Grand Production v GO4YU. Szpunar AG (not, due to suggested inadmissibility) on copyright, VPNs and forum delicti for platform streaming.

Szpunar AG opined a few weeks back in C-423/21 Grand Production v GO4YU  ea. The case involves a variety of issues related to streaming and VPNs, many of which concern telecoms law yet one is of interest to the blog: namely the question whether

in the event of an allegation of infringement of copyright and related rights guaranteed by the Member State of the court seised, that court has jurisdiction only to rule on the damage caused in the territory of the Member State to which it belongs – because the territoriality principle precludes domestic courts from having jurisdiction to determine and examine the facts in relation to foreign acts of infringement – or can or must that court also rule on offences committed outside that territory (worldwide), as alleged by the author whose rights were allegedly infringed?

It transpires from the Opinion however that the case in the national court does not involve one for damages, yet rather one for a temporary injunction prohibiting distribution. To the degree this is aimed at the Serbian defendants at issue, these are domiciled outside the EU and hence not subject for actions in tort, to Brussels Ia. Against the Austrian defendants, the case is subject to full jurisdiction under A4 forum re, hence not triggering the full or partial jurisdictional issues of the relevant CJEU case-law (Bolagsupplysningen etc.).

The AG suggests inadmissibility of the Brussels Ia question.

Geert.

Court of Appeal overturns and confirms, in principle though technologically not in practice, mosaic blocking order jurisdiction in Mincione.

When CJEU Bolagsupplysningen was held, I flagged immediately (I was not alone) that the judgment would necessarily create follow-up litigation.

At the level of the CJEU itself, Mittelbayerischer Verlag somewhat reigned in the consequences of Bier and Shevill, albeit not directly related to the discussions in Bolagsupplysningen. In Gtflix, the Court confirmed that each Member State where damage has occurred, will continue to have locus damni jurisdiction even if the claimant requests rectification of the information and the removal of the content placed online in another jurisdiction: one with full jurisdiction as either the Handlungsort or the place of the claimant’s centre of interests.

In England and Wales, Saïd v L’Express (a first instance case) held that it follows from Bolagsupplysningen that so far as internet publications are concerned, a claimant who is seeking injunctive relief (removal, correction in particular) may do so only in the places with full jurisdiction. This was implicitly confirmed in Napag, also a first instance case.

This conclusion has now been overturned by the Court of Appeal in Mincione v Gedi Gruppo Editoriale SPA [2022] EWCA Civ 557. This is a libel case brought by an Italian national with acquired British citizenship who is resident in Switzerland. He sues the Italian-domiciled publisher of a daily newspaper and weekly magazine, both of which are published predominantly in Italy and in the Italian language.

The first instance judge, Mincione v Gedi Gruppo Editoriale SpA [2021] EWHC 2006 (QB) had followed Said and Napag. The Court of Appeal notes that as a result of the Withdrawal Agreement it is bound by Bolagsupplysningen, it having been held before Brexit, and that it  ‘can have regard to’ ([65]) Gtlfix.

Warby J, seeking support in Gtflix, holds injunctive jurisdiction to restrain a harmful internet publication that has either occurred or “may occur”, does exist for the locus damni court yet only in respect of publication that may occur within the territorial jurisdiction of the court concerned. It can justify a domestic internet injunction, even for a ‘mosaic’ (locus damni) court, yet not to grant an injunctive remedy that would inevitably take effect extraterritorially.

The first instance judgment therefore is overturned on legal substance but  largely confirmed in practical reality: [72]. Current proceedings are largely held in substance, albeit not in form, to be a claim for a single and indivisible remedy. That is because a domestic internet injunction, prohibiting further publication, in this case however limited it might be in form, would, on the undisputed evidence, inevitably have extraterritorial effect. In future, technology might mean that an order framed as a domestic internet injunction would or could take territorial effect only. Yet in current technological reality, it is said that ordering removal would immediately have extraterritorial substantive effect. Those with knowledge of the technology may have more to say about this. Update 29 04 4:50 PM: the first instance judgment suggests this is related to the limited E&W jurisdiction, while the order would impact other parts of the UK, too: [98]: geo-blocking can only be done at a UK level, and the removal of a YouTube video can also be only done at a UK level (not: the E&W level).

The only part of the claim where jurisdiction for injunctive relief, if claimant is found at trial to have been libelled, will be possible, is for a so-called ‘section 12’ internet injunction: an order to publish a summary of the eventual judgment. That is because in the view of the the Court of Appeal, this relief can be targeted to the current subscriber basis of the publication outlets in England and Wales only.

