Thursday, October 20, 2011

Top Canadian court rules linking to content can’t be libel

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Hyperlink: “click here.”

It’s pretty well established that Canada is a pretty sweet place in general, and part of that is thanks to our court system, which seems a tad more decent and less dysfunctional than our southerly neighbor’s. But every now and then comes a court case that seems to either threaten or reinforce that:

Hyperlinking to defamatory material on the internet does not constitute publishing the defamatory material itself, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled Wednesday.

The ruling will alleviate fears that holding someone liable for how they use hyperlinks on websites, personal ones or others, could cast a chill on internet use.


In its unanimous decision to dismiss the case, the court said a hyperlink, by itself, should never be considered "publication" of the content to which it refers. But that doesn't mean internet users shouldn't be careful about how they present links. The court says that if someone presents content from the hyperlinked material in a way that repeats the defamatory content, they can be considered publishers and are therefore at risk of being sued for defamation.

I don’t have much to say, other than that this is so obviously the only correct outcome that I’m somewhat troubled this even went to court, much less got this far. Or do some people really believe that merely linking to various online content without comment inherently constitutes an endorsement, or even a republication, of said material? That is wrong even on a semantic level; there cannot be publication of material without, well, publication. Pointing something out is hardly the same as reciting it anew.

If this all seems rather inane, imagine the consequences of a different ruling, where merely shooting off a link to a crude but harmless joke or shock site could lead to criminal defamation charges and even jail time. For all the bitching we Canadians (or, at least, those I know of) do regarding our system, we really do need to realize how good we have it, here.