original sender links to considered to be infringement on my part? I’d like to do my part to combat the menace of word-of-mouth advertising, but not if doing so would make me part of the problem.
I look forward to your responses.

The Moondoggie says:


I can just imagine that in the next 25 years, you’ll need a license to speak with someone, a license to talk about something and a license to listen responses. You’ll also have to be fined when you badmouth something. This had got to be the most incredible idiocy of this century.

Anonymous Coward says:


I agree with this, it would be nice to see Techdirt stand up for what they stand for and actually put the link.

Or in the case of the article on copying photographies, make their own copy of the photos and post them.

Well I understand that they don’t have the technical means to do some of these things, or that they don’t want to risk the lawsuits, so I’m not saying they should or must do it. But I certainly would enjoy it if they did =D

Anonymous Coward says:

Look at the wording

“During OR AFTER the term of this Agreement, Licensee shall not, in any way, contest or help other to contest such ownership or the validity of any registrations or rights of Lowe’s now owned, licensed or SUBSEQUENTLY OBTAINED relating to the Lowe’s website or its contents.”

So, wait. If you agree to this, you can never again contest the validity of anything on their website, ever, even if you cancel the agreement and even if they change their website?

I think this isn’t about the link. I think it’s about getting other companies to agree to stupid terms that they can hold them to forever.

G Thompson (profile) says:

-> Of course, it looks like it might be working in keeping people from actually linking to Lowe’s. If I do a quick search to see how many sites are linking to Lowe’s, Google tells me 822.

So they currently only have approx (using Google) 822 links to their site?

Does anyone else think that this whole “agreement” might be a sneaky way of actually advertising their sites by getting people to link to them using like a reverse striesand effect? Has some genius decided to anonymously tip of places like ARS to write an article so we would all link back to them out of a sense of “right”?

Genius… Pure genius! /sarc

Then again I prefer the Lowes in Australia. Cheap clothes and you can link to them or not.. your choice with no “contract”

Anonymous Coward says:

Hyperlinks are fun!

Be careful if you are in the Netherlands or Taiwan though.


In certain jurisdictions it is or has been held that hyperlinks are not merely references or citations, but are devices for copying web pages. In the Netherlands, Karin Spaink was initially convicted in this way of copyright infringement by linking, although this ruling was overturned in 2003. The courts that advocate this view see the mere publication of a hyperlink that connects to illegal material to be an illegal act in itself, regardless of whether referencing illegal material is illegal. In 2004, Josephine Ho was acquitted of ‘hyperlinks that corrupt traditional values’ in Taiwan.[6]

OMG I work at corporate (user link) says:

I'm embarrassed... I work at Lowe's corporate

You don’t want to get me started… I work @ corporate. There are TONS of complete morons and idiots that have been in management for years there. The locals are brain-dead; has something to do with the water in NC. Now they have done a good deal lately to eliminate some of their brain-dead managers, but not before they did a good deal of damage and cost the company (no, make that cost the employees) much. It’s completely political and social there, where you get promoted by being “super” and not based upon merit. Hence the licensing silliness… I could go on for days but (sigh) I have to go in to work there tomorrow so goodnight!

keapth (profile) says:

Who are they?

Over in the UK, I have never heard of Lowe’s. And because of this short-sighted licence agreement of theirs I refrained from Googling them as well – not because I thought it was enforcable, but to make a point.
So not only do I still not know who they are, but if they offer any merchandise I wanted to buy, they have lost that sale (not that I probably would – I noted the comparison with Office Depot, and I do know who they are. I also know that to buy something from them and ship it internationally would be borderline insanity…)

smheath (profile) says:

Imagine if this policy had a real-world counterpart. I can picture a conversation going something like this:

“Hey, is there a Lowe’s around here?”
“Yes. But legally, I can’t tell you how to get there without signing a license agreement with Lowe’s.”
“Uh… OK. How about a Home Depot?”
“Sure! Turn right on Main Street, go 3 blocks, and it’s on the left.”

boodleofnoise (profile) says:


You can trademark a domain if it serves as an identifier, not just as a url. For instance, might be trademarked because they advertise as (or travelocity, expedia, fedex, etc.) and it isn’t just an address. If Lowe’s has built up a brand image in, and their advertising uses as a “thing” to use, not just a place to go on the Internet, they can (try to) trademark it. Don’t know if they have, but it is attainable.

To the point of this article, however, these license agreements are stupid, and I am sure that Lowes Marketing hates Lowes legal team more than ever right now.

Anonymous Coward says:


I work for da (b)Lowe’s, and I can tell you this is right up their fucking alley!! They make lamebrained decicions based on serious illogic; the come up with harebrained schemes that are impossible to execute because they seem to think the basic laws of physics are easily violated; and they treat their employees as moronic chattel while saying they “value” them–there’s a lovely streak of “abusive mentality” throughout management, that seems to believe that by making working conditions atrocious and scheduling physically impossible (shifts never the same on a daily basis) is the “best” way to “encourage and motivate” their personnel. :tard:

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