(CN) - A website that linked its readers to news articles freely available on another website did not violate copyright law, Europe's highest court held Thursday.
Four Swedish journalists from the newspaper Goteborgs-Posten sued Retriever Sverige - a website that links to articles published on other sites - for compensation on grounds that the website made unauthorized use of their articles by linking them to its clients. A Stockholm court dismissed the case, prompting an appeal to a regional court.
That court questioned whether the placement of hyperlinks to protected works constitutes an act of communication to the public under EU copyright law. Such a finding would require Retriever Sverige to obtain permission from the journalists before using the articles.
The Court of Justice of the European Union concluded Thursday that Retriever Sverige's links are communication and - given the size of its readership - the communication is public. Since the Goteborgs-Posten had already made the articles freely available on its own website, the links also do not reach a "new" public, according to the ruling.
It would be a different situation if the newspaper restricted access to subscribers only, the Luxembourg-based court added.
"Where a clickable link makes it possible for users of the site on which that link appears to circumvent restrictions put in place by the site on which the protected work appears in order to restrict public access to that work to the latter site's subscribers only, and the link accordingly constitutes an intervention without which those users would not be able to access the works transmitted, all those users must be deemed to be a new public, which was not taken into account by the copyright holders when they authorized the initial communication, and accordingly the holders' authorization is required for such a communication to the public," the court wrote. "This is the case, in particular, where the work is no longer available to the public on the site on which it was initially communicated or where it is henceforth available on that site only to a restricted public, while being accessible on another Internet site without the copyright holders' authorization."
The justices also reminded Sweden that EU member states do not have the authority to give wider protection to copyright holders than European law allows.
"Acceptance of the proposition that a member state may give wider protection to copyright holders by laying down that the concept of communication to the public also includes activities other than those referred to in EU copyright law would have the effect of creating legislative differences and thus, for third parties, legal uncertainty," the court concluded.
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