In Wake Of Penguin, Could You Be Sued For Linking To Others?

Many webmasters have been desperately trying to fix poor SEO work done to a site thanks to the recent Penguin update targeting webspam and the bad link warnings sent from Google.  The only current way to discredit a link is to have it removed as reverse nofollow functionality for webmasters simply doesn’t exist.  One recent example of a link removal request was particularly concerning as it claimed that the webmaster was partaking in illegal action against the company.

A recent example from IT blog brought to light a harsh tactic for a link removal.  A company had contacted looking to have links removed via a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown notice.  The DMCA specifically targets copyright infringment on the internet.  The specific note in question blamed the links on financial loses and search engine penalties.  Here’s the exact link removal request sent (Note: the company name was removed from our copy below as we have not seen the official emails):

It has come to our attention that your website or website hosted by your company contains links to <website> which results in financial losses by the company we represent, because of search engine penalties.

I request you to remove from following website ( all links to <website> website as soon as possible. In order to find the links please do the following: 1) If this is an online website directory, use directory’s search system to find “<company>” links. 2) If there are hidden links in the source code of website, open website’s main page and view its source code. Search for “<website> in the source code and you will see hidden links.

I have a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by <company> its agents, or the law. Therefore, this letter is an official notification to effect removal of the detected infringement listed in this letter.

I further declare under penalty of perjury that I am authorized to act on behalf of copyright holder and that the information in this letter is accurate.

Please, inform me within 48 hours of the results of your actions. Otherwise we will be forced to contact your ISP. < company > will be perusing legal action if the webmaster does not remove the referenced link within 48 hours. < company >  will be forced to include the hosting company in the suite for trademark infringement.

After this email was received by a lengthy back and forth was had.  It came out that someone at the company (or at a competitive company) had purchased hundreds of thousands of links to the site:

 However, we had a site cloak <company> and generate over 700K back links to our site without our knowledge.  Google stepped in and slapped us with a search ranking penalty to which our business has suffered major losses.

So this drastic technique brings up the point, is linking to other’s content illegal?

Linking Legality

In the United States many courts have found that merely linking to someone else’s public website is not illegal as long as the link is not to illegal or infringing content.  It should be known that actual theft of content by copying or linking to framed content from others has been defended as well as linking to illegal or infringing content.

Ford Motor Company v. 2600 Enterprises

The plaintiff, Ford Motor Company, was displeased with the way vulgar domains (such were linked directly to Ford.  Ford lost the dispute as the court found that the link did not create a cause of action for trademark dilution, infringement or unfair competition.  The court also specifically stated:

“This court does not believe that Congress intended the [Federal Trademark Dilution Act] to be used by trademark holders as a tool for eliminating Internet links that, in the trademark holder’s subjective view, somehow disparage its trademark. Trademark law does not permit Plaintiff to enjoin persons from linking to its homepage simply because it does not like the domain name of other content of the linking webpage.”

Ticketmaster Corp. v., Inc.

In 2000 Ticketmaster brought a suit against for essentially “deep linking” to event pages where tickets could be purchased. was simply linking to a public even page where purchases could be publicly made and the lawsuit was dismissed.  The court also made it clear that the act of linking was not against the law:

“hyperlinking [without framing] does not itself involve a violation of the Copyright Act … since no copying is involved … the customer is automatically transferred to the particular genuine web page of the original author. There is no deception in what is happening. This is analogous to using a library’s card index to get reference to particular items, albeit faster and more efficiently.”


“the customer is automatically transferred to the particular genuine web page of the original author. There is no deception in what is happening. This is analogous to using a library’s card index to get reference to particular items, albeit faster and more efficiently.”

In addition, those operating message boards, allowing user comments or hosting user generated content have even more protection under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

In conclusion, linking to others (legal, non-infringing) content is perfectly legal.  With that said have you seen an uptick in link removal requests?

