For Vancouver Island’s Jon Newton, the court decision Wednesday that ruled he couldn’t be sued for hyperlinks on his website — said to be linked to defamatory material — marked the end of a legal battle that began with a 2006 post on Newton’s site entitled Free Speech in Canada. The decision was welcomed as a victory for the Internet, since hyperlinking — the practice of linking to other content — is an integral part of the web and is used in everything from Twitter posts, to Facebook, to blogs and major news sites.
The case against Newton was brought by Vancouver businessman Wayne Crookes, owner of West Coast Title Search, who sued over posts on p2pnet Newton’s news website that focuses on Internet and free speech issues. Crookes argued that hyperlinks on Newton's web site connected to allegedly defamatory material and that by publishing them, Newton was publishing defamatory content. British Columbia courts disagreed and ruled in favour of Newton and Crookes took the issue to the Supreme Court of Canada, where a number of intevenors arguing for free speech on the Internet took part, including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Internet Clinic, the Canadian Newspaper Association and others.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that posting a link to defamatory material doesn’t leave the person posting it open to lawsuits. The court likened hyperlinks to footnotes and said they should not be seen as publication of the content they are linking to.