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Canadian Court of Appeals Decides Website Linking Isn't Libelous 75

inject_hotmail.com writes "I found this promising news over on Michael Geist's website: In an amazing display of wisdom and understanding, British Columbia (Canada) court of appeals (in a split decision) decided that it is not libelous to link to defamatory content. The judge stated that 'there is, in my view, no substantial difference between providing a web address and a mere hyperlink. Whether the hyperlink is a web address, as is often the case, or a more specific reference, both require a decision on the part of the reader to access another website, and both require the reader to take a distinct action, in the one case typing in a web address and in the other case clicking on the hyperlink. In other words, there is a barrier between the accessed article and the hyperlinked site that must be bridged, not by the publisher, but by the reader. The essence of following a hyperlink is to leave the website one was at to enter a different and independent website.' The case was brought about by B.C. businessman Wayne Crookes, who claimed that p2pnet had damaged his character by linking to websites with which he did not agree. Presumedly, the website with the actual content in question is outside of the purview of the Canadian courts; however, p2pnet is not."
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Canadian Court of Appeals Decides Website Linking Isn't Libelous

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Looks like logical, rational thought and reasoning still exist.

    • Re:Good (Score:4, Funny)

      by sakdoctor ( 1087155 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @02:55PM (#29457227) Homepage

      Do you have a link to that?

    • Re:Good (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Dishevel ( 1105119 ) * on Thursday September 17, 2009 @04:04PM (#29458167)
      Agreed. What worries me though is that one of the three judges thought otherwise.
    • Horray for common sense! Three cheers for Canada!
  • by tetsukaze ( 1635797 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @02:51PM (#29457173)
    It would be good for international trade relations and help us here in the states with our problem with technologically inept judges.
    • If you like them 'ol ducks type'n, you can...
      import CanadianJudges

      If you prefer static type'n...
      #include CanadianOpinions
    • And you can help us with our technologically inept CRTC (FCC equivalent).
    • by AliasMarlowe ( 1042386 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @03:59PM (#29458101) Journal
      So if linking to libellous content does not constitute a libel, then perhaps linking to material which infringes copyright would not constitute an infringement of copyright...
      The analogous case would be for the link in question to be directly to downloadable material, hosted elsewhere. A torrent tracker would probably fall into this category. If the link were to a torrent tracker which is hosted elsewhere, then it would be even less likely to be judged an infringement, based on this precedent.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Shagg ( 99693 )

        ...then perhaps linking to material which infringes copyright would not constitute an infringement of copyright...

        As far as I know, it doesn't. But I guess that depends on what country you're in.

        • then perhaps linking to material which infringes copyright would not constitute an infringement of copyright...

          As far as I know, it doesn't. But I guess that depends on what country you're in.

          Indeed, it is country-dependent. But this ruling at least makes the position somewhat clearer in Canada. It's much murkier in some other countries, where people have even been sentenced to jail and given large fines, merely for hosting trackers (TPB in Sweden).

      • by mea37 ( 1201159 )
        I don't know why one would imply the other. The underlying laws (copyright law vs. defamation laws) are completely different in terms of rationale and of what constitutes an offense.
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Starlon ( 1492461 )
          Well, I think the argument is not that the laws are similar particularly, but rather a "barrier between the accessed article and the hyperlinked site... must be bridged, not by the publisher, but by the reader." If the website only hosts a hyperlink pointing to copyrighted material, than it should by no means constitute copyright infringement. Or so this decision implies by stating that "Mr. Newton's use of a hyperlink to the openpolitics and usgovernetics sites where the impugned articles are found did not
          • by mea37 ( 1201159 )

            You can't draw legal conclusions without considering the natures of the laws. The hyperlink as a 'barrier that has to be bridged' might be sensible when the offense is lying about someone but might not be sensible when teh offense is distributing material without the right to do so.

            Not sure about Canada, but in the US there are offenses of indirect infringement (or perhaps it's called secondary infringement, can't recall off hand); essentially it can be illegal to facilitate someone else infringing copyrig

      • In the US, it doesn't, the Supreme Court made that clear. Yes, trackers are legal in the United States. In Canada, it's their laws or their judges that are being inconsistent in the case of trackers.
  • One short site editing session and I'm pretty sure I could whip up a libelous link that would send my X running for her lawyers...
    • Why do I get the feeling that I'll soon be reading "An individual, who linked to a former spouse's myspace page from their own website, is being sued ... "
  • by Idiomatick ( 976696 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @03:09PM (#29457413)
    • Well, it's not libelous for 2 reasons:
      1. It's not a working link.
      2. It's not libelous if it's true (in many jurisdictions).
      (IANAL, this is silly stuff not legal advice, blah blah blah)

      Of course, it's still grounds for getting fired. Aren't you familiar with the "Post Anonymously" option?

