Reading this article? Don’t worry, you’re not in breach of copyright

E-commerce

by Joe Curtis| 05 June 2014

European Court of Justice rules that cached copies of web pages aren't a copyright issue.

If you're reading this news article, you're no longer risking being sued for breach of copyright, thanks to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

Europe's highest court today ruled that browsing and viewing articles online doesn't need the permission of the copyright holder, setting a landmark precedent after a five-year tribunal raged between a media monitoring firm and the Newspaper Licensing Authority (NLA).

The fact is, every time you browse a website, a copy of what's being viewed is cached in your hard drive, meaning the internet appears to run faster by loading the data from that cache, rather than connecting afresh each time the page is viewed.

Without that technological innovation, the web would run a lot slower than it does.

However, until today that was exactly what was in danger of happening as the ECJ was yet to make a decision on a copyright battle between the NLA and Meltwater, a company that scrapes the internet for news and emails the hyperlinks to subscribers.

The tribunal acknowledged its copyright infringement in emailing extract summaries, but ordered the NLA to reduce fees it charged to such media monitors.

The NLA appealed and won on two points, one of which meant that internet users like you and us required a license for temporary copies of webpages stored on their computers.

With a sigh of relief heard around the EU, that was overturned today.

The ECJ ruled that European law "must be interpreted as meaning that the on-screen copies and the cached copies made by an end-user in the course of viewing a website satisfy the conditions... and that they may therefore be made without the authorisation of the copyright holders."

However, Jeremy Blum, a partner at London law firm Bristows, warned that while the ruling means the internet can "function properly", copyright piracy could continue to abound online.

"It is a slightly frustrating if not predictable result for copyright holders, because copyright piracy is rife on the internet and this case presented an opportunity for the ECJ to decide that users who viewed pirated material on screen could be liable for the copying of the work," he said.

"Instead, copyright holders have to persist with pursuing those entities who are uploading the content or communicating the content to the public."

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