The results of two recent court cases in the U.K. suggest that linking to but not hosting copyrighted content isn’t illegal, at least in Europe. Both TV-Links and the music-oriented OiNK have been cleared in the last month of the charges brought against them.
Linking Vs. Hosting
Hosting copyrighted content is illegal. That is an accepted part of the legal system. However, things get a little murkier and confused when a site is acting as a third-party, a go-between matching those hosting the content and those seeking it.
This has been tested in court a number of times, and the results have been mixed to say the least. In the U.S. it would appear linking is illegal, and sites such as Google only get away with it because of their Web directory nature, and even they have to remove links if asked to.
However, in the U.K., and potentially all countries in the European Union, linking to copyrighted material is not illegal.
TV-Links was a UK-based site which linked to movies and TV shows hosted on the likes of YouTube, MySpace Video, DailyMotion etc. in the days before those sites were so quick to take down infringing content as they are now.
But in 2007 TV-Links was closed down after the police and FACT (Federation Against Copyright Theft) claimed it was “facilitating” copyright infringement.
The judge referred to Section 17 of the European Commerce Directive 2000, which gives sites a full defense if on trial in England and Wales for merely linking to another site’s content. In effect, it cannot be illegal to act as a conduit rather than the deliverer.
The TV-Links win follows on from Alan Ellis, the creator of OiNK.cd, last month being cleared of conspiracy to defraud for supposedly making money from the sharing of music files.
Interestingly, Ellis used the Google defense (a similar defense was argued unsuccessfully by The Pirate Bay), stating, “All I do is really like Google, to really provide a connection between people. None of the music is on my Web site.”
And it worked.
This doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily OK to link to copyrighted material without permission. However, the TV-Links case in particular could set a precedent for similar cases in the future, at least in the U.K. and possibly other E.U. countries.
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