TAKE THE TIN FOIL COVER off your mouse UK internet users, because the Supreme Court has given you the right to browse the internet without the threat of copyright infringement proceedings.
The right has been won for us by the Public Relations Consultants Association and Meltwater, a news aggregation software provider. The loser here is the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA), an organisation that wanted some clarification on whether Meltwater's clients were violating copyright law by visiting cached webpages.
The court ruled that it could not abide by a system that criminalised cached webpages.
"If it is an infringement merely to view copyright material, without downloading or printing out, then those who browse the internet are likely unintentionally to incur civil liability, at least in principle, by merely coming upon a web-page containing copyright material in the course of browsing," it said in a ruling (PDF).
"This seems an unacceptable result, which would make infringers of many millions of ordinary users of the internet across the EU who use browsers and search engines for private as well as commercial purposes."
"We are very pleased that the Supreme Court overruled the previous rulings of the Court of Appeals and The High Court that the simple act of browsing the Internet could be copyright infringement," said Jorn Lyssegen, CEO of Meltwater.
"This ruling is an important step in modernizing the interpretation of UK copyright law and protects UK Internet users from overreaching copyright collectors."
The UK court has passed the decision on to the European Court of Justice, and the NLA said that it will wait to hear what it says on the subject. The NLA added that the decision so far should not affect existing publishers' copyright licensing agreements.
"We will now await the ECJ's judgement on this matter -which may take some time regardless of the final outcome, we welcome the fact that core NLA principles have been upheld by the Supreme Court - paid-for web monitoring services using publishers' content require copyright licences and therefore remuneration for publishers," said NLA MD David Pugh.
"We are also pleased to see that the Supreme Court acknowledged that if an end user of an alert service delivered as a web link (rather than by e-mail) were not required to pay a licence fee, then Meltwater's licence fee would very likely be substantially higher - a view that the NLA expressed before the Copyright Tribunal last year."
The PRCA is also looking forward to an appointment with the ECJ, and in a statement it said it was making a stand for "fundamental rights".
"We are delighted that the UK Supreme Court has accepted all of our arguments, which we look forward to making again at the CJEU," said PRCA director general Francis Ingham.
"The Supreme Court understood that this does not just affect the PR world, but the fundamental rights of all EU citizens to browse the internet." µ
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