Meta-tags, Framing and Linking Issues

By Alain D. Bourassa
January 23, 2007

The Internet not surprisingly, is an area incubating new forms of unfair competition, as well as adapted versions of old tricks.

Therefore, it follows that on the Internet vigilance is vital and monitoring the Internet for infringement and depreciation of goodwill is key in order to ensure that an infringer does not build up rights over a period of time, thereby making the situation more difficult to deal with.

Web viewers may not be aware of the fact that the text and graphics on a web site are written in HTML which contains not only the visual elements but also a number of invisible tags and markers. Some of these tags, commonly called meta-tags, may be used to designate words that are identifiable to search engines. It has therefore become a popular practice for a company to bury the trademarks of a better-known competitor in these meta-tags in order to ensure that when searching, a viewer will find both companies even when looking for the better-known one. Sometimes referred to as invisible trade-mark infringement, it is probably more accurate to call such practice deceptive trade practice or unfair competition.

It is also known on the Internet to set up a web site so that a viewer will click on a hyperlink and find a second web site displayed within a frame or box on the first web site. It is easy to see how the first web site may then be in the advantageous position of using the second website’s information without crediting the latter. Issues of copyright infringement, unfair trade practice and trademark infringement may therefore arise in framing situations.

Finally, linking to another’s web site without authorization or in a misleading way may be seen as unfair competition and/or copyright infringement. The use of “deep links”, or links taking the viewer to portions of a web site below the identifying information on the homepage, are potentially even more misleading than “surface links” which at least link to the home page of the web site thereby giving credit where credit is due.

The above are only some of the issues resulting from specific technological attributes of the Internet.  Beware.

This article was originally published in the January 2007 edition of the Ottawa Business Journal.


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