Per Soriano, post Brexit a claimant will have to show that England and Wales is clearly the most appropriate place to bring an action, with locus damni per  SC Brownlie the tort gateway. Bolagsupplysningen will therefore not echo for much longer in E&W, and I doubt therefore that the SC will hear an appeal if it were sought.

Geert.

EU private international law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.439 ff.

Ask me no questions, and I’ll tell you no lies. The CJEU on internet (libel) jurisdiction in Gtflix.

The CJEU held yesterday in Grand Chamber in C-251/20 GtflixTV – for the facts see my initial flag of the case here. I reviewed the Opinion of Hogan AG here. The AG need not have bothered for the Court entirely ignores the Opinion.

The AG had predicted, as had I, that the CJEU would not heed his calls (joining those of plenty of AGs before him) that the Article 7(2) CJEU Bier introduced distinction between Handlungsort and Erfolgort be abandoned or at least curtailed. The CJEU however also dismisses his suggestion that the case at issue, which involves defamation of competitors over the internet, does not engage the Bolagsupplysningen case-law (infringement of personality rights over the internet) but rather Tibor Trans on acts of unfair competition.

I do not see quite clearly in the Grand Chamber’s mention [28] that Gtlix did not request inaccessibility of the information in France: for Gtflix did request retraction.

Instead of qualifying locus damni jurisdiction, the CJEU squarely confirms its faith in the Mosaic consequences of Article 7(2) locus damni jurisdiction. Each court in whose district damage has occurred, will continue to have locus damni jurisdiction even if the claimant requests rectification of the information and the removal of the content placed online in the Handlungsort or centre of interests jurisdiction. Locus damni jurisdiction in my view extends only to the damage occurring in that district (for Article 7(2) determines territorial, not just national jurisdiction), albeit in current, internet related case the CJEU [38] would seem to speak of ‘national’ jurisdiction, linked to accessibility in the Member State as a whole.

Those courts’ locus damni jurisdiction is subject to the sole condition that the harmful content must be accessible or have been accessible in that Member State. Per CJEU Pinckney, an additional direction of activities to that Member State is not required (the recent High Court approach in Mahmudov on which I shall blog shortly, is at odds with that approach nota bene).

Grand Chamber judgments must not only be expected in cases where earlier authority is radically changed or qualified. It can also occur in cases where the CJEU wishes to reconfirm a point earlier made but stubbornly resisted in scholarship and lukewarmly embraced in national court practice.

Geert.

The CJEU in Hrvatske Šume on contract or tort re claims of unjust enrichment. Confirmation that not all claims need to be either one or the other.

Update 17 January 2022 see here for a series of postings on the judgment.

The CJEU held this morning in  C‑242/20 Hrvatske Šume. Gilles Cuniberti already has a summary of the judgment here and I reported on the AG Opinion here. The Opinion was in essence confirmed.

Of first note is that the CJEU unlike the AG does address the Article 24(5) Brussels Ia issue of exclusive jurisdiction for claims in ‘enforcement’ of a judgment. It holds that an action for restitution based on unjust enrichment does not come within A24(5)’s scope for [32] an action the subject matter of which is a claim for restitution based on unjust enrichment is not intended to obtain a decision in proceedings relating to recourse to force, constraint or distrain on movable or immovable property in order to ensure the effective implementation of a judgment or authentic instrument. This is the case even if that unjust enrichment arises from the fact that enforcement has been annulled.

On the A7(1)-(2) issue the Court first of all and justifiably dismisses the suggestion made ia by the European Commission that A7(1) and (2) BIa dovetail: ie that necessarily a claim which is not a contractual one, must (and in subsidiary fashion) be on in delict per A7(2): [53]: forum delicti requires a harmful event (reference in support is made to Austro-Mechana),  which is simply absent in cases of unjust enrichment.

A claim in restitution of unjust enrichment may in fact be contractual [47] if there is a pre-existing relationship that is closely linked to the claim. An obvious example [48] is that of the applicant relying as the basis of its right to restitution. on unjust enrichment closely linked to a contractual obligation which he or she regards as invalid, and which has not been performed by the defendant, or which the applicant considers he or she itself has ‘over-performed’.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.419 ff.

GtFlix. Hogan AG suggests the jurisdictional gateway for economic damage, not defamation, catches malicious falsehood between economic operators.

As I noted when I signalled the reference, the French Supreme Court in C-251/20 GtFlix has not referred the question whether Bolagsupplysningen is good authority for acts of unfair competition between competitors. Rather, it queries whether Bolagsupplysningen means that a claimant who requests both rectification /retraction and damages, has to necessarily turn to courts with full jurisdiction or whether they can continue to turn for the damages part, to all courts with locus damni jurisdiction.

