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Deep-linking legal in Germany

12 August, 2003

The German Federal Supreme Court ruled on 17 July that deep links from a news search engine to articles on a publishers web site do not violate German copyright or competition law.

The plaintiff, a media group that publishes several newspapers and magazines, including 'Handelsblatt' and 'DM', sued the search engine provider for forbearance. After initial success at the trial level ('Landesgericht'), the case was dismissed on appeal ('Berufungsgericht') which in turn was approved by the Federal Supreme Court.

The supreme court stated that deep links do not violate copyright laws because the copyright owner has already made the the articles publicly accessible. Because the authors enjoy discretion of whether they, despite the immanent risks of lawful or unlawful use such as reproduction, would post works on the internet, they provided free public access. Therefore, every internet user enjoys access to the work simply by learning the uniform resource locater (URL), the court held. The hyperlink technique merely provides an easy and convenient way to use the internet.

The exploitation of the plaintiffs work does not violate unfair competition laws, the court concluded. While a plaintiff may suffer damages as a result of fewer hits on advertisement banners on its website, it may not demand such detours. Whoever uses the internet has to put up with the limitations resulting from the legitimate interests of the public in effient usability of this medium.

The German case is very similar to a Dutch case, instigated by newspaper publishers PCM against the search engine In August 2000, a local Rotterdam court found the deep-links perfectly legal, using the same line of reasoning as the German Supreme Court in this case.

Report in German American Law Journal (18.07.2003)

Press-release Bundesgerichtshof



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