A Resource For Understanding Federal Copyright As It Applies to the Internet

Cases & Comments
Framing or In-Line Linking

Total News v. Lost Angeles Times: An Illustration

Framing another's content inside your frame may constitute copyright infringement. For example, Total News, an Internet publication, framed news stories of the Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly, Los Angeles Times, and several others by framing their news pages within the Total News web site. [1] Those publishers whose stories were framed filed suit against Total News, arguing that it was infringing on their copyright.[2] More specifically, these publishers argued that Total News interfered with their right to control the reproduction of their works. Additionally, these publishers argued that framing the content of their work created an "unauthorized derivative work." [3] These publishers, however, settled their claim with Total News on the condition that Total News refrain from framing their sites.

In-Line Framing As An Unauthorized Derivative Work

This settlement precluded a court from giving legal guidance as to the legality of "in-line" linking. Indeed, a court has yet to say that framing may be a form of copyright infringement.[4] Nevertheless, the above example illustrates some of the legal issues and concerns that may arise from in-line linking. Indeed, Gregory C. Lisby, an associate professor of the Department of Communication at Georgia State University has argued that such framing practices may violate the copyright holder's right to control the creation of derivative works. [5] He notes that a derivative work is created when an author "transforms or adapts a copyrighted work while substantially incorporating material from a pre-existing work." He emphasizes that when publishers engage in in-line linking, publishers may remove advertising or identifying material before framing the remaining material. Even if such information is not removed, however, the frames themselves may alter the presentation and display of the original author's expression. Such alterations, in turn, might be sufficient to "transform or adapt" a copyrighted work and so may actually create a "derivative work." [6]


Unless there is an "implied authorization" to the public at large to create such derivative works as a result of publication on the Internet, the creation of such a "derivative work" violates copyright law. Furthermore, even if such "framing" does not create a "derivative work," it may interfere with the copyright holder's right to control the distribution, display, and reproduction of his or her work. Given that the work is often copied in its entirety, it is unlikely that such framing would constitute fair use. In the absence of a court decision as of yet, and in light of the fact that no current legislation directly addresses this issue, however, it is difficult to currently predict whether in-line linking is actually a form of copyright infringement.

More Information

Linking : Copyright implications of "surface" linking and "deep linking."


1.See Gregory C. Lisby, Web Site Framing: Copyright Infringement Through the Creation of an Unauthorized Derivative Work. 6 Comm. L. & Pol'y 541, 552 (2001). See also, Lloyd L. Rich, Internet Legal Issues: Framing, Law Office of Lloyd L. Rich, P12. Available at <<http://www.publaw.com/framing.html>>. Last accessed, December 1, 2001.

2.See Gregory C. Lisby, Web Site Framing: Copyright Infringement Through the Creation of an Unauthorized Derivative Work. 6 Comm. L. & Pol'y 541, 552 (2001).

3.See id.

4.See id. at 553.

5.See id. at 555.

6.See id. at 550.

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