Hogan AG in his Opinion a few weeks ago (more analysis by  Marta Requejo Isidro here) right up to (94) revisits the wisdom of applying Shevill’s Handlungsort/Erfolgort distinction and the possibility of using GtFlix to overturn. I agree that this is not the case to do it. (On the CJEU and overturning its authority, see excellently the departing Bobek AG in C‑205/20).

At 95 he then essentially requalifies and answers the question which the SC had not referred. The action at the French courts is one in dénigrement, which is a form of malicious falsehood which, the AG suggests, does not call into question the Bolagsupplysningen line of cases but rather Tibor Trans and the cases before it.

An action relating to an infringement of unfair competition law may be brought before the courts of any Member State where that act caused or may cause damage within the jurisdiction of the court seised. Where the market affected by the anticompetitive conduct is in the Member State on whose territory the alleged damage is purported to have occurred, that Member State must be regarded as the place where the damage occurred for the purposes of applying Article 7(2) (99).  A final reference at (102) ff is to the applicable law level under (Article 6) Rome II. 

Should the CJEU follow, one of the left-over questions following Bolagsupplysningen will not be answered, yet another issue on falsehoods spread between competitors, will.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2

Yet again on distinguishing contract from tort (and on enforcement jurisdiction). Saugmandsgaard Oe reigns in forum delicti and forum contractus in HRVATSKE ŠUME.

Saugmandsgaard Oe AG opined (no English version at the time of writing) last week in C‑242/20 HRVATSKE ŠUME on the classic conflict of laws issue of distinguishing contract from tort.. He, oddly perhaps, unless some technical reason for it escapes me, does not entertain the question on the scope of Article 24(5) Brussels Ia’s exclusive jurisdictional rule for ‘proceedings concerned with the enforcement of judgments’.

The Opinion is a Qualificationfest.

The case concerns actions for recovery of sums unduly paid, in other words, undue enrichment. This enrichment came about by a Croatian court having  earlier ordered Hrvatske Šume, debtor of  Futura, both of Croatia, to pay its debt to Futura directly to BP Europe SA, successor to Burmah Oil, both domiciled in Germany. Hrvatske appealed that order however that appeal did not halt the payment. Now that the appeal has turned out to be successful, Hrvatske want their money back yet so far Croatian courts have held that they do not have jurisdiction under Article 7(2) BIa (the case actually went under the the predecessor, Brussels I however there is no material difference).

As the referring court notes, there is no delicti commissi in the case of unjust enrichment: it is a non-contractual obligation in which no delict is committed. (This is the very reason Rome II includes a separate heading for unjust enrichment). One might suggest this would leave forum damni only under A7(2), however the AG correctly in my view re-emphasises the seminal statements in CJEU Kalfelis, that actions under A7(2) concern ‘all actions which seek to establish liability of a defendant  and which are not related to a ‘contract’ within the meaning of Article [7](1)’. Unjust enrichment not seeking to establish liability, A7(2) is not engaged. Along the way, note his discussion of linguistics and his seeking support in Rome II.

At 71 ff the AG distinguishes the wide interpretation of ‘establishing liability’ in CJEU Austro Mechana.

A clear implication of the Opinion is that it confirms a disjoint in BIa /Rome II: not all non-contractual obligations for which Rome II identifies a lex causae, are caught by A7(2) BIa’s forum delicti rule.

The AG also engages with the possibility of Croatia being forum contractus  (he kicks off his Opinion with this issue) and dismisses it, seeking support inter alia in CJEU Handte and also in Rome II specifically providing for an unjust enrichment heading. This part of the Opinion is more optimistically straightforward than one might have expected. Following flightright, Wikingerhof etc., A7(1) has been (unduly, in my view) stretched and it would be good to have the CJEU further clarifying same. (C-265/21, in which I have been instructed, might be just the case).

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.419 ff.

Volvo Trucks. The CJEU unconvincingly on locus damni in follow-on damages suit for competition law infringement.

Update 12 November 2021 see the Spanish SC confirming (Marta Requejo Isidro review of the case and link to the judgment), it seems, the limited approach which I discuss below), meaning: the Mozaik approach no longer applies when the buyer has not purchased the goods affected by the collusive arrangements within the jurisdiction of a single court, territorial jurisdiction lies with the courts of the place where the undertaking harmed has its registered office.

The CJEU held yesterday in C-30/20 Volvo Trucks. I reviewed Richard de la Tour AG’s Opinion here.

