Clickable links and copyright

Monday, 24th February 2014

In Svensson, the Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled that where a website owner provides clickable links (hyperlinks) to works that are freely available on another website, the provision of those links is not a breach of copyright in such works.

This decision is important because it sets out a clear distinction between clickable links to freely available works on another site - here there is no need for authority from the copyright holder of such works - and clickable links to works where there is restricted public access, for example where  they are available by subscription only.

The case was originally brought in the Stockholm District Court by a number of Swedish journalists, all of whom wrote for the Göteborgs-Posten newspaper, and whose articles were published both in the paper and in its on-line version, against Retriever Sverige AB, which operates a website where its clients can click through to articles published by other websites. The journalists claimed that Retriever Sverige, through the clickable links, had made their press articles available to Retriever''s clients without the journalists'' authority, and they asked for compensation.

In its defence, Retriever Sverige argued that there was no breach of copyright, and that it had simply indicated to its clients the websites on which works that are of interest to them were to be found.

After losing in the Stockholm District Court, the journalists appealed to the Svea Court of Appeal, which decided to stay the proceedings and referred four questions to the European Court of Justice. It was these questions that the European Court of Justice has considered and ruled on, deciding, looking at the first three questions together, that the provision on a website of clickable links to works freely available on another website does not constitute ''an act of communication to the public'', and is therefore not a breach of copyright in those works. In respect of the fourth question, the Court held that a Member State may not give wider protection to copyright holders by seeking to extend the concept of ''communication to the public''.

To read the full case judgement please click here.

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