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google | Google: Algorithm Updates | Google: Penguin Update | SEO: General | Top News


About The Author: is the Chief Marketing Officer for Cypress North, a company that specializes in social media and search marketing services and web-based application development. He has been in the Internet marketing industry for 6+ years and specializes in Social Media Marketing. You can also find Greg on Twitter (@gregfinn) or LinkedIn.

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  • Barry Adams

    Where did you first hear about the PSKL kerfuffle, Greg? Just wondering, as in yesterday’s SearchCap here on SEL you’ll find a link to my blog post about it.

  • MikeHaydon

    Surely one could not sue the other company without joining Google as a party. In fact, the suit may have to be against Google as the primary. The loss would be caused by a change in Google’s algorithm, not the actions of the other party. And we all know how quickly that suit would be thrown out.

  • Greg Finn

    An acquaintance emailed over yesterday, which is also a legal way to share a link :)

  • Benjy

    Very interesting legal perspective. This is on-topic for penguin, although not necessarily a legal angle. Still, I’d really appreciate a professional eye on this:

    I’ve been working diligently on analyzing my websites that were hit with
    the Penguin algo update on the 24th and found something very

    Yesterday, I checked my site using
    to see if there was anything that I was missing by viewing my sites via
    a regular browser. I realized that I inadvertently had ‘hidden text’ on
    all the sites that got hit by the demotion. I have since removed this
    code from my sites and am really hoping that this was the reason my
    sites were flagged as webspam.

    A couple of years ago, I added a
    ‘tooltip’ over some buttons on my sites so that when you mouseover the
    button, a little info box would pop up displaying a message. I
    eventually removed those buttons, the trigger for displaying this text,
    but now I see that the tooltip text was still visible via an seo browser
    or to Googlebot.

    This is the code that has now been removed:
    It’s amazing! Download
    ‘Graboid’ for the BEST Gossip Girl
    episode quality for FREE!  Plus other TV shows.

    I am
    hoping that this leftover line of code is what triggered the Penguin
    webspam filter and that now that I have identified and removed it, the
    penalty will be lifted.
    Again, this is my website:
    What do people think: could this make the difference?

  • Scott McKirahan

    I, too, read this article yesterday. The company sending out the legal threat message defended its actions, not on the basis of truthfulness that they could really sue, but based upon the efficiency with which links got removed by recipients who were fearful that a suit could be entered against them. They seem to acknowledge that there is no legal basis for the threats they make but that the ends justify the means.

  • Christian Noel

    Great article. I also enjoyed the link bait title only to feel safe and sound at the end. Good times!

  • Site Traffic Control

    Very interesting, indeed.

  • Alexander Edbom

    Haha stupid people trying to sue for Negative SEO… 

    It’s Googles rules, their updates. If you are going to sue some one, sue Google else you can’t sue anyone as everyone is playing by their rules. 

    Really people, you want laws for “Google” that is just ONE search engine out of thousand others?

    And as far as I know, It’s legal to link to copyright protected files as long as you do not host them. Sometimes the lobby companies pay police to take down one or two sites but these sites are often very popular, in the size of Megaupload or The Pirate Bay. It’s just a corrupt goverment, nothing to do with legal or not legal to link to this kind of material.

  • cblankinship

    The issue with the new linking scheme is the INTENT behind the strategy. In the two provided cases there was no evidence the intent of the linking was to interfere with the linked website’s ranking, thereby the site’s owner’s ability to make money.

    Those who strategically link from spammy domains are INTENDING to interfere with a website’s rankings in a fraudulent and deceptive manner. This type of tortious interference is actionable as the damages are not only real, but quantifiable. 

  • David W. Allen

    So does this mean any links to other sites will be affiliate links only? That would be a shame. Maybe an affiliate type site needs to be set-up where companies can list pages of their sites that can be linked too and the only legal way for Simone to link to other sites is though on of these services where all linking is trackable and controlled. Food for thought.

