Posts Tagged Copyright

Clutching at jurisdictional straws as short as hotpants. Suing Google for hotlinkers: High Court refuses service out of jurisdiction in Wheat v Alphabet /Google Inc and Monaco Telecom.

Hotlinking is explained at para 17 of [2018] EWHC 550 (Ch) Wheat v Alphabet /Google Inc and Monaco Telecom. (Cross-reference is also made to the related main case against Monaco Telecom, [2017] EWHC 3150 (Ch)). The principal claim against Monaco Telecom is that it has broadcast, and continues to broadcast, an unauthorised duplicate of theirearth.com – claimant’s website. Google is involved in the litigation because claimant alleges that Google’s search engine algorithm has done little to address hotlinking practice, which, it is said, facilitates copyright infringement.

Both cases are a good example of the standards for serving out of jurisdiction, essentially, to what degree courts of the UK should accept jurisdiction against non-UK defendants (here: with claimants resident in the UK). The Brussels I Recast Regulation is not engaged in either cases for neither Monaco nor Alphabet are EU based.

Copyright aficionados are best referred to the judgment to appreciate its impact. The judgment essentially confirms that other than in a B2C context (particularly where EU law applies and privacy is involved), suing (for tort) Google or indeed internet companies not headquartered here, is not an easy proposition.

Geert.

 

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Rulings on costs and their impact on the effet utile of EU civil procedure. The High Court in PABLO STAR re copyright infringement.

In [2017] EWHC 2541 (IPEC) Pablo Star Media v Richard Bowen the issue was one over copyright infringement relating to a photograph of Dylan Thomas. Of interest to this blog is not the copyright issue or the height of damages relating to same – I am not a specialist in that area. (As far as the jurisdictional issues are concerned, there is a slightly muddled reference to the Brussels I Recast and various other Regulations including Regulation 542/2014 which I discussed here).

What did trigger my interest, though, is the ruling on costs.

At 33-34 Hacon J quotes the District Judge’s reasoning for obliging claimant (Pablo Star) to pay part of the defendant’s cost, despite having won the case. In that cost award, the District Judge scolds claimant for having initiated proceedings in Ireland as well as the UK, and for considering (or threatening, as the case may be) litigation in the US. The High Court at 38 and 41 leaves aside the proceedings in Ireland as a factor to consider, and now limits the reasoning for the award on cost to the potential proceedings in the US.

Now, costs determination largely is within the realm of national rules of civil procedure. Sometimes, EU and /or international law has a direct impact on cost determination, such as for instance in the case of Aarhus and environmental litigation; or, importantly for the case at issue, Directive 2004/48 on intellectual property rights enforcement (the enforcement Directive). This Directive provides in Article 14 on legal costs

‘Member States shall ensure that reasonable and proportionate legal costs and other expenses incurred by the successful party shall, as a general rule, be borne by the unsuccessful party, unless equity does not allow this.’

That Directive was applied in CJEU C-57/15 UVP v Telenet, expressly condemning Belgium’s restrictive regime on cost recovery in intellectual property cases. The High Court’s finding on cost may to my mind be at odds with that ruling.

More generally, the District Judge’s reference to claimant’s Irish proceedings contributing to the judge’s finding on cost, without a doubt is an infringement of the effet utile of the EU’s jurisdictional regimes. Claimant has a certain right to sue in Ireland and that possibility must in no way be disciplined.  Hacon J at the High Court, purposely or not, may have insulated himself from criticism at this point, by leaving the Irish proceedings outside the consideration and only referring to the threat of US proceedings as relevant for partially shifting costs to the plaintiff.

Absolute numbers in the case are not high. Yet the principle to my mind deserves right to appeal at the CA and, from there on, potentially to the CJEU.

Geert.

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A v M (Austria): Copyright infringement, locus delicti commissi in case of breach of obligation to pay.

For your second conflicts reading of the day I thought I should serve something more substantial. In A (an Austrian company) v M (a company located in Luxembourg) the Austrian Supreme Court (Oberster Gerichtshof) had to decide on the determination of the locus delicti commissi in the event of infringement of copyright. M had effectively siphoned off to its website, some of A’s satellite broadcasts. Plenty of CJEU precedent is referred to (Hejduk; Austro Mechana; to name a few).

Thank you very much indeed Klaus Oblin for providing me with copy of the judgment – back in early June. Effectively, at issue was  the infringement of a duty to pay.  Klaus has excellent overview of the issues, of which the following are definitely worth highlighting. The Supreme Court justifiably of course emphasises autonomous interpretation of Article 7(2) Brussels I Recast. Yet autonomous interpretation does not provide all the answers. There are plenty of instances where locus delicti commissi is not easily identified, such as here.

