Copyright Infringement Case on Meta Tags
A copyright infringement case on meta tags keywords was decided by the Federal Court. The recent Federal Court Case, Red Label Vacations Inc. (redtag.ca) v. 411 Travel Buys Limited (411 travelbuys.ca), 2015 FC19 considers whether meta tag keywords in the metadata of a website constitutes copyright infringement.
Given that copyright issues are more prevalent with the growth of the Internet, the Federal Court’s decision on what is “original” and “the degree of skill and judgment” required to attract copyright protection is helpful in navigating the copyright minefield.
What is a Meta Tag?
This copyright infringement case considered the legal effect and use and copying of meta tags keywords in meta tags and whether that constituted infringement. A meta tag is the HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) that describes the contents of a particular content on a website page.
The meta tag is a word, string of words or small phrase. It provides information such as the author of the page, what it is about, the keywords relating to the content and how often it is updated. It does not affect how the webpage is displayed. Search engines use the information in a meta tag to index the page so that it can be found when searched.
The meta tag is placed at the top of the HTML in a web page as part of the heading. Typically, keywords (hence the title, “meta tags keywords”) are placed within the meta tags.
The most important meta tags are the keyword meta tags and the description meta tag. The keyword meta tags describe the contents of the web page. The description meta tag provides a short one or two sentence description of the page. Meta tags can help a website rank higher in the search engines for the particular keywords used in the meta tags. A meta tag can also be viewed when right-clicking the mouse and selecting “view source” or “view page information”. The meta tag information is not visible when one is browsing a webpage.
Copyright Infringement Case – Red Label Vacations vs. 411 Travel Buys Limited case
In this copyright infringement case, a travel agency called 411 Travel Buys copied some of the website contents (including the meta tags keywords) of another travel agency called Red Label. After Red Label complained, 411 Travel Buys took down the website and removed the infringing content over two days.
Red Label sued 411 Travel Buys for copyright infringement for copying the meta tag keywords, trademark infringement, passing off and depreciation of goodwill. The issue arose whether a meta tag could also be subject to copyright protection in Canada since 411 Travel Buys also copied Red Label’s meta tags in the title tags, meta descriptions and meta keywords on 48 of Red Label’s web pages. In order for copyright protection to subsist, the work needs to be “original” and an “exercise of skill and judgment”.
The judge noted the following in the decision:
a) they were formulae derived arrangements designed to serve a business function;
b) the originality standard was not met when an idea can be expressed is only a limited number of ways; and
c) a compilation of elements was not original when the selection of the elements that made up the work were dictated by function and/or law.
Does Copying Meta Tags Constitute Copyright Infringement?
The court concluded that since Red Label’s meta tags (and meta tags keywords) were obtained from a list of google keywords relating to the travel industry, there was no copyright infringement. The court did not feel there was a sufficient degree of skill and judgment in the creation of the meta tags keywords for a valid copyright as these were available to anyone.
While this copyright infringement case on meta tags could be considered infringement when looked at the entirety of the web page which could be considered an "original" work, this was not the situation in this case. Consequently did not acquire copyright protection due to (i) lack of sufficient degree of skill and judgment; and (ii) lack of originality to the work (i.e. meta tags keywords) copied as they were dictated by function and/or law.