Fri, Jul. 18, 2003

Deep-Linking Legal After German Supreme Court Ruling

JN - Washington.   Efficiency and usability of the internet celebrate a remarkable victory over copyright and unfair competition claims before the German Federal Supreme Court ("Bundesgerichtshof"). In its ruling of July 17, 2003 (Case No. I ZR 259/00, not yet published), the court held that webpages containing publically accessible news articles may be linked directly (so-called "deep linking" or "web-clipping") while bypassing the entry pages of content providers.

The plaintiff, a media group that publishes several newspapers and magazines, including "Handelsblatt" and "DM", sued the search engine provider "" for forbearance. After initial success at the trial level ("Landgericht"), plaintiff's case was dismissed on appeal ("Berufungsgericht") which in turn was approved by the Federal Supreme Court.

The court stated that deep links do not violate copyright laws because the copyright owner has already made the the articles publicly accessible. Because the authors enjoy discretion of whether they, despite the immanent risks of lawful or unlawful use such as reproduction, would post works on the internet, they provided free public access. Therefore, every internet user enjoys access to the work simply by learning the uniform resource locater (URL), the court held. The hyperlink technique abvioates the need to enter the URL manually and merely provides an easier and more convenient way to use the internet.

The exploitation of the plaintiff's work does not violate unfair competition laws, the court concluded. While a plaintiff may suffer damages as a result of fewer hits on advertisement banners on its website, it may not demand such detours. Whoever uses the internet has to put up with the limitations resulting from the legitimate interests of the public in effient usability of this medium. The funtionality of search engines, therefore, is one of the limitations to be accepted, the court said. The decision is of great practical significance beause search engine market leader just launched a similar service, providing hourly updated links to news articles found on the internet.

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