Posts Tagged Internet
Thank you Dan Svantesson for sharing preparatory work for a February 2018 conference on access to digital evidence in the cloud. The document, written by a group which comprises academia, relevant companies (including Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft) as well as regulators (including the EC and the USDJ), at this stage does not offer solutions. Rather, it sets out principles along which a future framework could be set out, including the concept of data control (not to be confused with data controller) and actual provision of service.
One of the issues to look out for is how a future international approach to access and jurisdiction in criminal matters may differ from courts’ and regulators’ approach in civil jurisdiction (including data protection and privacy).
Qualifying ‘consumers’ on social media and in the case of assignment. Bobek AG in Schrems v Facebook.
Bobek AG must have picked up his knack for colourful language at Teddy Hall. His Opinion last week in C-498/16 Schrems v Facebook is a delight and one does best service to it by simply inviting one reads it. Now, that must not absolve me of my duty to report succinctly on its contents – the Court itself I imagine will be equally short shrift with claimant’s arugments.
When I asked my students in the August exam to comment on the case, I simply gave them the preliminary questions and asked them how the CJEU should answer them:
1 Is Article 15 of Regulation 44/2001 to be interpreted as meaning that a ‘consumer’ within the meaning of that provision loses that status, if, after the comparatively long use of a private Facebook account, he publishes books in connection with the enforcement of his claims, on occasion also delivers lectures for remuneration, operates websites, collects donations for the enforcement of his claims and has assigned to him the claims of numerous consumers on the assurance that he will remit to them any proceeds awarded, after the deduction of legal costs?
2. Is Article 16 of Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 to be interpreted as meaning that a consumer in a Member State can also invoke at the same time as his own claims arising from a consumer supply at the claimant’s place of jurisdiction the claims of others consumers on the same subject who are domiciled
a. In the same Member State, b. In another Member State: or c. In a non-Member State,
if the claims assigned to him arise from consumer supplies involving the same defendant in the same legal context and if the assignment is not part of a professional or trade activity of the applicant, but rather serves to ensure the joint enforcement of claims?
The long and the short of the case is whether the concept of ‘consumer’ under the protected categories of Brussels I (and Recast) is a dynamic or a static one; and what kind of impact assignment has on jurisdiction for protected categories.
On the first issue, I expected my students to point to the CJEU’s precedent of applying the Regulation with a view to predictability and legal certainty; specifically for consumers, to Gruber and the burden of proof in cases of dual use; and to the Court’s judgment in Emrek. Other than the last issue, the AG points to all. Predictability points to a static approach: I would suggest the AG is right. Bobek AG does leave the door ajar for a dynamic interpretation: at 39: in exptional cases, a ‘dynamic’ approach to consumer status should not be entirely excluded. This could be potentially relevant in the event that a contract does not specify its aim, or it is open to different uses, and it lasts a long period of time, or is even indeterminate. It is conceivable that in such cases, the purpose for which a certain contractual service is used might change — not just partially, but even completely. Social media contracts may lead to such circumstances, one imagines, however there would be many ifs and buts to such analysis: including, I would suggest, the terms of the contract wich the service provider initially drew up.
On the issue of assignment the AG’s approach is entirely logical and not surprising: evidently Herr Schrems cannot have claims assigned to him and then exercise those claims using any other jurisdictional prerogatives then present in the original claim. While these may allow him to sue in the forum actoris of the original consumer, there is no valid argument whatsoever to suggest he could join them to his own domicile. The arguments made de lege ferenda (need for forum shopping in collective consumer redress) are justifiably rejected.
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 126.96.36.199.
The Court held some weeks ago in C-194/16 Bolagsupplysningen OÜ on the application of the Shevill rule, as supplemented by e-Date advertising, to infringements of a company’s personality rights over the internet. I held back reporting on the case for exam reasons – yep, some of the places I teach at already have exams.
Judgment was issued in Grand Chamber. There can be no clearer indication of the relevance the Court attaches to the question. The CJEU introduces in my view further complication in the Article 7(2) rule (jurisdiction for torts) by requiring the court seized carry out analysis of ‘main economic activity’ with those same courts being told not to get carried away however in that analysis. The judgment does not I believe offer a solid conclusion for the issues of removal and rectification.
