The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that the owner of a website may redirect users to other sites via clickable internet links without the authorisation of the copyright holders.
In Nils Svensson and Others v Retriever Sverige the court found that authorisation was not required for links to protected works even if people who click on the link have the impression that the work is appearing on the site that contains the link.
The case was brought after press articles written by several Swedish journalists were published on a freely accessible basis on the website of the Göteborgs-Posten.
Retriever Sverige, a Swedish company, operates a website that provides its clients with hyperlinks to articles published on other websites, including the site of the Göteborgs-Posten.
Retriever Sverige did not, however, ask the journalists concerned for authorisation to establish hyperlinks to the articles published on the Göteborgs-Posten site.
The Swedish court of appeal brought the matter before the Court of Justice to ascertain whether the provision of such links constitutes an act of communication to the public within the meaning of EU law.
If so, the establishment of hyperlinks would not be possible without the authorisation of the copyright holders. EU law provides that authors have the exclusive right to authorise or prohibit any communication to the public of their works.
Mark Lubbock, partner at global firm Ashurst, described the decision as 'realistic and practical, given the realities of how the internet works'.
However he said the decision would not be welcomed by commercial providers of free online content who use that content to generate advertising revenue or promote sales of print newspapers or subscription services.