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I.e there is a large directory of PDF files and the publisher makes them available on his website. He does not charge for them and they are available without any requirements for authentication either. Just open the website and browse to your required PDF. I want to build a website compiling many such websites and provide a unified access to these PDFs, could that face any legal complications?

Note: The publishers mainly profit from the website by means of advertisements placed on the site, not on the PDF.

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    What country are you in? Different countries have different laws. – Mike Scott Oct 2 '14 at 10:37
  • I live in India and intend to host the site on a U.S datacenter – BlastGast Oct 2 '14 at 11:14
  • If you live in india, chances are you dont have to worry much about US copyright law. Specially if you are not profiting form the linking. You could just reach out to the site and ask if they mind getting links from you. Most sites dont mind getting inbound links. Now if by linking you mean "leeching the files, or embedding them on your site where the user doesn't visit the site who is actually hosting them" then chances are your site will get blocked and the site owner will smarten up and make sure hotlinking or embedding on his hosted files will not be allowed. – Frank Oct 2 '14 at 19:01
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Your terminology of "potentially copyrighted" is problematic. Everything created since 1989 has a copyright unless the author specifically disclaims it and announces that the work is in the public domain. In almost every country, pretty much everything online has copyright protection.

Bitlaw has an article about the legality of linking. The most relevant part of it for you is the part about the "The Shetland Times Case". That is a U.K. decision in which an online newspaper was convicted of copyright infringement for linking to the articles on another news website in a way that bypassed the advertising.

It also lists other ways that linking could cause copyright violations:

  • Passing off the works of others as your own by linking to them but saying that you wrote them.
  • Creating a derivative work by embedding another work in your page with images or frames
  • Defamation in conjunction with the link

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