The highest court in the European Union this week heard arguments which could impact the ability to link to content on the Internet.
Presiding over a case threatening the nature of the web as we know it, the European Court of Justice (CJEU) on Wednesday debated whether website hyperlinks to content which infringes copyright laws should be permitted.
The court heard arguments regarding the GS Media case, in which a popular Dutch blog site posted links to leaked photos on a separate file hosting site.
Arguing the central role hyperlinks play in the digital environment, the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) wrote that linking to content freely available online should be legal and was already ruled on by the court in earlier cases.
“If this capacity to link is put in doubt, the web would lose its universality and power,” the CCIA wrote. “The most important information medium of our time would be hobbled.”
The EU’s assault on hyperlinks was not without warning.
Last November, European Parliament member Julia Reda said the “European Commission is preparing a frontal attack on the hyperlink, the basic building block of the Internet as we know it,” and warned the commission’s decision to “break the Internet” could also affect American websites linking to European content.
“From a practical standpoint, this law would affect any news aggregator linking to and excerpting works from European content sources, not just EU based aggregators,” Reda wrote late last year.
“Each weblink would become a legal landmine and would allow press publishers to hold every single actor on the Internet liable,” said Reda.
According to the Disruptive Competition Project, the outcome of the GS Media case could affect “every web user” and place absurd burdens on content publishers.
“If the CJEU rules that every web user, in Europe and beyond, is expected to verify the copyright status of every item on a page before linking to that page, it could effectively destroy the web as we know it today,” write Matt Schruers And Jakob Kucharczyk for Project-Disco.org.
“Would you have to repeatedly check back on the sites you link to, in case the content on the site you linked to has changed? Would you need to confirm that their licenses are all paid in full? Would you also have to verify the copyright status of links on the pages that you’re linking to?”
“If any of this were the case,” Schruers and Kucharczyk write, “social media, search, blogs, comment sections, online journalism could be faced with unmanageable legal liability.”
Meanwhile in the US, Internet pioneer and popular news aggregator Matt Drudge exclusively told Infowars last October that copyright laws which prevent websites from linking to news stories were being debated.
“I had a Supreme Court Justice tell me it’s over for me,” said Drudge. “They’ve got the votes now to enforce copyright law, you’re out of there. They’re going to make it so you can’t even use headlines.”
“To have a Supreme Court Justice say to me it’s over, they’ve got the votes, which means time is limited,” he said.
“That will end (it) for me – fine – I’ve had a hell of a run,” said Drudge.