ECtHR: Court must protect freedom of speech in hyperlinking case

Digital 4 min read
ARTICLE 19
ECtHR: Court must protect freedom of speech in hyperlinking case - Digital

Today, ARTICLE 19 has submitted an amicus brief to the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Magyar Jeti Zrt v Hungary, calling on the European Court to make clear that no person should be held liable for simply posting a hyperlink to another website.

The case deals with a question of whether the use of a hyperlink by a news operator in an article that leads to defamatory content is the same as disseminating that content.

Magyar Jeti Zrt is the operator of a Hungarian news portal, 444.hu, which often uses hyperlinks embedded in the content published on its website.  Through the hyperlinks, readers are led to related materials published elsewhere on the internet.

In September 2013, a group of football supporters travelling to Romania stopped at an elementary school in Hungary, comprising predominately pupils of Roma origin, and made racist remarks.  In an interview later that day, the head of the local Roma minority self-government referred to persons related to Jobbik, a right-wing political party in Hungary which had been criticised in the past for its anti-Roma and anti-Semitic stance. The interview was uploaded to YouTube.com.

The following day, Magyar Jeti Zrt published an article on the incident and the article included an embedded text hyperlink to the interview on YouTube; the article did not refer to Jobbik itself. Jobbik subsequently initiated legal proceedings against the owner of the website and others (including operators of other Hungarian news portals and the mayor), alleging that its right to reputation had been violated by linking to the YouTube video. In 2014, Jobbik won the case and the High Court in Debrecent found Magyar Jeti Zrt (as well as other six of the eight respondents) liable.

The Court held that that in making the YouTube video available through the hyperlink, Magyar Jeti Zrt had disseminated the defamatory statements.  This decision was upheld on appeal all the way to the Hungarian Supreme Court.

The key issue for determination before the European Court is whether imposing liability for the content of the hyperlinked site is a proportionate interference with the right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In our submission, ARTICLE 19 argues two key issues:

  • simply of inserting a hyperlink into a news article is not the same as publishing or endorsing what is said on the hyperlinked website; and 
  • nobody should be liable for using a hyperlink where they did not know or had no reason to believe that her or she technically contributed to the dissemination of content that was unlawful.

ARTICLE 19 also argues that finding online publishers automatically liable for hyperlinking would have a profoundly chilling effect on the right to freedom of expression.  It would potentially affect a wide range of groups, including internet service providers, advertisers, hosting services and website publishers, who may fear being penalised for the content on their websites over which they have no control.

ARTICLE 19 therefore urges the ECtHR to adopt an approach that properly safeguards freedom of expression online and protects against self-censorship by internet users.

Read our amicus curiae brief in full.