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 USA - Hyperlink to child pornography = Distribution?

According to a military appellate court's decision in the USA, the act of distributing a hyperlink to an online source of child pornography does not subject the defendant to criminal liability for distributing the child pornography available at that web site.

P. Navrestad was charged under Article 134, Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), 10 U.S.C. § 934 (2000), with distributing and possessing child pornography in violation of the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 (CPPA), 18 U.S.C. §§ 2251-2260 (2000). He had send a hyperlink to a Yahoo! Briefcase during an Internet chat session. The linked to site contained child pornography images. 18 U.S.C. § 2256(8) defines child pornography as “any visual depiction, including any photograph, film, video, picture, or computer or computer-generated image or picture . . . of sexually explicit conduct, where . . . the production of such visual depiction involves the use of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct." "Visual depiction” in turn, “includes . . . data stored on computer disk or by electronic means which is capable of conversion into a visual image.” 18 U.S.C. § 2256(5).

So the key question was whether a hyperlink contains “data stored . . . by electronic means which is capable of conversion into a visual image." The court stressed the fact that a hyperlink only provides the recipient with a path to another website. It does not contain data itself. So the court held that Navrestad did not distribute child pornography. But the decision was a close one, 3:2. In his dissenting opinion, judge Effron wrote: "The recipient’s ability to access and use images transmitted by hyperlink is functionally indistinguishable from the ability to access and use images transmitted as individually saved files."

United States v. Navrestad, No. 07-0199 (C.A.A.F., May 14, 2008).

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