Intellectual Reserve v. Utah Lighthouse Ministry
was a United States district court
decision (1999) on the subject of deep linking
and contributory infringement
The plaintiff, Intellectual Reserve, Inc., is a Salt Lake City, Utah based corporation which owns the copyright and has the rights to other intellectual property assets used by the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church, better known by the nickname 'Mormons'). The defendants, Utah Lighthouse Ministries, Inc., operates a web site which publishes material which is critical of the LDS Church.
The LDS Church had printed a work of text called the Church Handbook of Instructions: Book 1, Stake Presidencies and Bishoprics. This work had not been published, and had been prepared only for use within the church. The defendants had obtained a copy of the work and published parts of it on their website without reproducing the Intellectual Reserve, Inc. copyright notice. The copyrighted text had also been disseminated to other websites who had published the material, to which the defendants website linked.
The plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction and argued that:
- they had a valid copyright to the material which the defendants had posted on their website,
- that they were likely to establish at trial that those who had posted the material on the three websites had infringed the plaintiffs copyright,
- that anyone who browsed the three websites were infringing the plaintiffs copyright by making a copy of the material and
- that the defendants actively encouraged the infringement of the plaintiffs copyright.
The plaintiffs also argued that
- they had demonstrated a likelihood of success and that there was a presumption of injury, and
- that the plaintiffs would suffer "immediate and real irreparable harm" if the defendants were "permitted to post the copyrighted material or to knowingly induce, cause or materially contribute to the infringement of plaintiff's copyright by others".
The court originally granted a preliminary injunction
for the plaintiff and the defendant was ordered to remove the material which allegedly was a copyright infringement from the website and to refrain from reproducing or distributing verbatim in a tangible medium any material which allegedly was a copyright infringement.
The court then issued a permanent injunction, which "dissolved and vacated" the preliminary injunction.
The defendants did not raise the issue of the doctrine of fair use
in their defense. The case does not affect situations where the material being linked to is posted by the copyright holder or with the permission of the copyright holder. This case does not raise the issue of transitivity, i.e. it is irrelevant, whether the site which is being linked to contains any other questionable publications or links not related directly to the referenced material. Should the transitivity be assured, virtually not a single website would be eligible for linking, as the copyright infringement can occur in user comments (while quoting without attribution) or in links, provided by users (when linking to a material that was published without copyright owner's permission). Therefore, as long as a link leads to a material legally published, the link should be considered valid.
The permanent injunction "dissolved and vacated" any case law created by the preliminary injunction.