Link and be damned?

Siobhain Butterworth over at the Guardian law blog draws asks if a recent ruling by Mr Justice Tugendhat in the case of IslamExpo versus the Spectator magazine will have an impact on the web’s culture of linking.

A question that remains to be resolved is whether a link to a web page that contains defamatory statements about someone is actionable. The high court’s decision in the recent Spectator case looks at the hyperlinking question from another angle. Can the web pages a publisher links to inform the meaning of an article?

Tugendhat ruled that in this case, linked articles (from Stephen Pollard’s post to Harry’s Place, among others) must be assumed to be part of the overall context of the piece.

This would seem to make sense. Links are inserted exactly to provide context and reference points.

But there is a question over whether the insertion of a link makes one liable. If I link to material, is it a specific endorsement. Or indeed, am I implicating the linked website in my own libellous allegation.

We’re still not sure. Tugendhat’s ruling on overall context is relevant in this specific case, but he is keen to point out “I do this without thereby intending to imply any ruling, one way or the other, as to whether that approach is right in law.”

So it would seem we’re really none the wiser.