Could Linking to a Web Site Be a Bad Thing?

Talk about missing the point: A small-town mayor from the middle of nowhere is trying to force a Web developer to stop linking to his city’s Web site, according to a recently filed federal lawsuit.

The mayor of Sheboygan, Wisconsin demanded Jennifer Reisinger take down links on her site that pointed to his city’s police department site, the suit (filed by Reisinger) claims. The suit says the city actually threatened a cease-and-desist order and even began a full criminal investigation into Reisinger’s links. Reisinger claims the actions violated her First Amendment rights and hurt her Web design business (which appears to now be closed).

So what’s the problem with linking, you might ask, other than the fact that it helps drive visitors and increase search engine rank? The city hasn’t publicly stated its side yet, but lawyers who have seen the lawsuit say it appears officials felt the linking was a violation of protected speech and was something they had to grant permission to do.

Incidentally, Reisinger happened to have run several Web sites in support of a push to get the city’s mayor recalled — an effort that did not succeed. We’re sure that’s a pure coincidence and has nothing to do with the city’s otherwise inexplicable stance.

Lawyers say the case, if it makes it to court, could end up setting a new precedent as far as Web linking. Such a case, they say, has never been tried.

File this one under “reasons not to live in a place called Sheboygan, Wisconsin.”