07 June, 2016

Clear Enough? - CJEU Further Clarifies Communication to the Public

The CJEU does not seem to be able to make its mind up on the topic of what amounts to a 'communication to the public', as is perfectly illustrated by the recent decisions in Svensson, C More Entertainment, BestWater and the Advocate General's opinion prior to the decision in GS Media (the very decision so many are waiting for). This difficulty in establishing a firm position on this very important subject has created many headaches for IP practitioners, who, by now, are grasping for any concrete and consistent judgments to this effect. While we have to still wait on the CJEU tackling GS Media, there is potentially some respite in the air via a decision discussing, yet again, what a 'communication to the public' might entail.

The case of Reha Training Gesellschaft für Sport- und Unfallrehabilitation mbH v GEMA dealt with the a rehabilitation center, Reha Training, which provides post-operative treatment to better rehabilitate those who needed it after their medical procedures. The center itself included two waiting rooms and a training room (similar to a gym), where, between June 2012 and June 2013, they showed television programs for the patients who used the facilities in their recovery in installed TVs in the rooms. No permission was requested from GEMA (a German collection society) to display the content for the patients. GEMA then took Reha Training to court, asserting that the display of the TV content amounted to a 'communication to the public' under the InfoSoc Directive.

The referring court essentially asked whether the broadcasting of TV programmes in a rehabilitation center constitutes a communication to the public under several provisions (including the above Directive).

The CJEU first observed that, as the question referred to dealt with two Directives that mention a 'communication to the public', the provision in the InfoSoc Directive applies without prejudice to the application of the Rental Right and Lending Right Directive (which, similarly, offers the exclusive right to the author to communicate to the public a work, though through a more monetary provision). Although the wordings in each of the above Directives differs somewhat from each other, the Court concluded that their interpretation should be the same in order to keep a unified and coherent legal standard. They further clarified this, establishing that "...the different nature of the rights protected under those directives cannot hide the fact that, according to the wording of those directives, those rights have the same trigger, namely the communication to the public of protected works". Arguably, the interpretation of what amounts to a 'communication to the public' should be clear across the board, and this writer would agree that, unless specifically needed, the interpretation should be the same irrespective of the context of a given directive.

The Court then moved onto discussing the actual interpretation of the phrase. As the Court stated, this involves the assessment of several criteria, and the phrase has to be interpreted broadly. The criteria that are looked at are whether there has been an 'act of communication', and if that has been done to a 'public'.

No, Chuck, you can't communicate what you want,
even with a megaphone
In putting things in simple terms, the Court stated, as established, that an 'act of communication' is "...any transmission of the protected works, irrespective of the technical means or process used", and that every such transmission, to be legal, has to be authorized by the author of that work. Following on, the transmission of the work, to be an infringement of the above rights, has to be communicated to a 'public', which is deemed as "...an indeterminate number of potential recipients and implies, moreover, a fairly large number of persons". The public cannot be a restricted, small subset of people, but 'persons in general'. The CJEU has also established that the communication has to happen to a 'new public', meaning people who the author did not take into account when they authorized the communication of the work (i.e. if the content is paywalled, any people who do not have access through said paywall would be, prima facie, a 'new public'). This also involves a clear and calculated part by the person communicating the work to the new public, where their intervention is essential for the user to receive that broadcast. Without the intervention and the clear 'targeting' by the communicator, there would be no communication to a public.

In the earlier decision in SCF v Marco Del Corso the Court discussed this type of communication in a similar context, holding that the broadcast of TV programming in a dentist's office is not a communication to the public, as the patients do not visit the office to primarily watch TV, which in turn does not increase the users of that particular practice (or its attractiveness to a new public).

The Court concluded that Reha Training had indeed communicated the works to a public, as, drawing an analogy to previous case law involving restaurants, spas and hotels "...the operators of... [the] establishment carry out an act of communication where they intentionally broadcast protected works to their clientele by intentionally distributing a signal by means of television or radio sets which they have installed in their establishment". The clientele would not be an insignificant number, and the intervention of the operator of the center is key for their enjoyment of those works, and were not in the contemplation of the original broadcaster as an audience for the works, making them a 'new' public. The communication of the works also makes the center more attractive to prospective clients, giving it a competitive advantage (and thus benefiting from the communication).

The case is a curious development, and further cements the CJEU's position on the concept of a 'new public', which has been somewhat rejected in the Advocate General's opinion in GS Media. As the decision in the case looms in the horizon, it will be interesting to see whether this decision has a big impact on it, and whether the mere provision of hyperlinks would be an intervention that is indispensable for the enjoyment of the works, especially considering the material is freely accessible online to begin with (rather than locked behind a paywall). This writer believes the CJEU will not deem the sharing of hyperlinks to be a communication to the public, but the Court's track record does show that there are no guarantees to this effect.

Source: IPKat

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