Front Page







World Summary

On Air


Talking Point


Text Only


Site Map

Tuesday, November 11, 1997 Published at 16:01 GMT


Shetland Internet squabble settled out of court

The Shetland news saga is settled

A complicated legal battle between two online news services in the remote Shetland Islands in Scotland has been settled out of court.

An agreement was reached in the dispute about copyright of articles from the Shetland Times which have been appearing on a rival Internet site, the Shetland News.

Under the deal, the Shetland News has agreed to acknowledge any Shetland Times story which appears on its website. A spokesman for the National Union of Journalists, Paul Holleran, said this was the outcome he had been hoping for.

The Shetland Times, a weekly print newspaper and online service, had sought an injunction against the Shetland News challenging the use of hypertext links, which take World Wide Web users from page to page.

The claim was being seen as a test case for Internet law in the United Kingdom, but the two sides came to a compromise just as Lord Hamilton was about to begin hearing the case at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

According to a settlement reached in US courts last June, operators of a news service can be prohibited from "framing" websites belonging to other media companies.

"Hyperlink liability" was established against the Totalnews service which embedded material from CNN and the Washington Post within frames on its website which displayed advertising alongside.

The Shetland case

[ image:  ]
From October 1996, the Shetland News site, run by director Dr Jonathan Wills, a former editor of the Shetland Times, reproduced a number of news headlines from the Shetland Times.

Clicking on the text of a headline took the user away from the Shetland News into selected pages of the Shetland Times, while retaining presentation elements of the Shetland News.

"Clickable" text links are the standard way to associate pieces of information on the Internet. But Robert Wishart, publisher and owner of the Shetland Times, which has a circulation of 11,000 among the 23,000 islanders, argued that this amounted to the Shetland News passing off Shetland Times stories as their own.

In 1996, the Shetland Times won an interim injunction against its rival to stop the cross-links.

Granting the initial injunction last year, Lord Hamilton said: "We all know that the homepage is the most popular area of a website. It is the gateway to the rest of the site.

"However, the ability to bypass the homepage and link directly to a certain web page is surely fundamental to the continued success of the Internet. Indeed entire businesses have been created by indexing individual pages."

Dr Jonathan Wills, whose publication carries the motto: "Great is the truth, and it will prevail", had obtained the financial backing of the NUJ to bring the action.

"Making links to other public domain websites, such as The Shetland Times, is legal, universal and usually welcomed. It involves no breach of copyright," he said.

Mr Wishart, who sacked Mr Wills as editor of the print edition of the Shetland Times in 1990, put plans for expanding the company on hold until the outcome of the court case.

At one stage he said: "Recent comments on the implications for the future of the Internet have been grossly overstated in the increasingly hysterical and cynical press releases put out by Shetland News. We have no intention or desire to restrict free access to material published on the Internet."

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Internet Links

Shetland Times

Shetland News

Carltons' Solicitors: Web Page Law

Shetland Times v Shetland News - full text of Hamilton's judgement

The Link Controversy Page

The BBC is not responsible for the content of these internet sites.