Posts Tagged Libel
E-date Advertising for companies. Libel, internet and centre of interests. Bobek AG in Bolagsupplysningen OÜ.
Bobek AG opined mid July 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. This is one of those Opinions where summaries fall much, much short of the contents of the original document and I should urge readers to consult the Opinion in full.
An Estonian company operating in Sweden was blacklisted for its allegedly questionable business practices on the website of a Swedish employers’ federation. The Advocate General dryly notes ‘(a)s inevitably happens in the era of anonymous internet bravery, universally known for its genteel style, subtle understanding, and moderation, 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.
The Advocate General suggests 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 joins Szpunar AG in severely questioning the wisdom of the Bier rule in the age of internet publications.
Now, human rights scholars will enjoy the Advocate General’s tour d’horizon on whether and to what extend companies may enjoy human rights. On the whole I believe he is absolutely right in suggesting that there ought to be no difference between legal persons and natural persons when it comes to the very possession of personality rights (such as the right not to be libelled) and that neither is there any ground to distinguish between natural persons and legal persons when it comes to the jurisdictional consequences of upholding these rights.
Then, to the jurisdictional consequences (para 73 onwards): the AG suggests that ‘putting Shevill online’ (the AGs words) essentially means granting the forum to a large number of jurisdictions simultaneously, 28 within the European Union. That is because allegedly false or libelous information on the internet is instantly accessible in all Member States. Bobek AG suggests such multiplicity of fora stemming from the distribution criterion is very difficult to reconcile with the objective of predictability of jurisdictional rules and sound administration of justice enshrined in recital 15 of the Brussels I Recast Regulation, and does not serve the interests of claimant (although the AG concedes that in litigation practice, sending the defendant on a goose chase throughout the EU may be an attractive proposition). Now, in Bier the CJEU upheld jurisdiction for both locus damni and for locus delicti commissi on the grounds that this was attractive from the point of view of evidence and conduct of proceedings: this gives both the ‘special link’ which the special jurisdictional rules require. Whether the Court will be swayed by the argument that in the internet context, neither is of relevance, remains to be seen. It is true that number of clicks, which presumably is the relevant criteria to establish ‘damage’ in the context of Article 7(2), can be established just as well outside the jurisdiction as inside it (Google Analytics being used in a variety of national proceedings). It is also true however that Bier and Shevill are dogma for the Court and it is unlikely that it will simply abandon or even vary them.
Variation is all the more unlikely in the direction of the alternative suggested by the AG: locus delicti commissi relates to whoever is in charge of publishing and altering the content of the online information. So far so good: this is a useful clarification of Shevill in the internet age and one that has as such been so applied by national courts. Harm then would in the AG’s view have to be defined as where the reputation of the claimant was most strongly affected. That is the place of his centre of interests. The AG further suggests (at 104 ff) that in the case of a profit-making legal person, that is, a company, the jurisdiction is likely to correspond to the Member State where it attains the highest turnover. In the case of non-profit organisations, it is likely to be the place where most of its ‘clients’ (in the broadest sense of the word) are located. In both cases, such a Member State is likely to be the one where the damage to reputation and therefore to its professional existence is going to be felt the most. However in all cases, assessments needs to be fact-specific, and moreover, more than one centre of interests could potentially be established (at 116); that latter concession of course is not likely to endear the AG to the Court, given the requirement of predictability.
Answering then the query re injunctions (under the assumption that is an injunction sought by way of final remedy, not an interim measure), the AG employs the possibility of conflicting directions issued by courts with jurisdiction as to the merits of the case, as further argument to support his view on locus damni. This issue could raise interesting discussions on the usefulness of directions to remove internet content from particular websites only.
All in all, there is an awful lot of to the point analysis by the AG in this opinion. However the Court’s repeated reluctance to vary Bier and Shevill, a formidable obstacle.
(Handbook of) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 18.104.22.168.
The president and Mrs Trump keep on exercising the courts. In Melania Trump v Webster Tarpley and Mail Media, Inc., the circuit court for Montgomery County, Maryland, accepted jurisdiction against the former, who is resident in Maryland, but rejected it against the latter, who is resident at New York. (It is registered there and also has its head office there). The second defendant is most likely the owner of the website dailymail.com and dailymail.co.uk. Whether that was really the case was left in the middle though for the Daily Mail group (whom Wikipedia today confirmed as no longer accepting as a source of facts), wanted the judge to rule on the merits of jurisdiction rather than on a possibly wrongly identified defendant.
Alleged libel concerns reports published by Mr Tarpley, a blogger, and the Daily Mail, relating to remarks, later retracted by both defendants, on alleged past racy activities of Mrs Trump. At issue was whether the courts at Maryland have personal jurisdiction over Mail Media. Mrs Trump’s legal team suggest publication of defamatory material in a publication with significant circulation in the forum state, suffices for jurisdiction. This, they argue, is compounded by targeted interactivity between the Daily Mail and readers in Maryland. Mail Media suggest there is no direct connection between Maryland and the Mail Article at issue and that even if the court were to accept such connection, jurisdiction should be refused on the basis of forum non conveniens.
The court accepted the first defence and did not therefore entertain the second. P.7: operating a website, even one that is popular and makes money from advertising, is not ‘purposeful availment’ under precedent rule: the publication has to intentionally enter the forum market: the MAil’s influence in the US is on a national (federal) basis.
Note to class: compare the court’s approach with that of European courts under the Brussels I Recast Regulation.
Mrs Trump has now refiled in New York, where both her and second defendant are resident.
