Supreme Court to Rule on Hyperlink Libel Case – Canadian Bloggers Listen Up

A very important case regarding the everyday practice of hyperlinking is being heard before the Supreme Court of Canada today. Read the full article from The Province here. Canadian bloggers should follow this case closely as it relates to what most of us do daily, share content.

Wayne Crookes, owner of West Coast Title Search, will explain to the court how writer Jon Newton, owner of website p2pnet.net, allegedly defamed him by linking four detrimental articles on his website regarding free speech.

The case was dismissed by The Honourable Mr. Justice Kelleher in 2008. The Reasons for Judgement includes these interesting points:

“It is not my decision that hyperlinking can never make a person liable for the contents of the remote site. For example, if Mr. Newton had written “the truth about Wayne Crookes is found here” and “here” is hyperlinked to the specific defamatory words, this might lead to a different conclusion.”

“Although a hyperlink provides immediate access to material published on
another website, this does not amount to republication of the content on the
originating site. This is especially so as a reader may or may not follow the
hyperlinks provided.”

“Although a hyperlink provides immediate access to material published on
another website, this does not amount to republication of the content on the
originating site. This is especially so as a reader may or may not follow the
hyperlinks provided.”

Interesting points directly from The Province article:

“The ability to refer to something by linking to it is as fundamental to the Internet as computers themselves,” said Newton, who runs the eight-year-old website p2pnet.net. “Without it, the net becomes a void, a black hole in cyberspace.”

“Entire information sharing platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are built around the concept of the hyperlink and are used daily by millions of Canadians,” says lawyer Richard Dearden, in a legal brief from the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic at University of Ottawa.

“The advent of the Internet has facilitated expression and communication on an unprecedented scale and as a result the potential for and ease with which a person’s reputation may be damaged has exponentially grown,through the Internet and the considered use of hyperlinks, harm to reputation can be achieved electronically with the speed of a few key strokes.”

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, another intervener, says that it is an “absurd” prospect that search engines like Google or Yahoo! could be held liable for defamation because of hyperlinks.

The Supreme Court has touched on online communication in a few other cases, including a ruling one year ago that gave journalists and bloggers stronger protection against defamation suits by creating a new defence.

I will be watching this case closely and I’ll post all of the relevant information.  I’d like to get your thoughts on this important decision as well.

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