Hyperlinking does not break copyright laws

The Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled that publishing a hyperlink does not breach creator’s copyrights under Eurolaw.

The case was referred to the court by Sweden’s Court of Appeal for a ruling and now that means that it is safe to publish a hyperlink anywhere in the EU without a big newspaper suing you for copyright breach.

The dispute centred on a company called Retriever Sverige AB, an internet-based subscription service that indexes links to articles that can be found elsewhere online free.

Retriever published links to articles published on a newspaper’s website that were written by Swedish journalists and when their newspapers demanded cash the company told them to go forth and multiply.

The journalists claimed that by linking to their articles Retriever had “communicated” their works to the public without permission. In the belief they should be paid, the journalists took their case to the Stockholm District Court. They lost in 2010 and appealed. From there the Svea Court of Appeal sought advice from the EU Court.

The Court of Justice said that in the circumstances of this case,  making available the works concerned by means of a clickable link, such that in the main proceedings, does not lead to the works in question being communicated to a new public. Gobbledegook! Googlybook!

“The public targeted by the initial communication consisted of all potential visitors to the site concerned, since, given that access to the works on that site was not subject to any restrictive measures, all Internet users could therefore have free access to them,” it adds.

“Therefore, since there is no new public, the authorisation of the copyright holders is not required for a communication to the public such as that in the main proceedings.”

The ruling also makes it clear that while publishing a link to freely available content does not amount to infringement, there are circumstances where money would have to change hands.

If a clickable link makes it possible for users of the site to circumvent paywalls then those users must be deemed to be a new public and therefore the publisher of the link would be in hot water.

The decision, which concurs with the opinions of a panel of scholars, appears to be good news for anyone who wants to embed a YouTube video in their blog or Facebook page, but bad news for certain collecting societies who feel that embedding should result in the payment of a licensing fee.