ECJ-decision: International jurisdiction in case of copyright infringement on a website

By judgment of 22 January 2015 (C-441/13), the European Court of Justice (ECJ) decided on the interpretation of Art. 5 para 3 of Regulation 44/2001 (Brussels I) on international jurisdiction of courts in a copyright infringement case. According to the ECJ, in case of an alleged infringement of copyrights and rights related to copyright by placing of protected photographs online on a website, the court is competent in the district where this website is accessible in its territorial jurisdiction. But this national court has jurisdiction only to rule on the damage caused in the European Member State within which the court is situated.

The facts
The decision was based on the following facts: A women (Ms Hejduk), domiciled in Vienna (Austria), and a German company, which has its seat in Düsseldorf (Germany), had a dispute concerning the possible infringement of copyright as a result of photographs created by Ms Hejduk being made available on the website of the German company (with a “.de” domain) without her consent. Ms Hejduk sued the German company in front of an Austrian court (Handelsgericht Wien) which decided to stay the proceedings and to refer the question of international jurisdiction and on the interpretation of Regulation 44/2001 to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling.

The law
According to Art. 5 para 3 of Regulation 44/2001, a person domiciled in a Member State may, in another Member State, be sued in matters relating to tort, delict or quasi-delict, in the courts for the place where the harmful event occurred or may occur.

The decision
Firstly, the ECJ states that the causal event, defined as the event which gives rise to the alleged damage, is not relevant for the purpose of attributing jurisdiction to the court before which a case such as that in the main proceedings has been brought. The court notes that in circumstances such as those at issue in the main proceedings, the causal event took place at the seat of that company (in Germany) and therefore does not attribute jurisdiction to the court seised in Austria.

Secondly, the ECJ had to determine the conditions in which, for the purposes of Art. 5 para 3 of Regulation No 44/2001, the damage arising out of an alleged infringement of copyright occurs or is likely to occur in a Member State other than the one in which the defendant (the German company) took and carried out the decision to place photographs online on a particular website.

In its answer, the ECJ refers to previous rulings, where the court has stated not only that the place where the alleged damage occurred within the meaning of that provision may vary according to the nature of the right allegedly infringed, but also that the likelihood of damage occurring in a particular Member State is subject to the condition that the right whose infringement is alleged is protected in that Member State.

Then the ECJ turns to the most important aspect of its ruling. According to the court, unlike Art. 15 para 1(c) of Regulation No 44/2001, Art. 5 para 3 does not require, in particular, that the activity concerned be ‘directed to’ the Member State in which the court seised is situated.

Therefore, the ECJ concludes that for the purposes of determining the place where the damage occurred with a view to attributing jurisdiction on the basis of Art. 5 para 3 of Regulation No 44/2001, it is irrelevant that the website at issue in the main proceedings is not directed at the Member State (in this case Austria) in which the court seised is situated. The occurrence of damage and/or the likelihood of its occurrence arise from the accessibility in the Member State of the referring court, via the website of the German company, of the photographs to which the rights relied on by Ms Hejduk pertain.

Finally, the ECJ clarifies that, in light of the fact that the protection of copyright and rights related to copyright granted by European Member States is limited to the territory of that Member State, a court seised on the basis of the place where the alleged damage occurred has jurisdiction only to rule on the damage caused within that Member State.

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