Supreme Court Rules Hyperlinks are Safe from Defamation Lawsuits

- 2011-10-19 -

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled this morning that the online posting of a hyperlink does not constitute a publication of a defamatory statement.  This unanimous decision in Crookes v. Newton upholds online free speech rights, maintaining that an online link will only be defamatory if it actually repeats defamatory material.

In its decision, the Court largely concurred with CIPPIC's arguments at the hearing that a hyperlink merely identifies the location of an article, but does not incorporate the text or in any way adopt it.  Links among websites create the fabric of the web and play a pivotal role in social media as users rapidly share links amongst each other.  The threat of liability for the mere posting of a link would unnecessarily chill the further development of online media and social spaces.  The S.C.C.'s ruling importantly permits internet users to continue sharing links without looking over their shoulders.

In this case, Mr. Crookes sued Mr. Newton for defamation after he refused to remove a pair of links on his website.  These links pointed to materials elsewhere on the web that he alleged were defamatory.  The materials were not authored by Mr. Newton, nor even located anywhere on Mr. Newton's site -- the only connection between the materials and Mr. Newton was the hyperlink on his website.  Thus, after determining that a mere hyperlink does not constitute defamation, the Court dismissed this appeal.  There is no liability for posting such hyperlinks nor any obligation to remove them.