After having noted the limitation of the questions referred to locus damni [30]  (excluding therefore the as yet unsettled locus delicti commissi issues) the CJEU confirms first of all [33] that Article 7(2) clearly assigns both international and territorial jurisdiction. The latter of course subject to the judicial organisation of the Member State concerned. If locus damni x has no court then clearly the Regulation simply assigns jurisdiction to the legal district of which x is part. However the Court does not rule out [36] per CJEU Sanders and Huber that a specialised court may be established nationally for competition law cases.

The Court then [39] applies C‑343/19 Volkswagen (where goods are purchased which, following manipulation by their producer, are of lower value, the court having jurisdiction over an action for compensation for damage corresponding to the additional costs paid by the purchaser is that of the place where the goods are purchased) pro inspiratio: place of purchase of the goods at artificially inflated prices will be locus damni, irrespective of whether the goods it issue were purchased directly or indirectly from the defendants, with immediate transfer of ownership or at the end of a leasing contract [40].

The Court then somewhat puzzlingly adds [40] that ‘that approach implies that the purchaser that has been harmed exclusively purchased goods affected by the collusive arrangements in question within the jurisdiction of a single court. Otherwise, it would not be possible to identify a single place of occurrence of damage with regard to the purchaser harmed.’

Surely it must mean that if purchases occurred in several places, Mozaik jurisdiction will ensue rather than just one locus damni (as opposed to the alternative reading that locus damni jurisdiction in such case will not apply at all). However the Court then also confirms [41 ff] its maverick CDC approach of the buyer’s registered office as the locus damni in the case of purchases made in several places.

Here I am now lost and the simply use of vocabulary such as ‘solely’, ‘additionally’ or ‘among others’ would have helped me here. Are we now to assume that the place of purchase of the goods is locus damni only if there is only one place of purchase, not if there are several such places (leaving a lot of room for Article 7(2) engineering both by cartelists and buyers); and that, conversely, place of registered office as locus damni only applies in the event of several places of purchase, therefore cancelling out the classic (much derided) Article 7(2) Mozaik per Shevill and Bier – but only in the event of competition law infringement? This, too, would lead to possibility of forum engineering via qualification in the claim formulation.

I fear we are not yet at the end of this particular road.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.12.2.8.

Abusive forum shopping in defamation suits. The Parliament study on SLAPPs.

Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation – SLAPPs (I look at them comparatively in my Monash Strategic and Public Interest Litigation Unit, LAW5478) are a well-known tool to silence critics. Based on defamation, they (or the threat with them) aim to shut down the voice of opposition. Not many find the energy, financial resources and nerves to fight a protected libel suit in court.

The EP recently published the study led by Justin Borg-Barthet and carried out by him and fellow researchers at the University of Aberdeen. At the substantive level, distinguishing between SLAPPs and genuine defamation suits is not straightforward. As Justin et al point out, there is an important private international law element to the suits, too. Clearly, a claimant will wish to sue in a claimant-friendly libel environment. Moreover, where a deep-pocketed claimant can sue in various jurisdictions simultaneously, this compounds the threat.

The Brussels and Lugano regime is particularly suited to the use of SLAPPs as a result of the CJEU case-law on Article 7(2) forum delicti. The Handlungsort /Erfolgort distinction as such already tends to add jurisdictional gateways. In more recent years this has been compounded by the additional ‘centre of interests’ gateway per CJEU e-Date and Bolagsupplysningen – even if this was recently somewhat contained by the Court in Mittelbayerischer Verlag. As I have flagged before, Brussels Ia’s DNA is not supportive of disciplining abusive forum shopping, as illustrated ia in competition law and intellectual property law cases.

For these reasons, the report (Heading 4, p.33 ff) suggests dropping the availability of Article 7(2) and sticking to Article 4 domicile jurisdiction, supplemented with (unlikely) choice of court.

The European Parliament more than the European Commission has picked up the defamation issues both for BIa and for applicable law under Rome II (from which the issue is hitherto exempt; the report reviews the applicable law issues, too). It remains to be seen whether with this report in hand, Parliament will manage to encourage the EC to pick up the baton.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.431 ff, 4.24 ff.

 

Vereniging van Effectenbezitters. Prospectus liability, purely financial damage and collective actions. The CJEU reigns in jurisdiction using statutory reporting obligations, at odds with its approach in Volkswagen.

Update 21 May 2021 for additional analysis see Mathias Lehmann here.

