A hypertext link to content other than the front page of the hosting site. The deep terminology stems from the idea that web pages are structured hierarchically and that the front page represents the exterior, while other resources are internal, held deep within.

For example, is a deep link, whereas is not. However, the front page of a given site does not necessarily occur at the root level of the domain, so is not a deep link, but is. Sometimes the distinction is not clear. For this reason, some people eschew the term and maintain that all links are created equal.

Who Cares?

Recently, the practice of deep linking has been scrutinized. Some sites which are the target of deep links feel that it violates their copyright by not allowing the site to control how people access the site's resources. This argument falls under the distribution section of copyright law. The majority of complaints come from sites which generate revenue through advertising. By following links directly to the desired content, users may avoid downloading advertisements. Since the price of most online advertising is linked to the number of times a given ad is downloaded, the site hosting the advertisement loses potential revenue. Other sites have argued that deep linking presents information out of context. They are concerned that their content will be used inappropriately, potentially damaging the reputation of the content's owners.

The opposition argument is that linking does not constitute distribution any more than giving someone directions to a store does. From a technical standpoint, a hypertext link simply identifies the location of a resource. The presence of a network is required to access it. The location is a necessary but insufficient condition for distribution. The question of who owns the information describing the location of online resources is at the heart of the debate. Some copyright holders argue that any information pertaining to their copyrighted works are likewise copyrighted. Opponents maintain that such meta information can not be copyrighted as it would render literature citations which included page numbers illegal.

Court Cases

There have been a number of legal battles regarding the right to make deep links. Suits filed by TicketMaster against Microsoft in 1997 and in 2000 have given the issue exposure. The other cases resulted in licensing agreements, but in August of 2000, the issue seemed to be settled when U.S. District Judge Harry Hupp ruled in Ticketmaster Corp., et al. v. Tickets.Com, Inc.:

Hyperlinking does not itself involve a violation of the Copyright Act.

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.

However, it seems the issue is not fully resolved, as several more cases are now pending. The parent compary of The Dallas Morning News sent a Cease and Desist letter to and, but has yet to file suit. Recently, a Danish court ordered to remove its links to sites owned by the Danish Newspaper Publishers Association. complied, but it is not clear whether this is a final ruling or a temporary injunction. It is also unclear what significance the rulings of the Danish court have on the Internet in general. For the time being, the legality of deep linking still seems to be in question.

A Technical Solution

Since the deep linking controversy began, a number of sites have posted policies which prohibit the practice. When they policies have been ignored, legal action has often been threatened. Some sites, however, have chosen an alternative: technical action. Sites have utilized technology to prevent deep linking. While the legal and moral issues may go unsettled for some time, there is no question that it is within the rights of any site to prevent such linking by configuring their servers correctly. The implementation of such systems is very simple. Sites could require any user accessing content other than the front page to have a valid session. Otherwise, the request would be redirected to the front page. Since a session can only be created by visiting the hosting site, deep links would all be redirected to the front page.

Future Implications

Whether or not deep linking becomes illegal, it is clear that it is a divisive issue. Since the means to prevent it exist, the issue becomes more of a question of what would happen should deep links disappear. Currently, deep linking is ubiquitous on the Internet. Nearly all results from search engines are deep links. Though, it's not something that could happen overnight, the disappearance of deep links would make for a much less useful network. Whether or not deep linking will decrease in the future has yet to be seen, but this is an issue which should concern anyone who uses the Internet.


Yeah, these are all deep links.