Others have reported in some detail, and I am happy to refer, on Arlewin v Sweden at the ECtHR – the second Strasbourg conflicts ruling I report on in more or less one week. Epra have a short and sweet review, based mostly on the Court’s press release but useful nevertheless: they for instance suggest that Strasbourg have extended e-Date Advertising’s centre of interests rule for infringement of personality rights via the internet, to transmission by satellite. Dirk Voorhoof takes the media regulation angle. Dr Takis has the most extensive review over at Profs Peers and Barnard’s EU law analysis.
The case is a good illustration of an important port of entry for the ECHR into EU conflicts law in commercial litigation at least (I am not talking here of family law): Article 6’s right to fair trial. (See here for more extensive review of the Convention’s impact on European private international law). Strasbourg and Luxemburg are playing combination football here: the ECtHR approving of the CJEU’s application of the Brussels I Regulation in the case of libel and defamation. Especially with the EC’s recent shift of focus to the plaintiff’s position rather than the defendant’s, nothing guarantees of course that in the future EU law at this point might not be at odds with human rights law.
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed, 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 22.214.171.124.4 .
Paris suing FoxNews. (Birmingham joining optional). A dream essay for conflict of laws, many questions for practitioners..
Exam time for conflict of laws students the world over, I imagine. Here’s a dream essay question. (Pick and mix a definite possibility). Bear in mind each of these questions exercises practitioners, too.
‘It is widely reported that Paris (the town, not the socialite) may sue FoxNews. (For the sake of this essay assumed to be incorporated in Delaware, USA). A FoxNews analyst suggested the existence of ‘no go’ zones for non-muslims in the French capital.
1. How would you qualify Paris’ suit?
2. Where would you advise Paris to file the suit and why? What legal basis supports your litigation advice?
3. Assuming a French court would entertain the suit. What law would it apply to the case at hand?
4. Assuming a US (State) court would entertain the suit. What law would it apply to the case at hand?
5. Assume FoxNews countersues Paris.
5.1. Under the assumption of Q3, can the French Court join the countersuit to the original one?
5.2. Under the assumption of Q4, can the US Court join the countersuit to the original one?
5.3. Assume FoxNews is successful on its countersuit in a French court and wishes to have that judgment recognised and enforced against the bank account of Paris with BancoFrancais in London. Would an English court apply state immunity?
5.4 Assuming the same as under 5.3 however against assets held in Belgium. Would you come to the same conclusion?
5.5 Assume the same as under 5.3 however on a countersuit in a US court. Would FoxNews be succesful in enforcing the judgment in France?
6. Replace ‘Paris’ with ‘Birmingham (United Kingdom)’. Revisit all of the questions above.
7. Add (rather than replace) a claim against FoxNews by Birmingham, UK. Could a French court assumed to have already upheld jurisdiction over Paris’ claim, join a Birmingham claim? On what legal basis? (if at all).’
An end to libel tourism in the UK? The High Court in Subotic and Karpov. Abuse principles sink jurisdiction.
Two interesting cases in the High Court on libel tourism, Subotic and Karpov (both held 14 October 2013). The relevance to English libel law is set out by Robert Renfree and by Paul Dacam. Here I just wanted to flag the jurisdictional issues under the Brussels regime.
In Subotic, a Serbian national living in Switzerland, Dingemans J accepted English jurisdiction in principle although it is not entirely clear on what basis. Domicile of the defendant at the time of the initiation of the claim was alleged by claimant to have been England. However defendant disputed such domicile, referring to inferred addresses having been a left-over of earlier study in the UK (but adding complaints about his wife and children’s address in London having been found, whence the dispute on domicile was not entirely clear). Counsel for the defendant also referred to his client having shied away, for costs reasons, from English proceedings after earlier acceptance to entertain the claim – however this potential voluntary appearance under Article 24 of the Regulation was not further reviewed. It is most likely that acceptance of jurisdiction was made on the basis of Article 5(3) of the Regulation however as readers will be aware, that does limit jurisdiction to damage in the UK only (the alleged acts leading to libel not having taken place in the UK, only some of the reputational damage). To add to the fog, parallel proceedings are alleged by plaintiff to be underway in Switzerland although their course is unclear. Finally, defendant now is domiciled in Croatia, EU Member State since 1 July 2013. As Dingemans suggested, this would certainly not stand in the way of new proceedings there (although it could of course lead to lis alibi pendens considerations, depending on what would be asked of the Croatian court).
Eventually, Dingemans held that continuation of the proceedings would amount to abuse of process, ‘The evidence shows that there was no substantial publication in England and Wales, and that there was no effect on the reputation of Mr Subotic in England and Wales.‘ There was, in other words, insufficient connection to England and Wales.
This is arguably not a refusal to exercise jurisdiction otherwise held under the Brussels I Regulation (per Owusu, that would be impossible), rather, an application of procedural rules under lex fori, or indeed a forward application of the lex causae (definitely libel under common law, as defamation is exempt from the Rome II Regulation). However upon first reflection, the abuse of process route may in circumstances such as these be seen as an application of the forum non conveniens doctrine. Any thoughts of common lawyers are certainly invited!
In Karpov, the claimant was a former Russian police officer who had brought proceedings against a British based hedge fund owner and associated companies. Simon J, too, held abuse of process in this case, holding inter alia that ‘claimant had no connection with, and had no reputation to protect within, the jurisdiction; and therefore cannot establish a real and substantial tort within the jurisdiction.’ In this case, though, none of the defendants was domiciled in the UK (Hermitage Capital Management (UK) Limited would seem to be domiciled in Guernsey, which is not part of the UK and not subject to the jurisdiction Regulation). Jurisdiction in Karpov therefore was entirely determined by English law.