Hyperlinks cannot libel

An interesting case in the Canadian Supreme Court where they have found that merely linking to something does not create a libel.

The Supreme Court of Canada has unanimously ruled that online publications cannot be found liable for linking to defamatory material.

The decision effectively shields anyone who publishes a link, as long as the linking itself is not defamatory.

The case concerned a Vancouver businessman and political volunteer who claimed a site defamed him by linking to an libellous article.

The article with the links in question was entitled “Free Speech in Canada”.

“The internet cannot, in short, provide access to information without hyperlinks,” Justice Rosalie Abella wrote in the court’s decision.

“Limiting their usefulness by subjecting them to the traditional publication rule would have the effect of seriously restricting the flow of information and, as a result, freedom of expression.”

This is interesting, as the logical conclusion is that if someone set up an anonymous site and published details of cases where people have name suppression and then bloggers and even the news media then provided a simple link to that site then they would not be deemed to be publishing that information.

The Supreme Court decision upheld the rulings of two lower Canadian courts, including the British Columbia Supreme Court.

Mr Crookes, the businessman, asked website owner Jon Newton to remove the links. Mr Newton refused.

The website did not reproduce any of the disputed material, nor make any comment about it, a crucial distinction of the case.

Free speech advocates and media policy researchers hailed the ruling.

“The court recognises that simply posting a link to material that may be libellous is a far cry from publishing or repeating the libel, let alone endorsing what has been said in the linked post,” Dean Jobb, a journalism professor at University of King’s College told Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper.

In the United States, publishers who link, and have comments and other forms of third-party material posted on their websites are protected from defamation complaints by a section of a 1996 law.

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.