Hyperlinks and copyright
Placing of hyperlinks is common on the Internet. It’s generally encouraged to enable readers to locate other articles or images of interest. But does the hyperlink infringe the copyright in the photo? No, at least not in the European Union – according to an initial opinion by the so-called Advocate General at the European Court of Justice. In a case that involved linking to a photo of a Dutch TV personality on another website, the opinion given was that the hyperlink only enabled the use of one website to link through to another website. The photo in question was freely available on the other website and so the Advocate General argued that the placing of links was not an infringement of copyright in the photo. This is sensible because it is not possible for an author to verify every single link and any other intepretation would impede the development of the Internet and the information society.
It’s still up to the main Court to decide finally on the matter – but in most cases the court follows the initial opinion and there seems no reason why this should not be the case here.
It should be added that the decision only relates to the placing of hyperlinks. This is different than actually downloading the image and then republishing the image on another website, for example in a blog. The republishing of an image without permission would probably be seen as an infringement.
In other words: placing a hyperlink to an image in the European Union is acceptable, but placing the image file directly on the website is not acceptable.
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The press release explaining the opinion can be found here.