Business workshop: Link it, don't copy

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Link it, don't copy

It's illegal to sell electronic versions of the copyright-protected material for which someone else holds the copyright. But a recent federal court decision confirms the commonly held legal view that providing a link to copyright-protected content is not in and of itself infringement of the copyright.

In the case, four big publishing houses sued two individuals who were selling the publishers' educational material. Instead of providing the actual material -- which would be copyright infringement -- the defendants in the case sent paying customers links to electronic versions of the material.

The publishers asked for a summary judgment for copyright infringement, which was denied by the court. In deciding to try the case, the court stated that "as a matter of law, sending an email containing a hyperlink to a site facilitating the sale of a copyrighted work does not itself constitute copyright infringement."

The court compared emailing someone a hyperlink to giving someone driving directions to another website. The link has no substantive contents, nor contains any copyrighted or protected works, and thus does not infringe on the copyright owner's rights.

The case is a dilemma for publishers that sell electronic versions of their copyrighted material. The marketplace is demanding downloads, but every download could end up in the hands of an intellectual property thief. By declaring that a link to possibly pirated material is not a crime, the federal court has made it more difficult and more expensive to prove infringement when it occurs over the Internet.

-- Peter Borghetti, Meyer, Unkovic & Scott,

Business workshop is a weekly feature from local experts offering tidbits on matters affecting business. To contribute, contact Business Editor Brian Hyslop at

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