The Supreme Court of Canada released a ruling in the case of Crookes v. Newton, 2011 SCC 47, which clarifies the law that hyper-linking to an article on the internet is not defamation. This is a good sign from the Supreme Court of Canada that they are taking freedom of speech seriously and as a bed-rock right to Canadian values.
Internet link is not libel, Canada’s top court rules
Oct 19, 2011 – 10:22 AM ET | Last Updated: Oct 19, 2011 12:20 PM ET
By Tobi Cohen
OTTAWA — Simply posting a hyperlink to defamatory information does not in itself constitute publication, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled Wednesday, effectively upholding lower court rulings in B.C.
In a slightly nuanced, albeit unanimous ruling, the high court found the defamatory material can only be considered published when the hyperlinker actually repeats the defamatory content.
The judgment states:
“Such an approach promotes expression and respects the realities of the Internet, while creating little or no limitations to a plaintiff’s ability to vindicate his or her reputation,”
The case involves Wayne Crookes, a B.C. businessman and Green Party member who argued a smear campaign had been mounted against him.
He sued a number of parties for defamation and asked Jon Newton, who owns and operates a website focused on Internet and free speech commentary, to remove a pair of hyperlinks that connected users both directly and indirectly to some of the allegedly defamatory material.
Both the trial judge and B.C. appeals court ruled hyperlinks were like footnotes or references and not a republication of material.
Hyperlinkers off the hook... almost
- 11:32 am, October 19th, 2011
SUN NEWS NETWORK
OTTAWA - Creating an online link to defamatory content created by someone else does not constitute publishing that content.
In a decision that could have chilled the way the Internet works, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that bloggers and Twitter users are not breaking the law by merely linking to another site that contains libelous or defamatory material.
"The Internet, in short, cannot provide access to information without hyperlinks," wrote Justice Rosalie Abella. "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."
While the decision was unanimous, two justices warned that framing or endorsing the link as the truth or accurate could still land an Internet linker in court.
"Combined text and hyperlink may amount to publication of defamatory material," wrote Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin and Justice Morris Fish. "If the text communicates agreement with the content linked to, then the hyperlinker should be liable for the defamatory content."
The case stems from a dispute in British Columbia where Wayne Crookes claimed he was defamed by two different links on site run by Jon Newton.
Civil Liberties organizations, Internet advocates and media lawyers all argued against Crookes, saying outlawing linking would hobble the pace of information online.
Both the B.C. Supreme Court and the B.C. Court of Appeal ruled that simply making a link does not endorse or publish the original defamatory material.
The Supreme Court Wednesday upheld those lower court decisions.