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EU Court of Justice: hyperlinks to copyrighted content are legal, if both sites let users see it for free

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It's common practice for those of us who make our living on the internet to link out to other websites in the stories we publish -- in fact, we here at Engadget consider it a necessary part of good reporting. In the EU, however, there's been some doubt as to whether such behavior constitutes copyright infringement. Thankfully, today the EU Court of Justice held that, as long as the source itself is freely accessible to the public, such hyperlinks don't run afoul of copyright law.

The salient bit of EU law states that authors hold "the exclusive right to authorise or prohibit any communication to the public of their works." In the case at hand, some Swedish journalists took umbrage with the fact that other websites that were publishing links to their work without permission, and thought those other sites should pay up for the privilege of doing so.

However, the Court found that, because the works in question were published on the open internet, the users of the linking sites are already part of the public authorized to see it. That, in turn, means that the act of linking is not an act of communicating a copyrighted work to the public. So, since there's neither a new public nor an act of communication, the permission of the copyright holders (or payment to them) isn't required. Naturally, the flip side of that reasoning means that, should the initial work be behind a paywall or be restricted by other means, then linking becomes an act of communication to a new portion of the public, and copyright infringement would occur. Makes perfect sense to us. If only the issues involving US copyright law could be resolved so easily.

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