Yahoo hits Italian court order to remove links

Yahoo is unhappy with a recent ruling in an Italian court that ordered the company to remove links from its search engine that lead to pirated copies of an Iranian movie.

The 9th Division of the Court of Rome made the ruling in late March following a request for an injunction from an Italian film and television distribution company, PFA Films, which held the rights for "About Elly," an Iranian movie by director Asghar Farhadi.

The court found that Yahoo was notified of the breach, but Yahoo was liable since it did not immediately remove the links, thus contributing to copyright infringement, wrote Giulio Coraggio, an Internet and gaming attorney with the law firm DLA Piper. It marked one of the first rulings by an Italian court on the liability around linking, he wrote.

According to the European Union's e-commerce directive of 2000, service providers are exempt from liability if their networks cache or transmit illegal or infringing content, but those organizations do have a duty to act to remove it. The directive, however, does not spell out how fast that is supposed to occur.

Yahoo said it was "deeply disappointed" by the ruling, which it said was without legal precedent.

"We believe this case mistakenly focuses on search engines instead of on the creators of the offending content," according to a statement. "We believe this decision, contrary to existing legal principles, potentially seeks to force search engine companies to proactively monitor third party content on the web, and could have the potential impact of potentially stifling free expression on the Internet."

Search engines are usually not held liable for content that turns up in their search indexes. ISPs and search engines are not required to proactively monitor content but are required in some countries to remove content deemed to violate copyright regulations within a reasonable length of time.

The Italian offices of Google and Microsoft were also targeted by the injunction, but the court found that their subsidiaries did not directly manage search engines from within Italy. Microsoft's Bing search engine powers searches on Yahoo after the two companies reached a deal in July 2009.

A Yahoo spokeswoman did not have information on whether the company would appeal the ruling or if it has made changes to its search engine as a result. Microsoft officials contacted in London on Wednesday did not have an immediate comment.

Coraggio wrote the court ruling has a couple of possible impacts: it might oblige search engines to remove access to certain content upon notice from a rights holder. Also, it may extend the obligation to remove links to other websites that have linked to ones considered illegal.

In January, the Italian Communications Authority launched a public consultation on how to uphold copyright law with respect to electronic communication networks, Coraggio wrote.

The agency is leaning toward a system modelled after the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which has so-called "safe harbor" provisions to protect service providers if they take measures to respond to reports of infringing content.

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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