06 November, 2014

Fake Goods and the Internet - ISPs Face Trademarks

Counterfeit products are big business. Some estimates have put the sale of counterfeit items at a billion dollars in 2013, and anyone who has traveled around mainland Europe has probably seen people sell "authentic" designer bags off pieces of carpet on the street (and who doesn't like purchasing their luxury goods in the great outdoors). The only issue with selling blatantly on the street is the sheer visibility of your transactions, with the added issue of a very limited quantity of items for sale. The more genius members of the business have since moved onto the World Wide Web, pushing their goods to the willing masses on the great waves of the Internet. The law hasn't fully adapted to this change, with a clear difference in the protection of so-called intangible counterfeit goods (piracy etc.) and more physical objects and their intangible attributes such as trademarks. Amidst this uncertainty the protectability of trademarks in this space was brought up in the English courts, and has since been taken on by the UK Court of Appeal.

The case in question was Cartier International AG v British Sky Broadcasting Ltd, which dealt with the company Richemont, which owns several luxury brands such as Cartier and IWC. As Richemont's goods are highly sought after and quite valuable, six websites were started, aimed at selling and advertising goods using Richemont's trademarks in doing so. The website's donned such fantastic domains as www.cartierloveonline.com and www.iwcwatchtop.com, clearly aimed to confuse and befuddle those who are less savvy on the information super highway. As such Richemont wanted to halt the websites' operations, and approached the courts to impose an injunction to block the websites.

What remains the bigger question in this case is whether such a block is possible under the current law, or as was framed by Justice Arnold: "First, does this Court have jurisdiction to make an order of the kind sought? Secondly, if the Court has jurisdiction, what are the threshold conditions, if any, which must be satisfied if the Court is to make an order? Thirdly, are those conditions satisfied in the present case? Fourthly, if those conditions are satisfied, what are the principles to be applied in deciding whether or not to make such an order? Fifthly, applying those principles, should such orders be made in the present case?"

Under section 97A of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 the courts can impose an injunction against an Internet service provider; however the issue presented to the court is that under section 97A the courts can impose an injunction only "...where that service provider has actual knowledge of another person using their service to infringe copyright". As such there was no issue of copyright infringement in the case, as only Richemont's trademarks had been potentially infringed, and no provision allowing for injunctions in the event of trademarks being infringed exists in the UK.

The Court of Appeal's message to trademark infringers
This lead to some extreme juggling of current laws and whether such an injunction was possible bar an express mention of such a power, although this was meant to have been implemented by the UK under the Information Society Directive. Justice Arnold was faced to examine whether this omission was supplemented under section 37 of the Senior Courts Act 1981, through which "[t]he High Court may by order (whether interlocutory or final) grant an injunction or appoint a receiver in all cases in which it appears to the court to be just and convenient to do so". Agreeing with precedent, Justice Arnold saw that an injunction under section 37 of the 1981 Act would not contravene the Supreme Court Act 1981, allowing for the High Court to afford the injunction as a final decision should it do so.

Justice Arnold discussed the conditions which have to be fulfilled before a court may award the aforementioned injunction: "First, the ISPs must be intermediaries within the meaning of the third sentence of Article 11 [of the IPR Enforcement Directive]. Secondly, either the users and/or the operators of the website must be infringing the claimant's trade marks. Thirdly, the users and/or the operators of the website must use the ISPs' services to do that. Fourthly, the ISPs must have actual knowledge of this. Each of the first three conditions follows from the wording of Article 11 itself.".

Applying the conditions to the case Justice Arnold quickly saw that all of the requirements had been fulfilled. First, British Sky and the other ISPs acting as defendants can be said to be intermediaries within the meaning of the Directive without much question. Second, as Richemont owns the rights to several infringed trademarks in the case, such as Cartier, IWC and Montblanc, used in in the six websites dealt with in the case, the websites clearly infringed on those rights. Third, due to the ISPs role as intermediaries, although are not prima facie used for the infringement directly, because of their integral role in the conveyance of the infringement to Internet uses they are used for the infringement, irrespective of a contractual relation between the infringer and the ISPs. Finally, through evidence it was easy for Richemont to establish that the ISPs did indeed have actual knowledge of this infringement and chose not to act on it. Because of this the requirements are fulfilled, and Justice Arnold could award the injunction.

The case can be said to be very important in a UK perspective, and potentially as an international precedent. Through the decision rights holders have a remedy to address the infringement of their rights outside of just copyrights online, potentially allowing the curbing of counterfeit sales online (although this writer will admit it seems like a long-shot it would be ever fully eradicated). Nevertheless, this remedy can be argued to have been needed, and in the absence of intervention by the legislature, should stand as an avenue for trademark enforcement on the Web.

Source: World Trademark Review

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