Yelp and Facebook. The German and Dutch courts on reputational damage, jurisdiction and applicable law.

Thank you Matthias Lehmann for flagging X v Yelp , held 14 January 2020 at the Bundesgerichthof (German federal court) and to Jef Ausloos for drawing our attention to X and Avrotros v Facebook BV and Facebook Ireland ltd held 15 May 2020. An English summary of that case is here. Note that the Dutch case is one in interlocutory proceedings. Both concern the application of Article 7(2) Brussels IA at the jurisdictional level, and Rome II at the applicable law level, with respect to reputational damage.

In the German Yelp case, a German gym had complained that Yelp’s review algorithm had created a distorted picture of its business. Jurisdiction was established under Article 7(2) Brussels Ia per CJEU Bolagsupplysningen: centre of interests in Germany.  As to applicable law, the pickle is A1(2)(g) Rome II which excludes from its scope of application, “non-contractual obligations arising out of violations of privacy and rights relating to personality, including defamation”.

Under residual German PIL, claimant has a choice between lex locus damni or lex locus delicti commissi. Matthias points to the difficulty: if companies have ‘personality rights’ within the meaning of Rome II (Bolagsupplysningen clearly suggests they do; but that is a jurisdictional case) then the issue ought to be held exempt from Rome II. Except, a big chunk of unfair trading practices consists of thrashing a competitor’s reputation – and A6 Rome II has a specific lex causae for unfair trading practices.

The German court does not address the issue directly for it held that claimant had made an implicit choice for lex locus damni – German law: the same result as Rome II would have had.

In the Dutch case, the Court likewise holds jurisdiction on the basis of centre of interests,  and then squarely applies A4 Rome II’s general lex locus damni rule (the action was based against Facebook, arguing that FB was not taking enough measures to block fake/fraudulent bitcoin ads on its platform).

On the choice of court suggestion of Facebook, the court holds that current dispute is not of a contractual nature and that FB’s contractual choice of court and law does not extend to same; it leaves undecided whether the celebrity at issue can be considered a ‘consumer’ for jurisdictional purposes (their FB use I imagine potentially having developed into, or even started as professional use: see the dynamic nature per CJEU C-498/16 Schrems). There must be more argument in there.

Interesting cases, with both courts cutting corners.

Geert.

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