The Oberster Gerichtshof seeks support in the Satellite Directive 93/83, but notes that the Directive includes no procedural clauses, let alone any regarding international jurisdiction (at 2.4.2. It refers to the German Bundesgerichtshof’s decision in Oscar). It then completes the analysis by reference to national law:

Section 42b(1) of the Act on Copyrights and Related Rights to classify breach of copyright as a tort (CJEU Kalfelis would have been a more correct reference) ; and

Section 907a(1) of the Civil Code) to identify the locus of the delicti commissi: because monetary debts in acordance with that section must be discharged at the seat of the creditor, the domestic courts at the Austrian seat of the collecting society have jurisdiction. In coming to its conclusion, the court (at 3.2) refers pro inspiratio to Austro Mechana, not just the CJEU’s judgment but also the ensuing national judgment.

Now, lest I am mistaken, in Austro Mechana the CJEU did not identify the locus delicti commissi: it simply qualified the harm arising from non-payment by Amazon of the remuneration provided for in Austrian law, as one in tort: at 52 of its judgment: it follows that, if the harmful event at issue in the main proceedings occurred or may occur in Austria, which is for the national court to ascertain, the courts of that Member state have jurisdiction to entertain Austro-Mechana’s claim. (emphasis added)

Given its heavy reliance on national law, I would suggest the judgment skates on thin ice. Reference to the CJEU seemingly was not contemplated but surely would have been warranted. Kainz is a case in point where locus delicti commissi was helpfully clarified by Luxembourg, Melzer one for locus damni.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private international Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, heading 2.2.11.2.

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Austro Mechana: the CJEU edges closer to contract and tort dovetailing under Brussels I.

The CJEU today held in Case C-572/14 Austro Mechana. I reported earlier on the AG’s Opinion (which was issued not too long ago). That post also refers readers to Tobias Lutzi‘s analysis. He points quite correctly (indeed entirely correctly) to the issue of dovetail between (now) Article 7(1) and 7(2). Given the interplay between Handte and Kalfelis, is an obligation between parties which is not contractual, necessarily one in tort? I.e. do these two dovetail? Following Kalfelis itself, the answer must be no: an action falls under Art. 7(2) if it ‘seeks to establish the liability of a defendant’ and is ‘not related to a “contract” within the meaning of Article 5(1)’ (para 56). Therefore one must seek to establish the liability of the defendant, and not just review whether the claim is contractual or not.

In the case of collection of copyright levies for private use (where consent of the copyright holder is not sought and a compensatory levy is imposed by national law instead, in accordance with relevant instructions in EU copyright law), one would intuitively say that no ‘liability’ is established against the distributor of copyrighted materials to whom effectively collection of a State-imposed duty is outsourced.

In the present case, the action brought by Austro-Mechana seeks to obtain compensation for the harm arising from non-payment by Amazon of the remuneration provided for in Austrian law. That failure to collect , the Court holds (at 44) constitutes a harmful event within the meaning of Article 7(2). At 50: ‘Austro-Mechana’s claim seeks to establish the liability of the defendant, since that claim is based on an infringement by Amazon of the provisions of the UrhG imposing that obligation on it, and that that infringement is an unlawful act causing harm to Austro-Mechana.’

The Court therefore does not dismiss the first criterion of the Kalfelis formula (‘establishing liability’). Yet it surely stretches it. The Court’s initial formulation of a two-pronged condition of application, therefore has not disappeared. However if the criterion of establishing liability is too readily accepted, the relevance of the initial formulation is certainly fading.

Geert.

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

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And the winner is….National law. Saugmandsgaard ØE AG in Austro-Mechana on Tort and reproduction rights.

Determining whether a legal relationship is one in tort, for the purposes of (now) Article 7(2) of the Brussels I Recast Regulation, is in principle subject to autonomous interpretation. National law ought not to feature (emphasised ia in Melzer). In the Brussels I Regulation, Article 5(3) features alongside Article 5(1)’s jurisdictional rule for contract. (In the Recast Regulation, Artt 7(1 and (2)). Sometimes, as in Brogsitter, both are present between two contractual parties and one needs to be separated from the other. In Kalfelis, the CJEU defined ‘tort’ as ‘all actions which seek to establish the liability of a defendant and which are not related to a “contract” within the meaning of Article 5(1).

Tobias Lutzi’s review is very useful in reminding us of the need to distinguish the two tracts of the Kalfelis definition. Just focusing on Brogsitter might lead one into thinking that Article 5(1) and 5(3) [7(1) /7(2)] ‘dovetail’: i.e. if it is not the one, it is the other (with tort being the subordinate category). That is however clearly not the case: that it may have looked like this in Brogsitter is due to liability being present in any case: the issue was there where contractual liability stops and liability in tort takes over.

Article 5(3) therefore requires an ‘action which seeks to establish the liability of a defendant’ which leads the Advocate General here into lengthy review of the Austrian implementation of EU law on copyright levies. With respect, I do not think that is what is either called for or justified. Article 5(3) requires an autonomous, EU interpretation. Too much interference of national law spoils that broth – a point also made in Melzer. Moreover the application of the jurisdictional categories is just that: it determines jurisdiction only. Once that settled, the national courts regain their authority to requalify and indeed may still decide that there is no liability in tort (or contract, as the case may be) at all, but rather one in contract (or tort, as the case may be) or indeed none at all.

