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BBB to Small Site: Remove Links Now

The Council of Better Business Bureaus is demanding that a business advice site take down unauthorized links to the BBB.

The CBBB in Arlington, VA, said Israel-based BizMove.com, which sells reports aimed primarily at U.S. small-business owners, should get rid of 16 links to various Better Business Bureau pages because consumers could be confused about the site's affiliation with the bureau. One customer contacted the council, asking whether BizMove was a member of the BBB.

After the site received the council's request, it added a disclaimer to its page of links to the organization, stating that BizMove is not affiliated with the BBB and has never been a member of the bureau.

Holly Cherico, vice president of communications at the CBBB, said the council supports hyperlinks, as long as they are not misleading.

“When consumers see the BBB name on a business Web site, they typically assume that the business has met BBB standards or is somehow approved by the BBB,” she said in a statement. “This was the case with the Web site at issue, which sports numerous hyperlinks and references in close proximity to its advertised products, and also frames BBB Web site content on its site.” Framing makes it appear as though the BBB content is on the BizMove site.

The operator of BizMove is refusing to remove the links and called the council's request absurd.

“The whole system of the Internet is based on the concept of free linking,” Webmaster Meir Liraz said. “Companies link to competitors, customers and suppliers. If the right to free linking is violated, the Internet will lose many of its benefits.”

Instead of backing down, Liraz is publicizing the issue to the Internet community. “This is not about a small dispute between a small company and the mighty BBB. It's about freedom, about free linking,” he said.

Liraz added that BizMove provides several other links, including ones to the Small Business Administration and the Internal Revenue Service, and those agencies have not asked BizMove to remove the links, he said.

Although the BBB has not brought legal action against BizMove, Liraz said the firm would go to court if the bureau files a lawsuit. He cited a U.S. Copyright Office statute that states: “Works that are not subject to copyright include words and short phrases, such as names, titles and slogans.”

“In our opinion, that would apply to URLs as well,” Liraz said.

However, the CBBB said in a statement about its new hyperlinking policy that it is “common courtesy and good business practice” to request permission from a copyright owner before reproducing content from the owner's Web site.

Cherico said the council needs to better educate the 129 BBB offices in the United States about its hyperlinking policy, implemented in December. “I doubt that everyone is up to speed,” she said.

The policy says the council permits and encourages hyperlinks to its sites, which include bbb.org and bbbonline.org, from information sources or public service-oriented entities, such as news organizations, government agencies and search engines. Those sites do not need prior permission to hyperlink to the sites.

In addition, commonly known consumer and business organizations, such as chambers of commerce, AARP, online directory distributors, legitimate education institutions, Internet portals and trade associations, may link to BBB sites with advance approval.

However, the CBBB will “carefully evaluate” for-profit Web sites that sell products before it will permit the use of its name or hyperlink, according to the policy statement.

“It doesn't serve the long-term interests of the online marketplace … to have fraudulent advertisers, scam artists or less-than-ethical businesses using the BBB's name or content to sell products online,” Cherico said. “We do not want to compromise the trust consumers place in our organization for the sake of increasing traffic to BBB Web sites.”

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