US & Canada

Canada Supreme Court: Hyperlinks cannot libel

A man in front of a row of computers
Image caption The ruling was closely watched as the case could have wide-ranging impacts

The Supreme Court of Canada has unanimously ruled that online publications cannot be found liable for linking to defamatory material.

The decision effectively shields anyone who publishes a link, as long as the linking itself is not defamatory.

The case concerned a Vancouver businessman and political volunteer who claimed a site defamed him by linking to an libellous article.

The article with the links in question was entitled "Free Speech in Canada".

"The internet cannot, in short, provide access to information without hyperlinks," Justice Rosalie Abella wrote in the court's decision.

"Limiting their usefulness by subjecting them to the traditional publication rule would have the effect of seriously restricting the flow of information and, as a result, freedom of expression."

'Far cry from publishing'

The Supreme Court decision upheld the rulings of two lower Canadian courts, including the British Columbia Supreme Court.

Mr Crookes, the businessman, asked website owner Jon Newton to remove the links. Mr Newton refused.

The website did not reproduce any of the disputed material, nor make any comment about it, a crucial distinction of the case.

Free speech advocates and media policy researchers hailed the ruling.

"The court recognises that simply posting a link to material that may be libellous is a far cry from publishing or repeating the libel, let alone endorsing what has been said in the linked post," Dean Jobb, a journalism professor at University of King's College told Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper.

In the United States, publishers who link, and have comments and other forms of third-party material posted on their websites are protected from defamation complaints by a section of a 1996 law.

While several state courts have ruled on similar issues, the US Supreme Court has never taken an official stance on Section 230, as it is called.

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