I feel Sharpston AG’s centre of gravity etc. modus operandi, suggested by her re distinguishing between Rome I and II in Ergo but (probably) not accepted by the Court, would have come in handy at the jurisdictional level in Austro Mechana, too.

The CJEU’s judgment here is one to look out for.

Geert.

European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2

 

 

 

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Hejduk: Copyright infringement and jurisdiction. The ECJ entertains much less than its AG.

I have reviewed the AG’s opinion in Hejduk here. The AG’s Opinion was exciting for it cited, even if only in a specific (IP; more specifically copyright) context, the difficulty in identifying locus damni. This, I suggested (realistically optimistic) flagged an obvious concern with the ECJ’s ruling in Bier. However the ECJ in its judgment, issued yesterday,  was not having any of this. It applied relevant precedent (all recalled in my earlier posting), did not at all entertain the AG’s concerns with the locus damni assessment, and held that in the event of an allegation of infringement of copyright and rights related to copyright guaranteed by the Member State of the court seised, that court has jurisdiction, on the basis of the place where the damage occurred, to hear an action for damages in respect of an infringement of those rights resulting from the placing of protected photographs online on a website accessible in its territorial jurisdiction. That court has jurisdiction only to rule on the damage caused in the Member State within which the court is situated.

Plaintiff’s difficulties were of no concern to the ECJ. No surprise perhaps given the Brussels I Regulation’s near-exclusive concern for the position of the defendant.

Geert.

 

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Jurisdiction, intellectual property and the internet. Might CRUZ VILLALÓN AG in Pez Hejduk introduce the end of Bier?

Let me answer the question immediately: that is unlikely. It is however an interesting prospect and, who knows, might be a start. CRUZ VILLALÓN AG’s Opinion in Pez Hejduk, case C-441/13 (at the time of writing available in plenty of languages but not in English), provides an excellent tour d’horizon of the application of the special jurisdictional rule of Article 5(3) [following the recast, Article 7(3)] Brussels I, to cases involving infringements of an intellectual property right.

For trademarks, the most recent case is Coty, Case C-360/12, reviewed by Alberto Bellan here. Pez Hejuk concerns copyright: an intellectual property right for which no formality (such as registration) is required for it validly to exist. Pinckney, Wintersteiger, Football Dataco: the application of Article 5(3) [and the delineation with leges specialis in the IP field] is not exactly crystal clear and the need for distinguishing very high. This resulted in this particular case in the Handelsgericht Wien requesting ECJ back-up on the application in the case of Ms Hejduk, a professional photographer, suing EnergieAgentur for unauthorised use on its .de website of photographs which had only been authorised for one-off use during a conference.

In view of Pinckney et al, the AG splendidly and concisely distinguishes the various strands of case-law and the raison d’etre for their consecutive jurisdictional criteria – please refer to the opinion itself for a summary by me would not do it justice. Encouraged in particular by Portugal and the EC, the AG then further distinguishes current case. As noted by Eleonora Rosati here, the AG emphasises that not only would it be difficult for the defendant having potentially to face actions in multiple Member States, but also the plaintiff would have limited benefits from seeking limited damages in more jurisdictions, and would find it difficult to prove such damage given the accessibility of the site.

Which is why the AG suggests that further distinguishing is needed for what he calls cases involving ‘delocalised damages’ involving IP, leading to the suggestion that in such case, only the judges of the Member State in which the causal event occurred should have jurisdiction on the basis of Article 5(3) (general jurisdiction for the domicile of the defendant not withstanding, obviously: per Article 2 JR). In other words: only the locus delicti commissi would be upheld. Not the locus damni.

Now, no reference is made to the case in the AG’s Opinion, however, surely this amounts to no less than a reversal of Bier /Mines de Potasse d’Alsace, case C-21/76. the ECJ’s extension in Bier, away from the literal meaning of Article 5(3) has, as I often have emphasised, triggered a long series of cases in which the ECJ has had to massage the ripple effect of the locus damni rule. If it were (which of course is not at all certain) to take up the AG’s suggestion here, and drop locus damni, might it not eventually have to concede that in many if not all cases, it is difficult for the defendant having potentially to face actions in multiple Member States, and for the plaintiff to have to prove and seek limited damages in more jurisdictions.

On that basis (that however narrowly distinguished, siding with the AG would mean acknowledging the weakness of the locus damni rule), I find it very likely that the ECJ will not run with it. Whence it might either not distinguish Hejduk from Pinckney, or assimilate it with eDate Advertising, or further distinguish and add an alternative, Hejduk rule, in the event of ‘delocalised damages’.

One to look out for!

Geert.

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