Client asked me to remove a link to their website
February 6, 2008 7:50 AM   Subscribe

So I got a letter the other day from a client of mine who said that I did not have permission to put up a link to their website from mine and that I must remove it. This seems rather silly to me, considering I built most of their website and they even won a web award for it. Can they legally force me to remove the link?
posted by thebwit to Law & Government (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
They can't legally force you to remove the link, unless you signed a contract stating that you wouldn't link to it. The Web was invented so that one page could easily link to another.

There's so much about this I don't understand, but to start with: are they afraid of extra visitors?
posted by bryanjbusch at 7:54 AM on February 6, 2008

It's possible, I suppose, if you're linking to their site and simultaneously displaying false information about the company, that they could sue you for libel. But if the text surrounding the link merely says something like, "this site exists, and I helped create it," and you really did help create it, then I think you're in the clear.
posted by bryanjbusch at 7:56 AM on February 6, 2008

Linking in and of itself is not illegal (barring some edge cases).

It's possible that your contract with this client is worded so that you're not allowed to publicly take credit for the work you did—or it's possible the client just wishes that were so.

Obviously if you want to keep the client happy you won't antagonize them, but that's a completely different matter. But if they don't want people linking to their website, they shouldn't put it on the Internet.
posted by adamrice at 7:57 AM on February 6, 2008

No, they cannot.

Then again, if you want them to continue to be your client, you might want to capitulate and include a "further examples available upon request" on your site, and make theirs one that you only give to folks that ask.
posted by toomuchpete at 8:20 AM on February 6, 2008

Have you talked to the client about it? My guess is that they're coming more from a "we'd rather not be included in your online portfolio" place, than from a doltish "you can't make a hotlink to my homepage" place.

Legally, no, they can't force you to take it down absent some weird slander type circumstance. But they're a client--why are you even asking about legalities? Take it down already.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:37 AM on February 6, 2008

Have you talked to the client about it? My guess is that they're coming more from a "we'd rather not be included in your online portfolio" place, than from a doltish "you can't make a hotlink to my homepage" place.

Tough luck for them. Unless it was a term of the contract, they have no right to ask you to remove it. You don't need permission to link to any site on the internet. Unless you're misrepresenting the work you did on the site or saying something slanderous about them with the link then you should keep it there. You have the right to take credit for your work - particularly award-winning work.
posted by missmagenta at 9:17 AM on February 6, 2008

hopefully they don't do something silly like redirect referrals from your site to somewhere else...
posted by klanawa at 9:23 AM on February 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

For next time: I always include a clause in my design contracts that gives them ownership of the design as work-for-hire, but which allows me to use the design for self-promotion and portfolio purposes. That way I can still have a representative sample of my work online, even if they change the site horribly after I leave, or go out of business, or try to pull whatever your client is doing here. (Not that I actually maintain much of a portfolio, but it's nice to have the option.) Most clients are fine with this; I did have one corporate client balk, but they let it go if I promised to leave their logo out of my sample.

For this time, I'd talk with the client to find out why they don't want you linking to them. My guess would be that they're so intoxicated by the heady joy of winning that "web award" that they want people to think all the work was done in-house... if that's the situation, then make your decision based on whether they're a current client or an ex-client, and on whether annoying them has any potential to harm your future business elsewhere.

Legally, while you can't display a copy of your work for them on your own site (assuming it was done as work for hire), you can link to them and claim credit for the work you did unless your contract with them specifically forbids it.
posted by ook at 9:23 AM on February 6, 2008

I'm gonna sorta disagree with the above. Yes, everybody's correct that they can't stop you from linking....

However, it sounds to me like you're a web designer and this is your portfolio. It also sounds like one of your past clients either doesn't like you or doesn't want to be associated with you. Keep in mind that many future clients will contact past clients for references, completely bypassing you. If it were me (and I was a web designer for well over a decade) I'd prefer not to provide the rope to hang myself.
posted by dobbs at 9:23 AM on February 6, 2008

I find I have two types of work:

1. Projects where I basically produce most or all of a site for a client who has little or no in-house expertise, bringing the whole thing together from initial discussions to launch. I get to claim credit for helping Company X get online with a shiny new web site, and can give them a tiny bit of extra publicity.

2. Work as a subcontractor, where I'm brought in to do specific work on a project initiated and run by others. My client may be a company producing a site for themselves, or a busy web dev firm; either way, they don't want me publicising my involvement and revealing to the world that they need to bring in freelancers.

