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German Federal Court of Justice rules on the liability for hyperlinks

Last summer, the German Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe issued a verdict holding that an online service which offers links to articles in a protected database is not in violation of copyright and competition law, thus ending the discussion about the legality of deep links in Germany. This week the court published its April 1, 2004 decision ( I ZR 317/01) on links from websites to gambling sites. And once again the court stressed the importance of hyperlinks and came to a very "hyperlink friendly decision". 


Defendant's website contained an article about the success of an operator of gambling sites - a former model - and included a link  to an Austrian gambling site, which lacks a German gambling permit and is considered illegal under German law because it also caters to German customers. 


According to the highest German civil court the link only served informational purposes and was not set to promote the gambling site. The court denied civil liability under unfair competition laws. Most important the court provided long awaited clarity as to the required standard of care for website operators: As long as it is not obvious that the linked-to-site is involved in illegal activities, website operators are protected by the freedom of press and opinion and may not be held liable for providing hyperlinks. Even when the operator is in doubt about of the legality of the linked contend he does not violate the duty of care.


So as long as as it is not obvious that you are linking to illegal information you will probably not be held liable in Germany. Although the  decision centers around a news article and the freedom of press it is reasonable to think the same standard will be applied by the courts to all website operators. 


Text of the decision


  • June 8, 2004: BGH schränkt Haftung von Presseorganen für Hyperlinks ein, Heise:
    "Ein Presseorgan haftet nicht für Hyperlinks auf rechtswidrige Angebote, die als Ergänzung eines redaktionellen Artikels ohne Wettbewerbsabsicht gesetzt werden -- sofern der Inhalt der verlinkten Seite nicht eindeutig als strafbar zu erkennen ist."

  • June 8, 2004: Deutschland lockert Linkhaftung, futureZone:
    "Der deutsche Bundesgerichtshof [BGH] hat die Anforderungen für Online-Medien zur Prüfung von Links heruntergeschraubt, auf die ihre Websites verweisen."

  • June 9, 2004: Link-Haftung gelockert,
    " berichtete gestern über ein bereits am 1. April verkündetes Urteil, bei dem es um Fragen der Link-Haftung geht."




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