13 May 2019Copyright

US federal court to rule on liability for image hyperlinks

A federal court in California is being asked to rule on whether posting hyperlinks to images without a licence constitutes copyright infringement.

According to documents submitted to the US District Court for the Northern District of California on Wednesday, May 8, the owner of an online forum dedicated to knives is seeking a declaratory judgment that embedding an image on a website does not amount to copyright infringement.

Kevin Schlossberg, the owner of a knife shop and operator of the Blade Forums website, filed the complaint after lawyers for a photographer allegedly demanded $2,500 in order to avoid a copyright infringement lawsuit.

The dispute dates back to a photo embedded on the Blade Forums website in 2007. A user posted a hyperlink to a 2004 photograph of a redwood tree burl taken by Quang-Tuan Luong.

According to Schlossberg, although the photo could be viewed on his website, no copy of the image was ever hosted on his server.

Lawyers representing Luong, who makes his photos available for licence on his website Terra Galleria, allegedly contacted Schlossberg in March this year demanding payment for using the photo.

Schlossberg claimed that although he had “promptly” taken steps to remove the hyperlink, lawyers representing Luong continued to threaten legal action.

According to the request for declaratory judgment, Schlossberg’s lawyers cited Ninth Circuit authority that hyperlinking to images without hosting the picture on a server does not constitute copyright infringement.

Schlossberg also argued that he was not liable for a hyperlink posted by another user of the site, and stated that he “desires to restore the posting” but is unable to do so in the face of threatened litigation.

Schlossberg is seeking costs and legal fees.

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