Playboy has accused the website BoingBoing of infringing copyright by posting a link to an outside site that allegedly displayed photos of centerfolds.
The suit, filed this week in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, stems from the February 2016 BoingBoing post "Every Playboy Playmate Centerfold Ever."
"Some wonderful person uploaded scans of every Playboy Playmate centerfold to imgur," the post reads. "Kind of amazing to see how our standards of hotness, and the art of commercial erotic photography, have changed over time."
Below that was a link to imgur, and a link to a YouTube video that featured the photos. The images on imgur and the YouTube clip are no longer available.
Playboy sued BoingBoing and a group of unknown defendants for copyright infringement. "Defendants ... generate revenue through the advertising on the website pages bearing the subject works, as well as through any referral links to external websites on those pages," the complaint alleges.
Playboy may have an uphill battle against BoingBoing, according to Internet legal expert Venkat Balasubramani.
"The conventional view is that providing a link to something, even if it contains infringing content, should not be sufficient to create liability," he says.
"A news site such as BoingBoing should be able to discuss stuff without fear of liability based on linking, where there's infringing content at the end of the link."
He adds that the situation may be different if companies develop sites for the purpose of enabling copyright infringement. In 2009, a federal judge ruled that the BitTorrent search engine IsoHunt infringed copyright by displaying links to pirated movies. Among other activity, IsoHunt listed the top 20 U.S. current movies and offered links to pages that allowed users to upload files for those films.