Unless your client is incredibly stupid, it's not the link they're concerned about, it's the fact that someone is taking some of the credit for their site. Designers and developers often risk breaking/bending contracts to improve their portfolios, but it's always safer to ask and respect the client's wishes (just charge more for anonymous work to compensate).
posted by malevolent at 9:31 AM on February 6, 2008

As a safety precaution, I would recommend doing screenshots of the sites you work on. Web sites change; they may have just redone the site, but if you want to use the work you did in an online portfolio I'd do screen grabs and put that on your site.

I agree that you should find out why they don't want you to link to their site (did the project end nicely for them --on time and all that?). And, as someone suggested above, how you link to them may also be an issue. I know for the Institution I work for, you can say (and link to) work you've done for us. BUT you can't say you are THE web designer for the Institution. You can list it among the rest of your online work, but you can't unduly highlight it.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 9:49 AM on February 6, 2008

Screenshots are good to keep around. If you want a mostly-functional site to use, and don't want to give them the ability to change the site out from under you, consider sending people to the Internet Wayback Machine for that site.
posted by cmiller at 9:57 AM on February 6, 2008

Keep in mind that they could get nasty, and use a .htaccess file checking referers to send your clients to a different, much worse page. Do you want your clients to see the goatse.cs picture?

They can't legally force you to remove your link, but they can technically make you wish you had removed it when they asked.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:29 AM on February 6, 2008

Response by poster: I talked to the client and all I got was a "Upper management wants it gone" line. I'm not a designer, but a programmer and the site in question uses a lot of what I programmed. They haven't used me in some time mainly due to another relationship of theirs going sour. I am not concerned about future business from them, but still shocked that all of a sudden they threaten me with legal action.
posted by thebwit at 11:18 AM on February 6, 2008

The customer is always right.
posted by thomas144 at 11:32 AM on February 6, 2008

To explore the mindset: many companies jealously guard their brand image as a commodity with unique value (like any other branding component such as logos, trade-, and service marks). In this sense, a vendor who links to a corporate web site can be seen as trying to glom on to their precious brand value. A little pompous and overboard, I agree, but you'd be surprised how often this happens (particularly dealing with large, nationally-recognized company brands). So I would check the contract you had with them and make sure, before you fight any noble fight, that you have not given away your right to link to them in the fine print.

The company I work for, and others I have had insight into, usually do not care about links from a web design vendor's site to their sites (and, yes, in some incremental and theoretical sense it improve their SEO-ness and googliciousness, but really, not so much that it would practically matter unless your web design company is pretty high profile).

The truly verboten and actionable thing is when a vendor includes their name or a link within the created site itself, either blatantly in a footer, or particularly if the link or vendor name is cleverly hidden in some meta tag or "unseen" (positioned off screen or otherwise not visible) style. Almost universally I have seen that expressly forbidden in work contracts for corporate internet work.

On preview, thebwit, the "after a long time, all of a sudden" thing is pretty typical of bureaucratic larger companies, where things don't get reviewed promptly because of too much work but when someone notices something they think is amiss and sounds the alarm people go into red alert mode covering their own asses.

Also, worth remembering that the "upper management" person or people who are sending down the command likely have no idea of whether forbidding you to link is legal or reasonable or not; often such folks are net illiterates and think of web pages as pretty, glowing tri-fold sales brochures that appear inside their monitors -- and they sure wouldn't want you promoting your little vendor operation using their copyrighted print literature, nosiree! (I know, sigh.)
posted by aught at 11:44 AM on February 6, 2008

Upper management probably wants people to think they made it in house or something. As a compromise, they should compensate you for the loss of professional standing by having to shrink your portfolio. 50-200% of the project cost should be fine. Otherwise, tell them to pound sand.
posted by rhizome at 12:41 PM on February 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Take screenshots etc and change your link to instead link to a local copy that displays the functionality you want to display. This prevents them from messing with you. This is probably worth doing for all of your portfolio, for similar reasons. Even if clients are not inclined to mess with you, even if they heartily approve of you showing off their website as proof of your skills, circumstances outside their control might cause their website to go offline, or they might lose the domain name, etc etc. If it's all on your own website, you have greater control over what the visitor sees, and if they want verification that the work was real and really done by you, you can show them invoices or other proof.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:03 PM on February 6, 2008

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