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Legality of linking to copyrighted content online?

New York, NY |

I'd like to start a website of sports video highlights. The website will link to other sites (like YouTube) that may or may not have the legal right to post the highlights, depending on whether they have a deal in place with the copyright holder (e.g., ESPN).

1) Am I allowed to link to both kinds of content, or only the content that YouTube is permitted to broadcast? (Sometimes it isn't clear to me if YouTube, Hulu, etc., have a deal in place or not, as at this link:

2) Am I allowed to capture and show static screenshots of the videos I see online, and post them on my site? The links would either be next to the image or encoded within it, so when the visitor clicks on the image he'd be taken to the YouTube video.

Many thanks in advance!

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Attorney answers 3


I do not at first blush see any problems here, at least not with respect to question 1.

Question 2, I would tread lightly, as that would appear at first blush to be potential direct copyright infringement.

Hope this helps.

Matthew A. Pek

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Capturing and publishing a screen shot from a video appearing on another site may be treated differently than merely linking to third party material. There are numerous complex copyright issues generated by your question, such as fair use and vicarious liability, so you should have your business model thoroughly vetted by an experienced intellectual property lawyer familiar with DMCA safe harbor issues. Depending on how you structure your business, you may have protection from copyright infringement claims under the DMCA, in the same ways that YouTube and Google are generally not liable for linking to potentially infringing works. But the law relating to secondary / vicarious copyright infringement is developing rapidly, and there are legal requirements imposed on service providers who desire to take advantage of the protections afforded by federal law.

Disclaimer: The foregoing does not constitute legal advice or form an attorney/client relationship. Please contact an attorney for formal legal advice on any specific matter.


You got two very complicated answers because this is not an easy issue.

First of all, the copyright is owned by others. Therefore, you will need a lawyer to explain what you can and cannot do with their pictures without creating liability for yourself.

Simply linking to where you got the photos or videos does not relieve you of liability for copyright infringement.

This post is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice specific to you. This general information is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney in your jurisdiction. The attorney client relationship is not established by this post.