The European Court of Justice has ruled that providing web links to copyright-protected works which are freely available on the internet does not infringe copyright law.
Web links to published articles
The ECJ had to decide whether a business was permitted to place links on its website to press articles which had already been published on the newspaper’s website (case ref. C‑466/12).
The journalists brought a claim for copyright infringement arguing that the website owner had not obtained permission to provide clickable links to the articles.
Making a work publicly available
In order to infringe copyright, the provision of web links to copyright-protected works must be considered “a communication to the public”. Under copyright law within the European Union, only the copyright holder may communicate a work to the public or make it publicly available.
The ECJ was called upon to interpret the European Union’s Directive 2001/29/EC on the harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and related rights.
The ECJ rightly held that no copyright infringement is committed where clickable links lead to copyright-protected works which have already been made available to public. The links do not constitute a new act of communicating the work to the public.
The court clarified that in order for the web links to infringe copyright, they would have had to have been directed at a new target audience, which had previously had no access to the articles before the links were created.
According to the ECJ, this was not the case here, as the press articles had already been accessible to the general public.
The case would have been decided differently, if access to the articles had been restricted to registered users.
A summary of the main points
a) Art. 3(1) of Directive 2001/29/EC is to be interpreted as meaning that clickable links on a website which lead to works which are freely accessible on another website does not constitute an act of communicating to the public.
b) Art. 3(1) of Directive 2001/29/EC is to be interpreted as meaning that it prohibits member states from providing broader protection to copyright holders by defining the term “communicating to the public” to encompass acts which go beyond that which is contained in the provision.