      • You have a boss that reads /.? Can we swap bosses?
      • Also, I would imagine that for something to be libelous, it needs to be specific. "http://my.boss.is/a/stupid/fucking/bitch/i/hope/she/eats/shit/and/dies" is equivalent in content to "I dislike my boss". Good for you. This is a matter of opinion. You need to say something that could fool a reasonable person.
    • http://gb1990.com/ [gb1990.com]

      No one is accusing him of doing it, but isn't it curious he hasn't provided any evidence to the contrary?

      • Wow, the site itself claims it is nothing more than a rumor. Which means that, so far, there is zero evidence to back it up. Why should he bother? Seriously, this is tabloid material at best.

        The only people who would believe such a ridiculous claim with zero evidence of any kind are either extremely naive (and he couldn't hope to pursuade them) or already have it in for him, in which case they'll just use his response to fan the controversy. Instead of "Why hasn't he responded?" it will become "Why is he

        • by schon ( 31600 )

          the site itself claims it is nothing more than a rumor. Which means that, so far, there is zero evidence to back it up. Why should he bother?

          Because if he's innocent, he has no reason to deny the accusations.

          The simple fact that he refuses to deny that he raped and murdered a girl in 1990 casts considerable doubt on his character, and Fox News should immediately suspend him until he admits that he didn't rape and murder that girl in 1990.

          The point of the whole exercise, though, is that we should be taking what I just said and applying it to what Beck himself says, because he uses a lot of these linguistic techniques to cajole people all the time.

          Wow - what a great idea! I wish someone else had thought of that! With such an incisive intellect, you should apply at Fox News - hear they might be looking for someone to replace Glenn Beck because he refuses

    • by symes ( 835608 )

      Do you mean is it ok if she eats shit and dies? If she's stupid enough to eat shit then there's a small chance she could choke on a peanut... http://my.boss.was/a/stupid/fucking/bitch/she/ate/shit/and/died.com [boss.was] in which case, as far as I know, you can't really libel the dead now can you?

    • Not it is not OK.

      The link itself has a defamatory imputation, regardless of whether the reader clicks it or not. It is OK to say hope she eats shit and dies - that is clearly an opinion rather than a statement of fact, but there is a clearly defamatory imputation that your boss is a fucking bitch.

      And my post will take the daily award for taking something way too seriously.

    • I guess a lot of people around here agree with you - that site seems to be Slashdotted! ;)
  • Putting <a href="http://goat.se"<[insert politician's name here]</a> is ok?

  • -2, does not demonize Harper government enough.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Imagix ( 695350 )
      Um... Why is there even mention of the Harper government (Federal) when this was the BC Court of Appeal (Provincial)? You'd want to poke at the Campbell government.
  • I AM (Score:1, Offtopic)

    'nough said?

  • by yamfry ( 1533879 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @03:27PM (#29457673)
    At first I thought it was great that we had a rational and logically intact court decision. Then I thought about how said it was that it happens infrequently enough that it is a news item when it does happen. Now I am depressed and need some Baskin Robbins.
  • by No Lucifer ( 1620685 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @03:28PM (#29457677)

    The case was brought about by B.C. businessman Wayne Crookes

    The website accused him of being a Crooke.

    • His whole family is just a bunch of Crookes anyway! Wait... is that libelous? How about "He has always been obsessed with sects, and even worked as a proselyte outside of a church!"
  • by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @03:51PM (#29457995) Homepage

    Imagine for a second if the verdict had gone the other way. I wonder how far it would have carried. If I linked to the P2Pnet article that linked to the (allegedly) libelous content, would I be guilty of libel? After all, if linking to libelous content is libel, then surely linking to an article with "libel links" is libel too, right? What if you link to an article that links to an article that links to P2Pnet's "libel links" article?

