Linking to infringing material can violate copyright, says Dutch court

A link is as good as a look at a Playboy shoot, the court rules in a copyright case

By Loek Essers, IDG News Service |  IT Management

A link to leaked Playboy pictures published by the Dutch blog GeenStijl infringed on Playboy's copyrights, the Court of Amsterdam ruled this week. It is the first time a Dutch court has deemed a hyperlink not only illegal but also copyright infringing.

GeenStijl must remove all links to a leaked Playboy photo shoot of Dutch reality TV personality Britt Dekker, the court ruled. GeenStijl infringed on the copyright of local Playboy publisher Sanoma by linking to the photo shoot, which was posted on filesharing site FileFactory.com and later on ImageShack.

While linking to content in itself does not infringe on copyrights per se, the court said that a combination of factors was crucial in this case. The broader public was not aware of the existence of the leaked photos before GeenStijl published the link, the court said. The public wouldn't have had access to the photos without GeenStijl's intervention, according to the verdict.

And because GeenStijl is an ad-supported website, it wanted to profit from the publication of the photo shoot by attracting more visitors, the court said. This combination of factors makes the link infringing, it said.

GeenStijl was ordered to remove the links to the photos, and if it fails to do so, it will be penalized ¬50,000 (US$65,000) a day with a maximum of ¬1 million, the court ruled. The blog was also ordered to pay Sanoma's court costs of approximately ¬28,000, as well as damages, which have not yet been determined.

"This decision is terrifying for every journalist and everyone who runs a website," commented GeenStijl on its website. Publishing a link to a photo is different from publishing a photo, even if that makes the photo easier to find, it added. GeenStijl said it will appeal the decision.

"We are not happy with this verdict," said Janneke Slöetjes of Dutch digital rights organization Bits of Freedom (BoF). While BoF understands the court's reasoning in this particular verdict, it is worried about possible consequences for future lawsuits. "What will be the boundaries?" Slöetjes said. "This could be very bad news for search engines for instance," she said, adding that it is uncertain how the profit and intervention criteria will apply for a website as Google.

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