The BBC has reported that the European Court of Justice has ruled that websites do not infringe copyright by linking to online news articles created by others. There is no need to seek permission from the copyright holder before creating a hyperlink from a website to published online content, and furthermore there is no cost implication for the link creator.
This important ruling by the court was made after journalists working for Goteborgs-Posten in Sweden had objected to an online company creating links to content that they had written, for which they held intellectual rights. The case was referred to the EU Court by the Swedish appeals courts for a decision.
The other party involved in the dispute was a company called Retriever Sverige. It has a website that publishes links taking visitors to articles that have been published on others’ websites. This linking is of course accepted practice across the Internet so this court ruling could have had enormous impact if the judgement had gone the other way.
The proviso in the judgement was that links that bypassed paywall protection are a different matter and there was an inference that such links could break copyright law.
The argument of the journalists in the case was that compensation should have been paid to them, as authorisation to direct viewers to their content had not been sought.
After deliberation the court concluded that if content was “freely available” to the public on a website, in this case that of Goteborgs-Posten, then creating a link to it was not in breach of copyright legislation. The court’s ruling stated: “The owner of a website may, without the authorisation of the copyright holders, redirect Internet users, via hyperlinks, to protected works available on a freely accessible basis on another site.”
Susan Hall, a lawyer specialising in technology matters at Clarke Willmott said: “If the decision had gone the other way it would have broken the internet… The way we communicate online is predicated on sharing material, whether that’s links to Robert Peston on Bank of England interest rates, decisions of the European court or pictures of otters who look like Benedict Cumberbatch.”