Linking Can Infringe Copyright in E.U., Top Court Rules

Sep 8, 2016 9:06 AM PST

LUXEMBOURG — In a decision expected to reverberate across the web, the European Court of Justice today ruled that a Dutch website infringed copyrights by posting links to Playboy Enterprises International's copyrighted content.

The ruling involved Dutch website GeenStijl.nl website, which provided a link to an Australian site showing pictures of TV personality Britt Dekker taken by the Dutch edition of Playboy magazine for its December 2011 edition. The Australian website did not have Playboy' s authorization to do so.

Playboy Enterprises International sued, and the Dutch Supreme Court later asked the European Court of Justice to help it interpret E.U. copyright laws in the context of hyperlinking.

The European Court of Justice often follows the approach recommended by its advocate generals. But in this case, it did not.

In April, European Court of Justice’s top legal adviser, Melchior Wathelet, wrote that “hyperlinks which lead, even directly, to protected works are not 'making them available' to the public when they are already freely accessible on another website and only serve to facilitate their discovery."

Today’s ruling now helps publishers and other copyright owners fight internet sites that link to or republish their content for profit without their permission.

Search engines also could be forced to tread more carefully when they provide links.

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