Hyperlinking Remains Legal in the EU – A Win for Internet Users and the Digital Economy

BY Heather Greenfield
February 13, 2014

Brussels/Luxembourg — Today the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) handed down the long-awaited judgment in the Svensson case (Case C-466/12). The court was asked whether the provision of a hyperlink leading to copyright-protected works falls under copyright protection requiring the authorization of the rightholder.

 The Court held that there the authorization from rightholders to redirect users via hyperlinks to protected works that are freely accessible on another site is not required. Even though the provision of clickable links to protected content is an act of communication, it is not directed at a new public. Hence if anyone puts up content on the Internet that is freely accessible there is no way that person can prevent users from using hyperlinks to refer to that content.

 This judgement is fundamental to the functioning of the Internet. Hyperlinks are an integral part of the Internet’s ‘addressing system’ and are like paths leading users from one source of information to another. Hyperlinking is an activity undertaken by millions of Internet users every day to communicate the location of information and not communicating information itself.

The following can be attributed to CCIA Brussels Director Jakob Kucharczyk:

“Subjecting hyperlinks to broad copyright protection would essentially break the Internet as we know it. Hyperlinking is a modern referencing tool communicating the “online address” of information. In fact, Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, has explained that a hyperlink is nothing more than a reference or footnote and that referring to publicly accessible information is a fundamental right of free speech.”

“We’re glad that Internet users will continue to be able to share and refer to content that is freely available on the Internet without breaking copyright rules. We also welcome the Court’s clarification that the Copyright Directive precludes Member States from giving wider copyright protection. This is good news for Internet users and the digital economy as a whole. Copyright rules should not stand in the way of online innovation.”

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