Linking to other Websites – Copyright or Wrong?

I was interested to read that the Court of Appeal in England has held that newspaper headlines may be protected by copyright and that accessing material via a hyperlink could amount to copyright infringement. I have recently advised a number of clients on the subject of internet hyperlinks. Providing and accessing links from one website to another is an integral part of modern internet life, but it can be problematic. Apart from anything else, some website terms and conditions expressly forbid the creation of links from other sites without permission, and so linking may be prohibited as a matter of contract. In the recent case (Newspaper Licensing Agency v Meltwater), the court found that a newspaper headline could amount to a literary work capable of enjoying copyright protection. Although this case concerned the use of headlines as links in the context of a commercial service, it serves to highlight the type of legal issues that can arise in the digital age. From both a commercial and a legal perspective, deep linking (where the home page of the linked site is bypassed) can be particularly unattractive for website owners, as key revenue-generating advertising and disclaimers will typically appear on the home page. Moreover, a deep link is perhaps more likely to lead a user to think that the content of the linked site is part of the linking site, which could cause damage to the reputation and brand of the linked site and its owner. In summary, care must be taken when dealing with material created by others and the potential implications of linking to and from third party websites should always be considered.

Kirk Dailly

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