International Internet Laws: Copyright Consequences

Internet copyright lawyerIt’s always good idea for online business owners to stay abreast of international Internet laws for two reasons: (1) If customers in another country can access and interact with your site, there’s a strong possibility your site is subject to laws in said user’s jurisdiction; and (2) what’s happening elsewhere could have an impact on future United States’ Internet law legislation.

So, let’s take a little trip across the pond to the United Kingdom, home-base of the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA). The NLA grants copyright licenses to newspapers for a fee, which allows service subscribers to reprint news articles. The NLA decided to pursue a test case with Meltwater News, an online news outlet, which opted not to pay NLA’s licensing fee. The lawsuit seeks to bar them from linking to news stories posted on the Internet by print publications.

The case between NLA and Meltwater wound up in the Court of Appeal, where it was decided that the NLA has the authority to compel Meltwater and other media agencies to comply and pay the licensing fees before linking to a news story on a print publication’s website. Moreover, the court ruled that even Meltwater’s clients must have their own license to have the ability to access the links they receive from Meltwater.

If that weren’t enough, the court also stipulated that a headline is a separate literary work aside from the article, thus allowing the NLA to collect more licensing fees.

The case will be heard before Britain’s Supreme Court in 2013. For now, uncertainty abounds as to whether or not clicking a link to a news story legally constitutes copyright infringement.

In the meantime, the NLA contends the ruling does not open the door for ridiculous, user-clicking copyright infringement lawsuits. Instead, the NLA insists they are more concerned about publishers receiving fair compensation for the content they publish.

But this lawsuit could have serious international Internet repercussions. Who’s to say that other news agencies, or anyone who produces web content, won’t sue webmasters for copyright infringement for simply linking to a headline?

According to the high court’s reasoning, anyone who puts a link with the headline of a news story or web content directed toward the original publisher can be held liable for copyright infringement.

If the High Court in Britain upholds the appellate court’s ruling, how long will it be before similar rulings make their way across the European Union and eventually across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States?

Can you imagine having to pay a blanket copyright licensing fee just to post source links on your website, or face the consequences for copyright infringement?

No one begrudges the NLA for wanting to protect their revenue stream. After all, any good business would want to do just that, but not without considering the unintended consequences. In this case, the unintended copyright licensing consequences may turn out to be….well…bloody awful.

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