    If that was libel too, then, say goodbye to the entire web. We're all guilty of libel. If secondary links aren't libel, do TinyURLs save you? After all, you're not actually linking to the libelous content. You're linking to TinyURL.com who is "guilty" of libel by linking to the content.

    On one hand we would have had an overreaching verdict that could have made everyone guilty of libel and on the other we would have had a verdict easily bypassed by the simplest of externally hosted redirection scripts. All in all, it's great that the judges ruled the way they did. (Though it worries me that it was a "split decision.")

  • A site address has to be highlighted, copied and pasted into an address bar in order for the site to be navigated to. A hyperlinked need only be clicked. Once.

    It's obvious to anyone that legally, the hyperlink is no more than text and citation rolled into one entity. But socially and ergonomically, the hyperlink is an invention on par with putting spaces between words and the decimal system. Sure, you could emulate it with older techniques, but you could never replace it.

    The people who bring these cases don't care about legalities. They care about just how easy these links, and the internet in general, make it for other people to access material that they don't want anybody seeing, or doing anything they don't want them to do. The issue for the legal beligerants here is not the legality, but the social and cultural effect of me being able to write the church of Scientology believes in an ancient intergalactic emperor called Xenu. [xenu.net]

    Me writing those words is one thing. Giving a like to a website is another. But merging the together, offing a statement and a place where more can be read is what they detest. It breaks completely the old model they preferred, where media was one way, from distributors to people, and that most information was hard to find and harder to get to. The hyperlink and the internet have the ability to make information equally accessible, anywhere any-time, in a piece of text. What the people bring these case want is to take awy the power of the hyperlink, to try and make it conform to the old rules of distributors liability and one way media. They want to put the genies back in the bottle.

    The media and the legal profession hates the hyperlink. The irreverence and convenience with which it provides and uncovers information is in their eyes a blasphemy towards the intricate, esoteric bureaucracy from which they derive their power. When people like Pamela Jones [groklaw.net] can discuss in a popular way complex laws, suits and legalities using hyperlinked blog posts, this raises questions of why we should defer so much to distributors and legal customs.

    These cases are not so much legal battles, as they are social ones.

    • by Chirs ( 87576 )

      "A site address has to be highlighted, copied and pasted into an address bar in order for the site to be navigated to."

      With firefox/linux it's a matter of highlighting the URL and clicking the middle mouse button. This pastes the URL into the browser, causing it to open that URL.

      One click vs two clicks and a mouse twitch. Minimal difference.

    • That's rather ridiculous. The media and the legal profession dislikes the internet as a whole because it draws no real distinction between those who distribute content and those who receive it. You can distribute and receive it at the same time; you can effectively distribute media without actually distributing it...

      There is a real difference between telling somewhere where to get something illegal and then them having to get in their car and go over to get it. What is the difference between linking someone

  • by Nom du Keyboard ( 633989 ) on Thursday September 17, 2009 @04:26PM (#29458469)
    Of course this is the only possible common sense outcome, since in the alternative an opposite ruling would have banned hyperlinks altogether. This is because you never know what's on the other end of a link since the author of that page can change it at any time.

    Btw, I don't type in text links from articles. I cut & paste them, which is often necessary on stupid blog sites that break the link across lines and only include the first line as the clickable (and incomplete) hyperlink.
  • This case stems out of a much larger issue regarding abuses by Canada's Human Rights Tribunal [macleans.ca].
  • I recalled that there was a case in Hong Kong a few years ago that convicted a man because he linked some illegal content. I forgot if the content was warez or underage p0rn. But at any case, the point was he was distributing the links (direct download links or massive file downloading service I presumes) on discussion forums, and the judge concluded that it contributes the action of "distribution" and hence violates the law.

    Both Hong Kong and Canada are under the Common Law system, courts still refer to ea

  • [19] Key passages from the trial judgeâ(TM)s reasons with respect to the issue of whether hyperlinking in this case amounted to the publication of the defamatory articles by Mr. Newton are paras. 29-31, as follows:

    [29] A hyperlink is like a footnote or a reference to a website in printed material such as a newsletter [as in Carter]. The purpose of a hyperlink is to direct the reader to additional material from a different source. The only difference i

  • Holy crap, sanity. The equivalent to "That guy over there is saying something gnasty about soandso!" isn't a problem in and of itself.

1 Angstrom: measure of computer anxiety = 1000 nail-bytes