What I said in my post on Markt24 this morning, also goes for the Opinion of Bobek AG in C-800/19 Mittelbayerischer Verlag KG v SM: others have in the meantime posted analysis on it, in this case Tobias Lutzi whose scholarship was cited by the AG.
Claimant is a Polish national who had been a former Auschwitz prisoner. He brought a civil claim against a German newspaper before the Polish courts for having used the expression ‘Polish extermination camp’ in an online article to refer to a Nazi extermination camp built on the territory of (then) occupied Poland. The camp in Treblinka was a Nazi extermination camp built within the territory of occupied Poland. Not a ‘Polish’ or indeed even a ‘German’ concentration camp: a Nazi or fascist camp. But I stray.
Although the article had been online for only a few hours before it was corrected, the applicant maintains that the online publication has harmed his national identity and dignity.
Do Polish courts have international jurisdiction to hear such claim? In the main proceedings, the applicant is not only seeking monetary compensation, but also other remedies: a court order prohibiting the publisher from using the expression ‘Polish extermination camp’ in the future and the publication of an apology. (For related issues on the nature of the remedy, see prof Hess’ post on the blog here). Bolagsupplysningen is the most recent relevant CJEU authority. Some of the complications of that case recently featured in Napag Trading and in Saïd v L’Express.
Warsaw was undoubtedly the claimant’s centre of interest per Bolagsupplysningen, yet the referring court wondered whether this was sufficient to give it jurisdiction given the range of remedies sought by the claimant (damages; prohibition to use the term in the future; public apology). Particularly seeing as the intensity of contact of the claimant with the offending material was on the lighter side: unlike eDate, the online article that formed the basis for the action did not directly concern claimant. The paper’s regional profile and readership range, and focus on regional news, the entirely German nature of the site, lack of any targeting of non-regional readers etc.. meant it was not at all directed at anything else but a local readership.
As Tobias points out, the AG reemphasises (39-44) the unfortunate consequences of Mozaik jurisdiction per CJEU Bier, as plenty of AGs and scholars have done with him. He suggests however that current case is not one suited to a wholesale revisiting of the Bier authority, specifically in an internet context (see also the phrase ‘ubiquitous nature’ of the internet in Google v CNIL, per Szpunar AG), seeing as the essence of the dispute is one on the merits. Instead, he suggests the Court exercise judicial economy and take a most narrow approach to the case: whether in a case seeking a prohibition on the use of a certain statement in the future and the publication of an apology, the applicability of centre of interests of a party allegedly harmed by online publication, be precluded by the fact that that person is not named in the publication at issue?
The case therefore will be an opportunity to specify to some extent the open questions with respect to the indivisibility of the remedies in online defamation cases (see also Gtflix TV and BVC v EWF).
Tobias maps the AG’s approach which discusses predictability yet anchors the conclusion unto the very reason (ia per recitals 15 and 16 which themselves go back to the Report Jenard) for having introduced A7 special jurisdiction: the connection of the court to the facts of the case (59):
any alternative grounds of jurisdiction, must be ‘based on a close connection between the court and the action or in order to facilitate the sound administration of justice. The existence of a close connection should ensure legal certainty and avoid the possibility of the defendant being sued in a court of a Member State which he could not reasonably have foreseen. This is important, particularly in disputes concerning non-contractual obligations arising out of violations of privacy and rights relating to personality, including defamation’.
‘the reasonable foreseeability of the centre of gravity of a dispute should not be effectively replaced by the publisher’s knowledge of the place of the victim’s domicile (62)’
A criterion of intent (69) must not be introduced for online torts, the AG suggests (cf intention expressed as ‘directing at’ in the consumer title). Applied to the case at issue, given the nature of the expressions used (the use of ‘Polish concentration camps’ can be predicted to create a fall-out in Poland, even if one does not have any specific individuals on one’s radar). At 81 ff the AG adds quasi-obiter that at the enforcement stage, any Polish judgment prohibiting in particular further use of the phrase may indeed bounce off German ordre public – as Burkhard’s post discusses re an earlier case.
What would be rather cool is for the CJEU in spite of the AG’s invite not to do so, to take the opportunity of this case to bin or radically amend Bier. That is a pipe dream: this is not going to happen [or is it 😉 ?] particularly seeing as the case will not be held in Grand Chamber.
EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 126.96.36.199.5, and para 2.598 in fine.