Hyperlinks to websites that provide freely available online material are not subject to protection under existing copyright laws, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled.
The decision, made after the Swedish court system asked the ECJ to rule on whether the law had been broken when a website linked to newsfeeds, means that prior permission to link to posted content is not needed.
The case was brought after Swedish journalists complained that the links to their work were unauthorised, as visitors would not be aware that they were being sent to another site to read the articles. Following an appeal, the ECJ was asked to make a final ruling.
As the articles were already freely available to read, the court said in a statement:
“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.”
However, the court also ruled that if the articles were not freely available, say by being posted on the other side of a paywall, then they would be protected.
It was, according to many commentators, the only sensible decision. The ruling, which will come as a relief to many search engine optimisation (SEO) copywriting providers, essentially upheld how the internet works according to technology lawyer Susan Hall.
Hall added that the way people communicate on the Internet is predicated by the sharing of material, whether that may be important information or not.
The lawyer went on to say that any other ruling would have “broken” the Internet.