Friday, February 20, 2009

Copyright and Linking

Periodically, I am asked to explain some feature of copyright law. When I do this in an email, I'm going to make it a practice of also posting the explanation here in case it's of use to others.

I was asked about what the copyright issues are with hyperlinks on the web. So, in US law, generally there is no copyright issue with linking because the link causes the person clicking on it to load a copy of the web site, but the person who posts the link is not making a copy, or displaying a copy, or distributing a copy so there's no copyright issue for the person posting the link. (And therefore, there's generally no legal theory that a site can use to stop someone from linking to their site, even if it's a so-called "deep" link or an in-line link). See Perfect 10 v. Amazon, Inc., 487 F.3d 701 (9th Cir. 2007).

The one exception is if the target site has material that infringes copyright on it. In that case, even though the person linking to the site is not directly infringing, they could be liable on the theory of indirect infringement - helping someone else to infringe copyright.

The one law that specifically deals with this is Section 512(d) of the Copyright Act, which creates a "safe harbor" for search engines and others who link to "online locations" with copyright infringing materials. As long as the search engine removes the link after receiving notice of the infringing materials, the search engine does not owe the copyright owner any money.

For more information, see the Chilling Effects site.


Dave said...

Im curious and would like to pick your brain. Suppose I wrote a software product that runs pizzerias. And I use an open source SQL database such as MY SQL as the centerpiece of my software to store the sales data etc... I create all the structures of the database etc.. The owner of the business will own the data of the restaurant as it operates of course because its his sales data. However, is the database itself, the structure, copyrightable? Can others write software to access the data contained in that database if the restaurant owner wants them to since MY SQL is open source? For reporting purposes for instance. MY SQL is an open source free database engine. I would be the one creating the original fields and tables to interact with my programs source code etc... I know I will own the copyright of the software code and executable. So the question is really about the database structure itself and its ability to be copyrightable. Your thoughts on this would be helpful. Thanks.

Michael W. Carroll said...

I don't know if you saw the next post,, which lays out the basics. I don't provide legal advice through this blog, but as the post I just referenced explains, it is possible to own a copyright in a database structure if that structure contains sufficient original expression.

But copyright in a database structure is limited to that original expression. If someone extracts the data and reorganizes it, that reorganization would not be copying the copyrighted work - except perhaps as an intermediate step in the data extraction process.

In the situation you mention, there would also be questions about the nature of the employment relationship that would influence who owns the copyright if there is one.

Anonymous said...

To:Michael Carrollogos From:Nina
I understand what you wrote but to be 100% sure I will tell you what I plan to do. Let's say I plan to have a new web site about pizza restaurants and will post links to pizza restaurants. And will make money only from ads. Is this similar to what you say it is legal? (thank you)