Does a previous employer have the right to ask for a link to be removed?

I look after a website for someone. S/he is in private practice (not law). S/he has an About Me section on the site, in which s/he lists his/her qualifications and experience, including where s/he received their degree, and their previous employer where they trained, and gained their experience.

The page includes links to both. Nothing disparaging, or damaging in any way. Just
a link. The link looks the anchor text, "well-known company that does X"

We've received a letter from said previous employer insisting the link is removed.

There are hundreds of links into the site, including links from Facebook and LinkedIn from current and former employees (again as previous employer). The company, too, has both LinkedIn and Facebook pages, and Twitter feeds, with all the Likes and Retweets, etc., as well as other websites how cite and link to this company.

There are also links that they've placed themselves, on directories, for example. And the company is cited and linked to from various blogs.

The page we're linking to is indexed on all major search engines.

What's the legal situation?

The short answer here is: probably not.

In English law there is no general legal right to control if and how other people link to your website. There are specific circumstances where such rights arise, but they are fairly limited. The main possibilities are as follows:

  • Contractual rights - if the linker has given a contractual undertaking not to link, then that may be enforceable. One place you might find such an undertaking is in website T&Cs. ¬†However, the undertaking will not be enforceable unless those T&Cs have been incorporated into a contract. Just visiting a website won't usually create a contract - but registering and specifically accepting the T&Cs usually will.
  • Copyright infringement - if the text of the link itself infringes copyright, then there may be a legal right to insist that the link text is changed (but not removed). See the Meltwater case (and this summary from Linklaters) for details.
  • Defamation / malicious falsehood - in theory a link could constitute a defamatory publication or a malicious falsehood, but that doesn't seem to be the case here

On the basis of the information I have seen, none of these possibilities is a likelihood.

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