Lawsuit Asks Court to Say Embedded Links Don’t Violate Copyright

CYBERSPACE—A new lawsuit could have a major impact on the way images and other media, including video, are displayed and shared online, as a federal court is being asked to rule that embedding a link to a photograph on a blog or other type of site does not violate the copyright of the image’s owner, according to a report by World Intellectual Property Review.

If the United States District Court for the Northern District of California agrees, the decision would also deal a significant setback to alleged “copyright trolls” who demand payment from owners of blogs and discussion groups that include “deep linked” images, that is, images hosted on remote servers. The case that sparked the current lawsuit involves the law firm Higbee and Associates, which has been labeled a copyright troll by the Public Citizen Litigation Group.  

The Los Angeles-based firm “has become identified with a pattern of making aggressive and, in many cases, unsupportable demands for the payment of significant sums of money by individuals and nonprofits whose web sites feature copyrighted graphics, and especially photographs, that they saw online but have never tried to license,” according to the Public Citizen site.

In 2007, the site Blade Forums, which hosts discussion groups for knife enthusiasts, posted an image by photographer QT Luong, in a post by a commenter in a discussion forum. The Luong image was never hosted on the Blade Forums site, according to Reuters, but appeared via a “deep link” to Luong’s own site.

A dozen years later, the Higbee firm sent a notice to Blade Forums owner Kevin Schlossberg, demanding that he remove the linked image—and cough up a $2,500 payment to compensate Luong for the alleged copyright violation. The site owner agreed to remove the linked image—but not to pay the cash.

Public Citizen, acting on Schlossberg’s behalf, has now filed a petition for a declaratory judgment in which the court would rule that embedding an image via a deep link does not constitute a copyright violation.

Public Citizen lawyer Paul Alan Levy says that he has seen a recent rise in copyright  claims, including by Higbee, and told Reuters that he believes sites that do not want their images displayed via deep links can take steps to disable embedding when they design their sites.

“The first means of protecting yourself should be to use technological means—not threats of lawsuits,” Levy told Reuters.

WMF User Experience Design group / Wikimedia Commons


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