As I suggested when I reviewed the Advocate-General’s Opinion in C‑709/19 Vereniging van Effectenbezitters, the CJEU was likely to be much more succinct, which has proven true with the judgment this morning (no English version available as yet).

The CJEU ignored of course the AG’s calls fundamentally to reconsider the locus damni introduction in Bier. Yet it re-emphasised its willingness to reign in the repercussions of Bier, insisting places of jurisdiction under Article 7(2) Brussels Ia need to correspond to those with a certain link to the case. Its core reference throughout is its judgment in Lober, itself an odd case for the court did not assign territorial jurisdiction (an issue also sub judice in Volvo Trucks). Clearly Universal Music features heavily, too.

The Court’s instruction in Universal Music, that the mere presence of a bank account in which damages materialise, does not suffice to establish jurisdiction, is expanded in Vereniging van Effectenbezitters with the use of statutory reporting requirements: [35] For listed companies (clearly, an entry for distinguishing: how about those unlisted?), only the courts of the Member States in which they are under a statutory reporting duty with a view to its listing, are reasonably foreseeable to it, as places in which a market in its financial instruments may emerge.

The Court also adds [36] that the collective action nature of the suit is of no relevance. The referring court had asked whether in such suits the domicile of the aggrieved could be dropped as being relevant, however the CJEU insisted that domicile has no stand-alone relevance in purely financial damage at all, even in non-collective action.

To the degree that the existence of such statutory obligations is not exhaustively harmonised across the EU (on that subject, I am no expert), this opens op possibilities of course for Member States to assist its consumers with forum shopping, by expanding reporting requirements. (Albeit such extra requirements may themselves by vulnerable under free movement of establishment and /or services; but now my mind is racing ahead).

The Court’s limiting approach here is in stark contrast with the much wider consequences of its findings on jurisdiction viz material consumer products in  Volkswagen.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, para 2.459

Advocate General Richard de la Tour in Volvo Trucks on the location of damage, in competition law follow-on damages suits, and on national CPR rules varying Brussels Ia.

I apologise I could not find a snappier title to this post however Richard de la Tour AG’s Opinion in C-30/20 Volvo Trucks yesterday (no English version had been published at the time of writing) does cover a lot of issues.

Applicant ‘RH’ brings a follow-on action, based on the EC finding of a cartel in the truck manufacturers market. Volvo contest Spain as the locus delicti commissi under A7(2) BIa, however that element is neither referred to the CJEU nor picked up by the AG. That is unfortunate for there is in my view most certainly scope for clarification as I discuss here.

There is also discussion whether A7(2) assigns international jurisdiction only, or also territorial jurisdiction. The referral decision in the end only refers the latter question to the Court. The Advocate General engages with quite a few more and I am not sure the CJEU itself will be inclined to entertain them all.

On that issue of territorial jurisdiction, the AG refers in particular to CJEU Wikingerhof to confirm with some force that A7(2) assigns both international and territorial jurisdiction. Other cases (and in particular AG Opinions) eg in CJEU Löber v Barclays already suggested the same and the overwhelming majority of scholarship has the same view, even if not always explicitly expressed. The AG in current Opinion refers ia to ratio legis, and the clear contrast in formulation between eg A4 and A7.

Next the AG discusses at length locus damni. CDC and Tibor-Trans (markets affected) are the core judgments which the discussion is anchored upon. The discussion here is  rounded up at 94 with the suggestion by the AG that in principle it is the location where the goods (here: the trucks) are purchased, which qualifies as the locus damni. He then revisits the awkward (see my handbook at 2.458) identification of registered office as locus damni, as it has been put forward by the CJEU in CDC. flyLAL further picked up on that discussion and the AG here, too, reviews that judgment. He concludes in the case at issue at 110 that the place of registered office of the claimant should be a fall-back option in case the locus damni does not correspond to the place where that claimant carries out its activities. None of this makes the application of A7(2) any more straightforward, of course.

Finally, the AG concurs with the view expressed by a number of Member States and the EC that the Member States should be able to employ their internal CPR rules to vary the principled territorial consequence of A7(2), which could to lead to a specialised court in the specific case of competition law. Here I disagree, despite the suggested limitation of not endangering effet utile (ia per CJEU Joined Cases C‑400/13 and C‑408/13 Sanders and Huber) and I do not think the justification (at 127 ff) for competition law specifically, justifies special treatment different from say intellectual property law, consumer law, environmental law etc. Claimants will be encouraged to dress up claims as relating to competition law if the centralised court is their court of choice, which will further endanger predictability.

A most rich Opinion and as noted I wonder how much of it the CJEU will be happy to engage with.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 2.2.12.2.8.

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