UK: Hyperlinks And Copyright - Nottinghamshire County Council V Gwatkin And Others

Last Updated: 1 August 1997
This is the first case in the UK which deals with the use of hyperlinks to unlawful material, although the circumstances of the case probably make it a limited precedent for other situations. It deals with the publication on the world wide web of a report on allegations of widespread satanic abuse of children in the UK and the role of social services.

The report was written in 1990 by an enquiry team for Nottinghamshire County Council. It was published for the first time by three UK journalists in early June 1997, who put the report on a public web site. Nottinghamshire County Council, the owner of the copyright in the report, has obtained a High Court order to force the journalists to remove the report from their web site, stating that any copying of the report is an infringement of the copyright of Nottinghamshire County Council. This order was obtained ex parte (without the participation of the legal advisors to the defendants, a common practice in emergencies). On 3rd June the report was withdrawn from the original site. In the meantime over twenty mirror sites have been set up which are carrying the same report. Links to mirror sits have been removed from the original site in accordance with the terms of the injunction.

Copyright Law

Nottinghamshire County Council appears to own the copyright in the report and therefore under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 ("CDPA 88"), any copying of the report is an infringement of the Council's copyright. "Copying" includes electronic copying and therefore the fact that the copy was put on to the web and not copied by more traditional means is irrelevant. Section 17 of the CDPA 88 states that the copyright is infringed if the work is stored in any medium by electronic means. None of the journalists asked permission from the Council to publish this report on the web and therefore cannot argue that they had an implied licence to publish.

Mirror Sites

Unlike previous cases (such as the Shetland Times case), the hypertext links which are the subject of the injunction are to mirror sites on which copies of the infringing report have been posted. These sites are outside the jurisdiction of the English courts. This raises new issues under copyright law which have not been previously addressed. As Professor Charles Oppenheim of the University of Strathclyde commented on the Shetland Times case:

"Linking of websites to one another is extremely common and is, arguably, both the raison d'etre of the world-wide web and the reason for its success. It is custom and practice, and so if a copyright owner puts up a web page, he must expect others to link into his site. Services such as web search engines could not operate without this ability".

Professor Peter Junger of Case Western Reserve University Law School Cleveland also put the report on his web site and received an email from the Council setting out the same arguments that they had put to the three journalists. Professor Junger is arguing that because the website is located in Cleveland, Ohio in the USA, the Council does not have the locus standi to issue writs (in other words the Council cannot sue in the US courts). In addition, if the Council were to seek an injunction from a court in the USA, Professor Junger has commented that he would claim "fair use" as a defence and in addition would claim protection under the US Constitution. In our opinion the defence of "fair use" would not be a particularly strong one under US law because it is usually used to defend an action of "research or study". However, a claim under the First Amendment of the US Constitution is potentially a strong one and may well be difficult to defeat."

As at 18 June Professor Junger had not agreed to comply with the Council's demands.


It is important to note that the report may contain the names of certain young people, some of whom are the subject of care orders and so in accordance with the provisions of the Children Act 1989, these names should be kept confidential. However this does not appear to be the key issue of this case.


The major issue of importance to arise from this case is whether hypertext links to material which infringes copyright can be removed by court order. The answer to this question will not be known until the outcome of the full hearing of the case in September. In the meantime, here are some initial comments:

  • the case has not decided that hypertext links are copyrightable. You are free to link to other sites unless and until you know or suspect that they contain copyright material which is infringing.
  • Storage of another's copyright material without permission is clearly in breach of copyright because "copying", as defined by the CDPA 88, does not include storing a work in electronic form. ISPs should therefore get warranties and indemnities from their users to protect them from liability for storing infringing material without their knowledge.
  • if a claim is made that an ISP is storing infringing material, it must ask the user who put the material on the server about the truth of the claim. If the ISP is not satisfied that the use of the material is legitimate, then the ISP must remove the material from its server or run the risk of legal action for infringement of copyright.

For further advice please contact us.

This bulletin is correct to the best of our knowledge and belief at the date shown below. It is, however, written as a general guide; it is essential that relevant professional advice is sought before any specific action is taken. Garretts is a member of the international network of law firms associated with Arthur Andersen and is regulated by the Law Society in the conduct of investment business.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.