Imagine linking to a company’s website when referencing them in an article and having that company demand you remove the link because of copyright concerns. Or worse, the company threatens to sue you because they say the link from your website resulted in “material financial loses [sic] to the company.”
That is exactly what happened to blogger Christine at Big Pink Cookie for a blog post that was critical of the company Guardlex.
According an article at Hubspot:
A lawyer at Guardlex contacted Christine at Big Pink Cookie on behalf of their client — whose name Christine graciously removed in her blog post detailing this whole ordeal — asking her to please remove a link from her site that led to their client’s site. Since he works on behalf of the Anti-Piracy Department at Guardlex, which provides services that protect intellectual property, we presume the outbound link was classified as a piracy or intellectual property ‘problem.’
According to the letter sent by the lawyer, the link from Christine’s website resulted in ‘material financial loses [sic] to the company.’
Although, the pretense for the threat was a copyright claim, the company explained that the outgoing link from the blog hurt the company “due to search engine penalties resulting from the links originating under your control.”
Google’s most recent Panda update is said to punish “over-SEO’d” websites. In other words, websites with too many links originating from weak or spammy websites will be penalized by Google.
However, BigPinkCookie is the furthest thing from a spammy website. It’s a personal blog with an impressive Google PageRank 5, which means Google has deemed its content quite valuable, and links from that type of blog are typically very desirable for search engine optimization purposes.
So it seems odd that the company would demand the link be removed, and it’s highly unlikely they’d ever be able to prove the damages that they claim in their threatening letter. Christine checked with her hosting company to confirm that she was not violating any laws or terms of service.
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“…there is no infringement of anything in merely linking to one site from another — case law exists on this. We absolutely will not instruct our users to remove links that violate no statute or our terms of service. Whether they choose to do it on their own is entirely up to them,” her hosting company wrote in response to Guardlex.
This case displays the insane level that some companies will go to in claiming that unwanted links to their website represents intellectual property “problems”. But, disturbingly, some authorities agree with this concept. Last year the Department of Homeland Security preemptively seized websites merely for linking to copyrighted material.
As odd as this scenario seems, it may be something we see more of in the future with companies like Guardlex (this link will probably land us a threatening letter too) needing to justify funding an Anti-Piracy Department for “Intellectual Property protection services”. In fact, this is already being proposed in new legislation that indicates a backdoor return of SOPA by empowering IP czars with diplomatic status, thereby creating an army of government copyright trolls.
Clearly, as is the case with repeated legal judgements against copyright trolls such as Righthaven and others, this latest case is an exasperating attempt to use the legal system as an attack dog against free speech and the Internet itself.
The good news is that bloggers, site owners, and hosting companies alike have previous case law to support their freedom. It would be wise, then, to stand one’s ground against any company attempting to rewrite the rules through intimidation and force. If the floodgates are ever opened to permit the criminalization of merely referencing openly available material – especially unwanted criticism – the concept of a free market of ideas could be lost forever.