18 March, 2015

Lawyers Without Borders - Copyright Infringement Jurisdiction in the EU

With a globally interconnected web of information, and the (relatively) free exchange of information comes a great deal of questions alongside the masses of benefits it presents to the 21st century world. Discussion, the exchange of ideas, and the sharing of content has never been easier and more readily available, and admittedly, the infringement of intellectual property rights has also never been easier and "normal" (this writer, for one, has heard many conversations confirming the normality of especially copyright infringement). One can simply download a song, movie or a TV show with a few clicks of their mouse, irrespective of the rights holders' location, time or even the medium of the content (in some instances). This presents many challenges to the modern IP practitioner, amongst which is the conundrum that is jurisdiction. Can an entity or an individual enforce their rights even beyond their own borders, and if so, who has the jurisdiction over this infringement? Luckily, the highest court in the European Union has, yet again, graciously stepped up to the challenge to answer this question.

The case in question was Pez Hejduk v EnergieAgentur.NRW GmbH, decided only a bit over a month ago. What was at issue in the case were various pictures of architecture displaying works by Georg W. Reinberg, taken by the plaintiff in the case Pez Hejduk; a professional photographer of the aforementioned subject matter in her own right. A conference was organized by the defendants, EnergieAgentur, in 2004, during which Mr. Reinberg illustrated his works through Ms. Hejduk's photographs, which were wholly allowed by Ms. Hejduk to be used for. Afterwards, with no permission by Ms. Hejduk, the defendants then made the pictures available on their website for visitors to both view and download as they pleased, subsequently leading to Ms. Hejduk suing for copyright infringement (and a wallet-busting 4050 euros), ultimately leading to the European Court of Justice.

The question posed to the ECJ was, prima facie, a simple one: "Is Article 5(3) of [Regulation No 44/2001] to be interpreted as meaning that, in a dispute concerning an infringement of rights related to copyright which is alleged to have been committed by keeping a photograph accessible on a website, the website being operated under the top-level domain of a Member State other than that in which the proprietor of the right is domiciled, there is jurisdiction only: in the Member State in which the alleged perpetrator of the infringement is established; and in the Member State(s) to which the website, according to its content, is directed?"

What was asked effectively boils down to where the content lies, and whether jurisdiction lies within that country of origin (in the case the top-level domain, for example .co.uk) or in every Member State to which the content is directed. This was explained quite well in the judgment in different terms: "...whether Article 5(3)... must be interpreted as meaning that, in the event of an allegation of infringement of rights related to copyright which are guaranteed by the Member State of the court seised, that court has jurisdiction to hear an action for damages in respect of an infringement of those rights resulting from the placing of protected photographs online on a website accessible in its territorial jurisdiction".

Gregory asserted his jurisdiction no matter where he went
The Court's initial consideration related to the wording of the Article itself, i.e. where the harmful even occurred or may have occurred, deciding that, under established case law, it can be both the source of the infringement (where the website resides) or where the infringement or harm is caused (where the infringement occurs). Even though the defendant's action causing the potential damage was localized only to where their seat is (Germany), this does not prevent jurisdiction from the country in which the case was seised (i.e. filed, as Ms. Hejduk did so in Austria and not Germany). Lastly, the Court saw that there was no need for the infringement to have been directed to the jurisdiction in which the damage was caused, allowing for infringing content on foreign Member State website's to be brought into courts in different Member States where damage might have or did occur.

The Court finally summarized its position regarding the above question: "...Article 5(3) of Regulation No 44/2001 must be interpreted as meaning that, in the event of an allegation of infringement of copyright and rights related to copyright guaranteed by the Member State of the court seised, that court has jurisdiction, on the basis of the place where the damage occurred, to hear an action for damages in respect of an infringement of those rights resulting from the placing of protected photographs online on a website accessible in its territorial jurisdiction. That court has jurisdiction only to rule on the damage caused in the Member State within which the court is situated".

This case is an important statement of jurisdictional consideration, and allows for much more flexibility and freedom within the EU to bring forth claims of copyright infringement, even if that infringement occurs outside of your Member State. Any Member State's court can act as the judicator for damages, even if the court seised is different to the seat of the act of infringement. In an online world this is vastly important, and protects the interests of copyright holders much more effectively than through limitations allowing for claims only within the Member States where an alleged infringement has occurred.

Source: JDSupra

No comments:

Post a Comment