The Court of Justice for the European Union (CJEU) recently ruled that any links to copyrighted material displayed on a website may be subject to restrictions from the copyright owner. This comes after the judgement in the case between visual arts society, VG Bild-Kunst, and Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (SPK).
The above case arose after the two parties entered into a provisional agreement that enabled SPK to display thumbnail links of the society’s work on their site. However, the society argued that SPK should have adopted stricter measures to ensure that third parties cannot utilise the copyrighted content. In their response, SPK argued that this was an unreasonable ask, due to the costly requirements. Further, they insisted that thumbnail ‘framing’ could be viewed in the same way as ‘hyperlinking’, which does not constitute infringement under German or EU copyright legislation. The Berlin Court of Appeal agreed with SPK and stated that the request of the society was unreasonable.
It was held that ‘framing’ did not amount to communication with the public within its meaning of copyright law. However, the society appealed the latter decision. This judgement held that the use of automatic links should be regarded as communication to the public and should therefore require the consent of the party which holds the rights to the work. This week, the grand chamber of the court ruled that communication to the public must be authorised by the rightful owners of the work in question.
The above outcome may hinder parties involved in such agreements. It demonstrates an imbalance in how the EU legislation is interpreted, as different types of links appear to be treated in the same way, despite the fact that a hyperlink and a framed thumbnail will largely vary in their role.
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