Date: Sun, 13 Jun 1999 17:47:18 -0500 (CDT)
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (CJEPsa)
Organization: AOL http://www.aol.com
Subject: Net News: Scientologists' copyright suit shapes Net liability
Scientologists' copyright suit shapes Net liability
By Dan Goodin, Staff Writer, CNET News.com
June 9, 1999, 6:35 p.m. PT
Linking to a site that contains material that infringes someone's
copyright also is an infringement, a Dutch court ruled today, according
to the Church of Scientology, the plaintiff in the case.
The decision appears to be the first time a court has ruled on the
legal status of hyperlinking and could expose Dutch and multinational
Internet publishers to new liability for a practice that is rampant on
The Church of Scientology, whose aggressive lawsuits policing its
copyrights have helped forge new law on the Net, also got an order from
the court requiring an Internet service provider to take down the
The decision stems from a lawsuit the church filed against individuals
who posted materials written by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard to a
Web site in Holland. The individuals posted the copyrighted materials
online after a court in the United States had fined a separate
individual for making them available on the Web, the church said.
The County Court in the Hague ruled that the materials on the Dutch Web
site also infringed the church's copyrights. But the court broke new
ground when it ruled that hyperlinks to the materials also infringed
the church's copyrights. Although only binding in Holland, the
decision got the attention of attorneys who follow Internet law.
"It's hard for me to imagine how this holding can be correct," said Dan
Burk, an associate professor of law at Seton Hall University, who noted
that hyperlinks serve merely as footnotes or library call numbers that
direct a computer to the source of information.
"I think it's pretty clear that just giving you a reference can't make
me an infringer," he added.
But Eugene Volokh, a law professor at the University of California at
Los Angeles, said that it is "not implausible" that a U.S. court could
agree with today's decision under a theory known as "contributory
"The only requirements [for a showing of contributory infringement] are
that you knew or should have known about the infringement and you
materially contributed to the infringement," Volokh said. "This
[decision] isn't some ridiculous thing that only a Dutch court could
come up with."
Nonetheless, Volokh and Burk said the decision probably will only
affect publishers in Holland and those from multinational companies
that do business in that country.
This is not the first time hyperlinking has been challenged in court.
TicketMaster in 1997 sued Microsoft's Sidewalk online city
entertainment guide over the practice. And a host of news publishers,
including the Washington Post and CNN, sued an online news directory
for posting headlines along with a hyperlink. Both those cases settled
before a court could issue a ruling.
Nor is it the first time the Church of Scientology has forged new law
on the Internet. A lawsuit filed against Netcom and another Internet
service provider helped lay the foundation for establishing when
service providers are liable for the copyright infringement of their
users. The church late last month also subpoenaed AT&T's WorldNet ISP
to learn the identity of one of its subscribers. AT&T yesterday
revealed the user's identity to the Church.
Defendants in the Dutch case were not immediately available to comment.
The suit was believed to involve Karin Spaink, an Amsterdam free-speech
advocate who recently mirrored a controversial antiabortion site shut
down by a federal jury in Oregon.
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