Judge: Can't link to Webcast if copyright owner objects

Decision appears to be the first to deal with direct or "deep" links to Webcasts.

A federal judge in Texas has ruled that it is unlawful to provide a hyperlink to a Webcast if the copyright owner objects to it.

U.S. District Judge Sam Lindsay in the northern district of Texas granted a preliminary injunction against Robert Davis, who operated Supercrosslive.com and had been providing direct links to the live audiocasts of motorcycle racing events.

Lindsay ruled last week that "the link Davis provides on his Web site is not a 'fair use' of copyright material" and ordered him to cease linking directly to streaming audio files.

The audio Webcasts are copyrighted by SFX Motor Sports, a Texas company that is one of the largest producers of "Supercross" motorcycle racing events. SFX sued Davis in February, noting that fans who go to its own Web site will see the names and logos of sponsors including wireless company Amp'd Mobile. (Anyone who clicked on the link from Davis' site, however, would not see the logos of companies that paid to be sponsors.)

While Lindsay's decision appears to be the first to deal with direct or "deep" links to Webcasts, this is not the first time courts have wrestled with the legality of copyright law and direct links.

In 2001, a U.S. federal appeals court ruled that a news organization could be prohibited from linking to software--illegal under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act--that can decrypt DVDs. "The injunction's linking prohibition validly regulates (2600 Magazine's) opportunity instantly to enable anyone anywhere to gain unauthorized access to copyrighted movies on DVDs," the appeals court said.

A Dutch court reached a similar conclusion in a suit dealing with someone who had allegedly infringed Scientology's copyright scriptures, as did an Australian court in a case dealing with pirated MP3 files .

But in those lawsuits, the file that was the target of the hyperlink actually violated copyright law. What's unusual in the SFX case is that a copyright holder is trying to prohibit a direct link to its own Web site. (There is no evidence that SFX tried technical countermeasures, such as referer logging and blocking anyone coming from Davis' site.)

A 2000 dispute between Ticketmaster and Tickets.com suggested that such direct links should be permitted. A California federal judge ruled that "hyperlinking does not itself involve a violation of the Copyright Act" because "no copying is involved."

Davis, who was representing himself without an attorney, defended his Web site in legal filings that were full of bluster and accused SFX of acting like Genghis Kahn. He did stress that he merely included a "hyperlink, which launches the visitor's media player" instead of copying the audio file and republishing it.

That wasn't enough to convince the judge. Lindsay ruled that: "SFX will likely suffer immediate and irreparable harm when the new racing season begins in mid-December 2006 if Davis is not enjoined from posting links to the live racing Webcasts. The court agrees that if Davis is not enjoined from providing unauthorized Webcast links on his Web site, SFX will lose its ability to sell sponsorships or advertisement on the basis that it is the exclusive source of the Webcasts, and such loss will cause irreparable harm."

 

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