A five year copyright infringement dispute between a publisher and a news website could have wide ramifications for bloggers and web-users within the European Union.

The case of Sanoma vs. GS Media saw the former, the Dutch publisher of Playboy Magazine, accuse the latter, the media team behind an online gossip blog, of infringing its copyright by sharing a hyperlink in one of its online articles.

The European Court of Justice was told that disputed link directed readers of GS Media’s Geenstijl blog to a third-party website hosting images originally published by Playboy Magazine.

Sanoma accused GS Media of infringing the magazine’s copyright, a view which was upheld by an EU Judge on account of the fact that Geenstijl’s sharing of the link was “motivated by profit”.

A Court statement read: “When hyperlinks are posted for profit, it may be expected that the person who posted such a link should carry out the checks necessary to ensure that the work concerned is not illegally published.

“It is undisputed that GS Media provided the hyperlinks to the files containing the photos for profit and that Sanoma had not authorised the publication of those photos on the internet”.

A disgruntled GS Media dubbed the ruling a blow to the “free internet”, a sentiment at least partially supported by one EU Judge, who recognised that the internet was “of particular importance to freedom of expression and of information, and that hyperlinks contribute to its sound operation.”

Since the ruling, web hyperlinks can still be shared without a copyright owner’s consent, provided that such links are shared free from profit-based motivations, or direct knowledge of an infringement of the copyright of another party.

The news should help to clarify protections for everyday web-users in EU member states against liability for infringing copyright, should they innocently share hyperlinks.