Human rights judges have today condemned a libel verdict against a Hungarian media company, stressing the importance of hyperlinks on the Internet.
In its Chamber judgment in the case of Magyar Jeti Zrt v. Hungary (application no. 11257/16) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:
a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
As just satisfaction (Article 41), the court held that Hungary was to pay the applicant company 597.04 euros (EUR) in respect of pecuniary damage and EUR 4,149.39 in respect of costs and expenses.
The case concerned the applicant company being found liable for posting a hyperlink to an interview on YouTube which was later found to contain defamatory content.
The court underscored the importance of hyperlinking for the smooth operation of the Internet and distinguished the use of hyperlinks from traditional publishing – hyperlinks directed people to available material rather than provided content.
Updating its case-law on these issues, the Court set down elements which need to be considered under Article 10 when looking at whether posting a hyperlink could lead to liability and said that an individual assessment was necessary in each case.
The court found that the Hungarian domestic law on objective (strict) liability for disseminating defamatory material had excluded the possibility of any meaningful assessment of the applicant company’s right to freedom of expression in a situation where the courts should have scrutinised the issue carefully.
Such objective liability for using a hyperlink could undermine the flow of information on the Internet, dissuading article authors and publishers from using such links if they could not control the information they led to.
That could have a chilling effect on freedom of expression on the Internet.
Overall, the applicant company had suffered an undue restriction of its rights.