The incredible impact that the World Wide Web has on society can undoubtedly be attributed to its ability to facilitate communication and information exchange. It is a revolutionary medium in which people can interact, conduct research, and post their thoughts and ideas almost instantaneously. Users surf from web page to web page with ease, following hyperlinks that direct them to relevant topics and points of interest. These hyperlinks, which can appear as text or images, respond to a mouse click and send the user a new page often from outside of the original website. By connecting pages, hyperlinks provide an important service to the user and are a defining feature of the Web. In the early stages of web development, linking was embraced as essential and recognized as an indispensable guide to mapping cyberspace. As the Web has matured, however, deep linking has become controversial. Deep linking occurs when one web page includes a hyperlink to a web page that is buried deep within another site (i.e. not to the other site's homepage). While many companies welcome visitors who stumble upon one of their pages, regardless of whether or not it is their homepage, other companies feel that deep linking is illegitimate, a technique that unfairly bypasses a site's "front door." Ticketmaster.com brought the problem to public attention when it sued Microsoft in 1997 for inappropriately linking to its site.
Microsoft's city-guide "Sidewalk" provided links to ticketing for specific events on Ticketmaster.com that sent a wave of visitors to pages deep within that site. Despite the traffic this link created, Ticketmaster.com felt that it should have control over how others link to its site and that the deep link unfairly bypassed its advertising. Although this case was settled out of court, Ticketmaster.com has subsequently sued one of its rivals. Tickets.com, for a number of offenses including improper linking. Ticketmaster.com contended that Tickets.com was conducting unfair business practices by linking directly to pages within its site and not to its homepage. Ticketmaster.com listed a number of specific complaints, among them that deep linking hurt its advertising.
The court ruled that Tickets.com did not violate copyright law because it did not republish in a new format the page to which it linked, nor was the relationship between the two sites likely to be misconstrued.
This decision, however, does not mean that the issue of deep linking has been resolved. Other companies such as Ebay Inc. and Universal Studios have similarly tried to prohibit deep linking into their web sites, and the issue will continue to generate controversy as Internet regulations develop and solidify.