Shetland Internet copyright case is settled out of court

A CRITICAL Internet court case has been settled out of court, but could still have implications on future judicial views of the World Wide Web, according to Simmons & Simmons head of IT, Lawrence Haines.

The case arose on the Shetland Isles, when electronic news publisher Shetland News set up hypertext links connecting its Website to articles in a local newspaper, the Shetland Times, using the publication's headlines.

Shetland Times sued Shetland News for breach of copyright, arguing that the Web arrangement constituted a cable broadcast programme, and that the use of hypertext links meant Shetland News was lifting its property without permission.

The case was due to be heard fully in the Court of Session next month, but an out-of-court settlement was reached last week. Under the agreement, each Shetland News link to the Shetland Times must be marked with the legend "A Shetland Times Story" and appear next to a "button showing legibly the Shetland Times masthead logo". The legend and the button should also act as hypertext links to the Shetland Times' on-line headline page.

Haines said that although there was no full legal hearing of the case, which meant that it was not a precedent, it was "interesting that the courts had not dismissed the Shetland Times' arguments out of hand".

In an interim judgment, the court accepted Shetland Times' view that there was an arguable case that Shetland News constituted a cable broadcast programme, and so came within the scope of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Haines said that if other courts followed a similar line of reasoning it would have major implications for the regulation of the Net.