07 April, 2015

Links Galore - Hyperlinking Faces Its Third Challenge

After the Svensson and BestWater decisions hyperlinking seemed to already be a matter, which has been dealt with extensively and thoroughly. Even so, a third decision loomed in the horizon, hopefully shedding the final bit of light needed into the question of hyperlinking and copyright infringement. After the Svensson decision the questions posed to the Court were reduced to all but one, leaving more significance to that final question and its potential impact on the issue.

The case in question was C More Entertainment AB v Linus Sandberg, which dealt with the broadcasting of ice hockey games, which were supplied by C More for a nominal fee for those wishing to view the games live online as opposed to on TV. Linus Sandberg created links on a website to allow access to two ice hockey games without having to pay C More for the pleasure of doing so, allowing for users to watch paid-for content beyond their paywall protection; however C More quickly put a stop to this, and Mr. Sandberg only was able to post links to two games. He was also taken to court in Sweden over copyright infringement.

As said above only one question was referred to the ECJ: "May the Member States give wider protection to the exclusive right of authors by enabling “communication to the public” to cover a greater range of acts than provided for in Article 3(2) of [Directive 2001/29]?" The question, prima facie at least, clearly requires guidance on whether Member States can extend the coverage of what constitutes a 'communication to the public' beyond what is expressly provided in the Directive, namely the posting on hyperlinks to paid-for content such as hockey games.

In light of the Directive (namely Article 3) and its Preamble, the Court swiftly determined that Member States' rights in extending coverage could potentially cover the posting of hyperlinks to live, paid-for content. This, however, only applies to on-demand services, which the above service is not, as live broadcasts are not watched by individuals at a time that is convenient to them, but rather, at a strict prescribed time. The Court dismissed its applicability to the current situation, at least in light of Article 3, deeming Mr. Sandberg's actions not an infringement of the right of communication to the public via his hyperlinks.

Hyperlinks can be enticing...
With this in mind, the Court did not oust the possibility that Member States could extend the coverage of the provision beyond what has been expressly set out in the Directive. The aim of the Directive is to harmonize copyright within the EU, but does not, as was seen by the Court, "...prevent or remove any differences between the national legislations as regards the extent of the protection which the Member States may grant to the holders of the rights referred to in Article 3[] with regard to certain acts, such as those at issue in the main proceedings, which are not expressly referred to in that provision".

Following their argument the Court saw that under Directive 2006/115 Member States had the ability to give more far-reaching protection in relation to copyright when it comes to broadcasts and communication to the public. Article 8 even includes content, which is restricted by payment, as well as wireless communication of such content, for example via the Internet.

The Court then summarized its judgment on the matter: "It follows that Article 3(2) of Directive 2001/29 must be interpreted as not affecting the option open to the Member States, set out in Article 8(3) of Directive 2006/115, read in conjunction with recital 16 to that directive to grant broadcasting organisations the exclusive right to authorise or prohibit acts of communication to the public of their transmissions provided that such protection does not undermine that of copyright... Having regard to all the foregoing considerations, the answer to the question referred is that Article 3(2) of Directive 2001/29 must be interpreted as not precluding national legislation extending the exclusive right of the broadcasting organisations referred to in Article 3(2)(d) as regards acts of communication to the public which broadcasts of sporting fixtures made live on internet, such as those at issue in the main proceedings, may constitute, provided that such an extension does not undermine the protection of copyright".

While the decision is by no means as influential, at least in this writer's opinion, as Svensson or BestWater, to an extent, it still sets a potentially influential precedent should Member States wish to enact more wider coverage in relation to the communication to the public right. It does still leave the question of hyperlinking in more doubt, as links to newspaper articles have been deemed to infringe copyright, when links to live broadcasts would not. What happens now after the myriad of hyperlinking decisions in Member States remains to be seen; however the law is begging for more correction in terms of national application.

Source: IPKat

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