EU Court Finds That Web Browsing Doesn't Violate Copyright Law

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2014-06-07 Print this article Print

But there are differences between U.S. copyright law and similar laws in the EU. "Fair use is a concept in U.S. law," Ed Black, president and CEO of the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) in Washington, D.C., told eWEEK.  European law had a specific exception allowing temporary use of copies in the course of browsing the Internet, Black said.

So, by now you're asking yourself why—if the EU already has a law allowing Internet browsing—was the NLA demanding payment for licenses for content that was already freely available on the Internet?

The European court also wondered and then explained, in legal step by painstaking step, why the NLA's payment demand didn't make sense—just so there would be no doubt in any one's mind. The court also noted that the newspaper publishers were already making the information available to anyone who wanted to see it and also wondered what they were thinking.

But this shouldn't be taken lightly. The potential for disrupting the use of the Internet and the economies that depend on it are significant. "An adverse ruling in this case could have left the door open for publishers of potentially any form of content to claim copyright infringement whenever a link is viewed over the Internet," Meltwater said in a prepared statement after the ruling. "This would have threatened basic tenets of Internet freedom and could have had untold negative and unfair impact."

"This is a crucial judgment," said CCIA Brussels Director Jakob Kucharczyk in a prepared statement. "Europe's judges have clearly established that Internet users do not breach copyright when browsing the Internet—probably the single most important activity of millions of Internet users. Any other ruling would essentially mess up the Internet for European citizens and undermine the efforts to enable European technology companies to expand in the Internet economy."

"Despite the ruling," Kucharczyk added, "one cannot overstate how irrational this case was to begin with. It's hard to believe the question at stake was whether browsing the Internet is legal or not. Even though the court has provided a clear answer to that question, one must wonder whether our copyright regime is apt for the digital era. This was not the first copyright case challenging the foundations of Internet use, and policymakers will have to ensure that copyright rules will not continue to threaten the growth in the Internet economy."

Unfortunately, until legislation makes it perfectly clear, the use of the Internet as we know it is always subject to the misunderstanding of some judge or court somewhere.

What's scary is that while the decision in the EU can serve as a precedent in the United States, it doesn't have to. Courts in the United States are free to interpret copyright law however they wish unless the U.S. Supreme Court takes a stand and no one knows when or if that might happen.


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