Are web links (just the URLs) copyrightable?

Individual links are not copyrightable. They represent a web address, which is a fact, and facts are not copyrightable according to section 102(b) of the Copyright Act. Compilations of URLs are copyrightable if the compilation is not a total universe of data and there is sufficient originality/creativity in the selection, arrangement, or value adding, such as annotating the URLs.

The library offers e-mail reference service to its patrons. In order to answer the reference question, often it is necessary to send a hyperlink in an e-mail to the user. Is there any problem with sending a deep link or must one link only to the website's home page?

There is no problem with using a deep link to respond to an email reference question. A link is merely a pointer to another website, like a cross-reference. The website owner can control technologically whether someone may enter a site at any location or must register and enter only through the front page, pay a fee, and so forth. Courts have recognized that deep linking is not infringement.

A corporate library is in the process of updating its website and wants to link to different industry resources, associations, and the like. Is permission needed to deep link? Some competitor websites have these links and use the logos from the companies as the link. Is this infringement?

When the web was new, courts often did not understand linking and some held that a link actually reproduced the work. Over time, this has changed as courts better understood the fact that a link is simply a pointer or cross-reference. Whenever a company or association creates an open website that is neither password protected nor otherwise access controlled, the common understanding is that a link is not a problem. Some scholars call publication on the web an "implied license to link." Thus, no permission to link is required today. On the other hand, in a for-profit company, as a matter of business courtesy, seeking permission to link may be the norm. It clearly is no longer the norm in the nonprofit world.

Using other corporate logos on web pages as the link or next to the link raises trademark law questions and not copyright. The corporate logo is a trademark, and the company whose logo is pasted onto another website may be forced to complain about this activity in order to maintain its rights in that logo as a trademark. Thus, generally one should ask permission to reproduce the logo on the library's web page. There are companies that indicate on their website that anyone who wishes to link to their site should use their logos, but this is on a company-by-company basis. Typically web-based businesses are the ones that want others to use their logos for linking.

A hobby group has a listserv with active discussions. A librarian member of the group located articles that answer some of the questions the group has been discussing. Is it infringement to supply these articles as PDF files to the listserv so that everyone in the group can see them?

Posting PDFs of articles without permission of the copyright holder is problematic. Attaching a PDF file is a mass reproduction and distribution since anyone who opens the file is considered to have made a copy. If the article is available online from the publisher or legitimately from the author, providing a link to the members of the hobby group by e-mail or otherwise is a good alternative. If the articles come from licensed products, the license agreement determines whether it can be uploaded to a listserv without further royalties.

If a journal wants to publish papers on a journal website that were not accepted to appear in the printed version, what are the copyright concerns it should address for the web publication?

This can be handled quite simply by revising the copyright transfer form. On that form, the journal should indicate that some papers will appear in print while others will appear only on the journal website. Then on the copyright transfer form, require that the author transfer the reproduction and distribution rights for both printed and electronic versions.

Additional considerations might include what other uses of the article the journal is willing to permit the author. For example, (1) whether the author may post the article on his or her own website; (2) if author website posting is permitted, is there an embargo period before the work can be posted (e.g., six months); (3) whether the author may publish the paper that is published only on the website in another journal, and if yes, whether in a printed journal or in another e-journal; (4) whether the author may reuse the paper as a book chapter; (5) what rights does the author have to reproduce the article in photocopies and distribute to classes; and (6) whether the faculty author may post the article on a password-protected website or in course management software for students. Additionally, does the journal want the author to credit the journal website in any permitted uses? Publishers should be encouraged to grant these rights to their authors.

 
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