The file-sharing oriented news website, P2Pnet, has won its case against the Canadian businessman Wayne Crookes. The Supreme Court ruled that linking to defamatory material doesn’t constitute as publishing. Since the case is about linking, the outcome will have implications for all websites on the Internet, including BitTorrent sites.
Wayne Crookes, a former Green Party organizer, had sued p2pnet claiming that the news site defamed him by merely linking to articles he didn’t agree with. With the freedom of online speech at stake, the case was heard by the British Columbia Supreme Court.
In the decision, Judge Stephen Kelleher disagreed with Crookes, as he ruled that linking to other websites does not amount to publication. Since ‘publication’ is needed to prove defamation, Crookes simply has no case. Judge Kelleher writes in the decision: “Although a hyperlink provides immediate access to material published on another website, this does not amount to republication of the content on the originating site. This is especially so as a reader may or may not follow the hyperlinks provided.”
This is a landmark decision for freedom of speech on the Internet. It goes even further though, since it is not limited to blogs and news outlets. The judge made it very clear that a hyperlink does not equal publication. This means that the current ruling might be relevant to copyright cases involving BitTorrent sites as well, since they merely link to files and do not host any copyrighted content themselves.
P2Pnet owner Jon Newton told TorrentFreak that he is delighted with the decision. “This is a significant victory for all Canadians, and for freedom of speech online. Because if Crookes had triumphed, the ‘net in Canada would to all intents and purposes have been killed stone dead,” he said, while showing appreciation for the quality of his legal representation. “My Lawyer, Dan Burnett, did a great job. He’s extremely smart and genuinely committed and I was extremely lucky to have him acting for me.”
Crookes has clearly lost this battle, but he is not done yet, as he is still involved in lawsuits with Google, Yahoo! and several weblogs including Michal Geist’s. For now things are looking good for our freedom of speech online, let’s hope it stays that way.