  • MicroSourcing

    Link removal requests can be done without legal threats, although this does speed up the process. It looks like the company is transferring accountability to the site they had links to instead of taking  responsibility for negative SEO. If they practiced link buying, which has been outed as a black hat SEO years before Penguin was launched, then it’s odd that they didn’t see the penalty coming.

  • cattie88

    I think a company should be responsible for its own link building campaign and there is no reason to blame other websites because of your own mistakes. If you have tons of spammy or paid backlinks and you get penalized for this, this is only your fault.  

  • Agência Macan

    The truth is that the company should have known of the existence of these links, but why not take this attitude before the upgrade?

    People do things wrong and then they want to do damage, or, if they do not, they run after the site be punished somehow.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    I think Penguin has made people take a serious look at their link portfolio and weigh the value of each link. More site owners might be asking sites to remove poor quality links as a precaution, but threatening to sue someone is ridiculous. The Internet is built on sites linking to each other. 

  • kevinlee670

    my buddy’s mom makes $72 hourly on the internet. She has been without work for 9 months but last month her check was $12657 just working on the internet for a few hours. Go to this web site and read more ⇛⇛⇛⇛►

  • andrewlea14

    my friend’s sister-in-law makes $85/hour on the computer. She has been unemployed for ten months but last month her payment was $16065 just working on the computer for a few hours. Go to this web site and read more ⇛⇛⇛⇛►

  • Loki God From Asgard

    Spammer Please Flag !!!!Spammer Please Flag !!!!Spammer Please Flag !!!!Spammer Please Flag !!!!Spammer Please Flag !!!!Spammer Please Flag !!!!Spammer Please Flag !!!!Spammer Please Flag !!!!Spammer Please Flag !!!!Spammer Please Flag !!!!Spammer Please Flag !!!!Spammer Please Flag !!!!Spammer Please Flag !!!!Spammer Please Flag !!!!Spammer Please Flag !!!!Spammer Please Flag !!!!Spammer Please Flag !!!!Spammer Please Flag !!!!Spammer Please Flag !!!!

  • Blue-eyed Gal (Ellen)

    This technique could backfire: threat of frivolous legal action is (a) a threat, which could be legally culpable as some form of blackmail, and (b) if it gets out on the web that your company is using threats and intimidation to clean up your backlinking mistakes, it could result in a lot of bad press that might do as much damage as the questionable links.

  • Brian

    Good luck proving a single link affected the Google rankings and caused financial loss.  Aside from that this does not appear to be a proper copyright infringement claim justifying a DMCA notice.  A good response would be a counter-DMCA notice.  That not only prevents the web hosting company from permanently removing the link, but now you are set to recover your damages and attorneys fees – which should end the nonsense.

    Brian Kindsvater, Esq.

  • SargentManuela

    my r oomate’s m om got paid $ 148 28 pa st we ek. s he is m aking an in com e on the int ern et an d bou ght a $4 81700 hou se. A ll sh e did was g et for tuna te and p ut in to u se th e gui de ex posed on th is w eb si te ===>> ⇛⇛⇛⇛►

  • SalinasMorris

    my buddy’s sister-in-law made $18108 a month ago. she worrks on the internet and bought a $525400 condo. All she did was get blessed and put into action the instructions given on this website ===>> ⇛⇛⇛⇛►

  • NguyenMarquita84

    my buddy’s mother go t paid $21508 the previous week. she is making money on the internet and bought a $386500 house. All she did was get fortunate and put into work the instructions explained on this web site===>> ⇛⇛⇛⇛►

  • Manoj Aravindakshan

    It’s silly —– forget penalties; undervalue links that Google doesn’t deem appropriate —and give weightage to links that are from high quality websites. There are a whole lot more signals that search engines can be using (particularly on-page and on-site) to determine whether a website or a web page is relevant to a query, than just relying on external link attributes. The sooner Google works on that aspect, the better it will be for everyone. 

  • Virtual Admin Assistant

    So what shall we do. It is legal to create link to any site as reference for your write up yet we do not know if it is legal or not to Google

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