An Estonian company operating in Sweden was blacklisted for its allegedly questionable business practices on the website of a Swedish employers’ federation. The website attracted a number of hostile comments from its readers. The Estonian company brought an action before the Estonian courts against the Swedish federation. It complained that the published information has negatively affected its honour, reputation and good name. It asked the Estonian courts to order that the Swedish federation rectify the information and remove the comments from its website. It also requested damages for harm allegedly suffered as a result of the information and comments having been published online.
Can the Estonian courts assert jurisdiction to hear this action on the basis of the claimant’s ‘centre of interests’, a special ground of jurisdiction that the Court previously applied to natural persons, but so far not legal persons? If they can, then second, how should the centre of interests of a legal person be determined? Third, if the jurisdiction of the Estonian courts were to be limited to situations in which the damage occurred in Estonia, the referring court wonders whether it can order the Swedish federation to rectify and remove the information at issue.
I reviewed Bobek AG’s Opinion here – let me recap core issues: Bobek AG suggested there are two novelties in the questions referred: a legal person (not a natural one) is primarily asking for rectification and removal of information made accessible on the internet (and only secondarily for damages for the alleged harm to its reputation). This factual setting, the AG suggests, leads to the question of how far the seemingly quite generous rules on international jurisdiction previously established in Shevill with regard to libel by printed media, and then further extended in eDate to the harm caused to the reputation of a natural person by information published on the internet, may be in need of an update.
At the real root of course of the generous rules on jurisdiction for tort, lies the Court’s judgment in Bier. Bobek AG joined Szpunar AG in severely questioning the wisdom of the Bier rule (both locus delicti commissi and locus damni lead to jurisdiction) in the age of internet publications. Not unexpectedly, the Court of Justice further refined Bier, but did not overrule it.
It held first of all that legal persons like natural persons can claim for damages in their centre of interests (at 38): the split in Bier was introduced for reasons of judicial suitability (‘sound administration of justice’), not personal interest of the plaintiff hence the qualification of that plaintiff has no bearing on the rule.
Following e-Date, the national court therefore needs to determine a centre of interests for a legal person just as it would for a natural person. At 41: for legal persons, this centre of interests ‘must reflect the place where its commercial reputation is most firmly established and must, therefore, be determined by reference to the place where it carries out the main part of its economic activities. While the centre of interests of a legal person may coincide with the place of its registered office when it carries out all or the main part of its activities in the Member State in which that office is situated and the reputation that it enjoys there is consequently greater than in any other Member State, the location of that office is, not, however, in itself, a conclusive criterion for the purposes of such an analysis.’ As one knows from the definition of ‘domicile’ under the Brussels I Regulation, leading to positive jurisdictional conflicts (it is perfectly possible for more than one Member State considering itself the domicile of a corporation), it is far from self-evident to determine where a company’s ‘main’ economic activities are located.
At 43 the Grand Chamber reminds the national courts that their role in the application of the Brussels I Recast is limited to the jurisdictional stage: they must not go into the merits (yet), hence if it is ‘not clear from the evidence that the court must consider at the stage when it assesses whether it has jurisdiction that the economic activity of the relevant legal person is carried out mainly in a certain Member State’, the Court must conclude that the Article 7(2) locus damni for the full damage is not available to that claimant.
The Court then distinguishes actions for rectification of false information and removal of comments: there is no jurisdiction before the courts of each Member State in which the information published on the internet is or was accessible. The Court follows Bobek AG’s Opinion on this point (although the AG also employed it to support his view on withdrawal of Bier altogether) at 48: ‘in the light of the ubiquitous nature of the information and content placed online on a website and the fact that the scope of their distribution is, in principle, universal …an application for the rectification of the former and the removal of the latter is a single and indivisible application and can, consequently, only be made before a court with jurisdiction to rule on the entirety of an application for compensation for damage [the Court refers to Shevill and e-Date] and not before a court that does not have jurisdiction to do so.’
On this latter point, the judgment is bound to create a need for further clarification: Shevill and e-Date confirm full jurisdiction for the courts of the domicile of the defendant and of the locus delicti commissi. These do not necessarily coincide but do raise the same difficulty of claims for rectification and removal by nature being single and indivisible. With more than one court having such full jurisdiction I do not see a solution in the Court’s approach.
