Supreme Court of Canada reverses judgment on how Canadians can hyperlink online

Phew… that was close.

The Supreme Court of Canada, following a three-hour hearing, reversed its judgment in the case of Lake Cowichan writer Jon Newton, which originally suggested imposing legal restriction on hyperlinking on the internet.

Lawyers representing Jon argued that being liable for lawsuit based on hyperlinking certain content would negatively affect the internet experience for all Canadians. From Postmedia News:

Canada would be offside with other English-speaking countries if legal restrictions were imposed on the exploding practice of linking to online postings, the Supreme Court of Canada was told Tuesday.

Several judges seemed receptive to the argument, including Justice Louise Charro, who speculated that Internet users would be afraid to link to other material if the court made them legally responsible for their actions.

The appeal was brought to the Supreme Court by Vancouver businessman Wayne Crookes, who alleges that Newton, who runs the website, defamed him by linking to a reputation-smearing article in a 2006 post about free speech.

The United States and the United Kingdom both have laws that protect hyperlinkers from lawsuits, the article goes on to say, and that “Canada would no longer be part of the game if writers were afraid to post links.”

The case is the Supreme Court’s first direct foray into the rules governing the Internet, and the media coalition was among several interveners that took Newton’s side.

A key issue during Tuesday’s hearing was whether hyperlinks are the online equivalent of footnotes and are, therefore, not part of a writer’s posting.

Some suggested that that hyperlinks are merely a “neutral technology that opens access to other forums,” while others contended that if somebody creates a hyperlink, then refuses to remove it when advised it’s libellous, becomes a liable publisher.