Europe’s Top Court Rules That Browsing The Internet Does Not In Itself Infringe Copyright (Phew)

A long-running European legal battle over the copyright status of cached copies of documents held on the computers of Internet users has been resolved today.

A preliminary ruling by the European Court of Justice has sided with common sense, ruling that digital copies shown on a web browser’s computer screen or held temporary in a cache do not in fact infringe on copyright law.

The original case that sparked today’s ruling dates back to 2009, when Meltwater, a news monitoring agency, took the Newspaper Licensing Agency, which is owned by eight of the UK’s largest newspaper groups, to a UK copyright tribunal in order to clarify the extent of its licensing scheme for online articles.

The UK supreme court initially ruled that headlines were subject to copyright, but in 2013 it changed its mind on appeal, and referred the matter to the ECJ to obtain a Europe-wide ruling.

That ruling on the temporary copying inexorably involved in browsing the Internet has now been handed down.

The ECJ has ruled that European copyright laws, which date back to 2001 and which harmonized certain aspects of copyright and related rights for “the information society”, as the European Parliament put it, do in fact protect the process of Internet browsing from being considered an act of copyright infringement in and of itself.

Or rather they do provided the digital copies that are being displayed/stored are “transient or incidental” in nature, and constitute an “integral and essential part of a technological process”. Like, y’know, browsing the Internet.

Had the ECJ decided otherwise, millions of Europeans would have been infringing the law every time they went online. And content publishers could have started levying fees whenever a link pointing to their content was viewed.

Which sounds about as fair as cable companies being allowed to create a two-tier Internet by charging digital companies a premium for the privilege of not making their websites unusably slow. Oh.

So truly common sense has prevailed today in Europe with this court judgement. 

Let’s hope the same will happen across the pond with the net neutrality issue. Aka ‘cable company f******’, as John Oliver aptly described it.

[Image by Wilson Afonso via Flickr]