(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 188.8.131.52.
Right to be forgotten v Right to know. In Townsend v Google Inc and Google UK the Northern Irish High Court emphasises public interest in open justice.
In  NIQB 81 Townsend v Google Inc. & Anor the Northern Ireland High Court refused service our of jurisdiction in relation to a request for Google (UK and Inc.) to de-list a number of urls relating to reports on sexual and other criminal offences committed by plaintiff.
Plaintiff seeks an injunction inter alia requiring the defendants and each of them to withdraw and remove personal data relating to the plaintiff, making reference to or tending to reveal sexual offences committed by the plaintiff while a child, from their data processing and indexing systems and to prevent access to such personal data in the future. The Court references ia Vidal-Hall and Google Spain. I will leave readers to digest the ruling largely for themselves for there is a lot in there: consideration of Article 8 ECHR; Directive 95/46; aforementioned precedent; tort law etc.
Of particular note is Stephens J’s finding at 61 that ‘(t)here is a clear public interest in open justice. There is a clear right to freedom of expression. In such circumstances the processing was not unwarranted and that there is no triable issue in relation to any allegation that Google Inc. has not satisfied this condition.’
A judgment to add to the growing pile of internet, jurisdiction and balancing of interests in privacy considerations.
Thank you Jeffrey Neuburger for flagging Wiseley v Amazon. Jeffrey has excellent overview and analysis so I will suffice with identifying a few tags: the issue of click-wrap agreements (when does one agree to GTCs contained in pop-ups and hyperlinks and the like); application of a putable law to a contract (the von Munchausen or ‘bootstrap’ principle); comparative dispute resolution law: how would EU law look at the issues? Have fun.
Twitter injunctions – Twinjunctions if you like, rather like Facebook or Google Removal orders, provide classic scenarios for the consideration of the territorial scope of injunctive and enforcement proceedings. Michael Douglas has great review of  NSWSC 1300 X v Twitter. [P.s. 27 November: Michael has more analysis here]. On 28 September 2017, the Supreme Court of New South Wales awarded its final injunction with global reach, directed towards Twitter Inc (based at CAL) and its Irish counterpart, Twitter International Company.
Now, what is refreshing about Pembroke J’s review of the issues is his non-doctrinal analysis of the issue of jurisdiction. He emphasises that there is a long history of courts of equity making in personam orders that are intended to operate extra-territorially (the Court’s jurisdiction is one in equity); (at 40) that Twitter unlike other defendants may disagree with the ruling but will not seek to avoid its social responsibility; that there is a public interest in issuing the worldwide order (and in enforcing it: Pembroke J flags that there are Australia-based assets against which enforcement may be sought); and that given his experience with Twitter, it can be expected to use its best endeavours to give effect to the proposed orders, despite its objection that it is not feasible to pro-actively monitor user content.
Eventually of course the trouble with such an assessment, without consideration of wider issues of public and private international law, is that the issuing, or not, of orders of this kind by the courts, depends on the defendant’s attitude towards compliance. That is hardly a solution serving equal access to the law or indeed equity.
Thank you Stephen Pittel for alerting me to 2017 SCC 34 Google Inc. v Equustek Solutions Inc. – alternative review ia here, and apologies for my late reporting: the case came to my attention late June. I have of course posted before on various aspects of worldwide removal and other orders, particularly in the context of the EU’s ‘right to be forgotten’.
Equustek sued Datalink for various intellectual property violations and found alleged insufficient co-operation from Google in making it difficult for users to come across Datalink’s offerings. Google seemingly did not resist jurisdiction, but did resist the injunction and any ex-Canada effect of same.
The majority in the case however essentially applied an effet utile consideration: if as it found it did, it has in personam jurisdiction over defendant, an extraterritorial reach is not problematic if that is the only way to make the order effective. An order limited to searches or websites in Canada would not have addressed the harm: see Stephen’s verbatim comment (referring to para 38 of the judgment). Google was ordered to de-index globally.
Dissenting opinions suggested Datalink could be sued in France, too, however this I suppose does not address the effet utile consideration of the majority.