Brussels I and public notice under national law

The case of G/Cornelius de Visser (C-292/10) resembles the Lindner case (C-327/10), on which we reported earlier. The case involves numerous issues, some of which will be dealt with in this post. The factual background of the case simply cannot pass unmentioned. A German girl, Ms G, approached the owner (Mr de Visser) of the domain name www.****.de (I call upon the reader’s imagination here) to show her interest in having photographs taken of herself (their intended use being ‘für eine Party’). The photographs were duly made in Germany and Ms G agreed that they would be published. However, her consent was strictly limited to the pictures being used ‘for a party’, and did not include widespread distribution online.

Taunted by co-workers as she was (according to the judgment she was ‘shown the photographs (…) by work colleagues’), she initiated proceedings in Germany against De Visser. Mr de Visser was registered as owner of the domain with an address in Terneuzen and a postal address in Venlo (both in the Netherlands). It had not, however, been possible to effect service at those addresses in the Netherlands, since both letters were returned marked ‘Unknown at this address’. The Consulate of the Netherlands in Munich stated, on request, that Mr de Visser was not listed in any population register in the Netherlands. To sum up, as was the case in Lindner, the defendant was nowhere to be found. Since both the Hague Convention on the service of documents 1965 and the EU Service Regulation are inapplicable in the case of a defendant with unknown address, the German judge resorted to public notice of the document under German procedural law. This was done by affixing a notice of that service to the bulletin board of the Landgericht Regensburg from 11 February to 15 March 2010. Could this be deemed in conformity with Article 6 ECHR and Article 47 Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU? The Court held:Continue reading

Cases C-162/10 Phonographic Performance (Ireland) Limited (PPL), and C-135/10 Società Consortile Fonografici (SCF)

Last week, the ECJ released two judgments regarding the issue of copyrights on music broadcasts. According to EU law (specifically, Directive 2006/115), artists have a right to remuneration when recordings of their work are communicated to the public. But what exactly does ‘communication to the public’ entail?

In the PPL case, an Irish court asked the ECJ for a preliminary ruling to clarify whether ‘communication to the public’ includes broadcasts by a hotel to guests in hotel bedrooms, and whether Ireland was therefore in violation of European law when it exempted hotels from paying remuneration for these broadcasts. In the SCF case, an Italian court asked the ECJ to clarify whether ‘communication to the public’ includes background music played by a dentist in a dental practice.

The Court held that determining whether the hotel’s or the dentist’s broadcasts were ‘communication to the public’ would require an individual, case-specific analysis focused on three overlapping factors:

  • the role of the user, which engages in ‘communication’ when it intervenes to give access to a protected work
  • the concept of the public, which refers to an “indeterminate number of potential listeners” and “implies a fairly large number of persons”
  • whether the communication is of a profit-making nature, as judged by whether the user benefits, whether the user targets the public, and whether the public is receptive in some way, rather than merely listening by chance

While both the hotel and the dentist were ‘users’ engaging in communication, the ECJ found that the two situations differed with respect to the second and third criteria. The hotel’s customers were a ‘public’ because they were of ‘indeterminate number’ and were ‘a fairly large number of persons’ (PPL, paras. 41-42). The dentist’s clients, on the other hand, were not a ‘public’ because they formed a consistent, determinate group, and because only a small number would be present in the office listening to the broadcast at the same time (SCF, paras. 95-96). Similarly, the hotel’s broadcast was of a ‘profit-making nature’ because it was “an additional service which has an influence on the hotel’s standing and, therefore, on the price of its rooms” and “is likely to attract additional guests who are interested in that additional service” (PPL, para. 44). The dentist’s broadcast, on the other hand, was not of a ‘profit-making nature’ because the dentist “cannot reasonably either expect a rise in the number of patients because of that broadcast alone or increase the price of the treatment he provides” and because the patients are not ‘receptive’, but rather listen to the music merely by chance (SCF, paras. 97-98).

As a result, the dentist is not making a ‘communication to the public’ and is not required to pay remuneration. The hotel, however, is making such a communication, and is required to pay remuneration. According to the ECJ, therefore, Ireland should not have exempted hotels from this requirement.

AG Bot in P.I. (Case C-348/09): Committing a crime disqualifies EU Citizens from permanent residence

In his Opinion in the P.I. case delivered on March 6 this year, AG Bot came up with a curious reading of ‘integration into society’ when dealing with a potential expulsion of an EU citizen who is a permanent resident. In the view of the learned AG committing a crime ‘shows a total lack of desire to integrate into society’ (para. 60), disqualifying the criminal from protection against expulsion (para. 49). This curious reasoning potentially deprives the status of permanent residence under directive 2004/38/EC of much of identifiable meaning.

The Citizenship directive (directive 2004/38/EC) regulates the conditions under which nationals of a Member State can move to and reside freely within the territory of the Member States. In short, the directive introduces a system in which the longer you live in another Member State, the more rights you have. For the Court, the length of residence is proof of a certain level of integration into the society of the host Member State (see for instance case C-158/07 Jacqueline Förster).

Expulsion, for example, is almost impossible after 10 years of prior legal residence. Article 28(3)(a) provides that an expulsion decision may only be taken against Union citizens legally resident for a period of 10 years on ‘imperative grounds of public security, as defined by Member States’. From Tsakouridis (C-145/09) we already know that dealing in drugs can provide such an ‘imperative ground of public security’. But what if we are dealing with the rape of a step-daughter? The issue of the case in P.I basically comes down to the need for the Court to clarify when EU citizen permanent residents can be sent back to their Member State of nationality, which, in turn, necessitates answering the question about the meaning of the ‘imperative grounds of public security’.

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Copyright for football league fixture lists?

Here is a nice judgment of the Court for football fans. Have you ever wondered why English  Premier League match fixtures on the internet are made unavailable while other fixtures are? The reason is that the FA and Football Dataco think these fixture lists are protected by copyright. For some of us that does not seem to make any sense: especially on the continent copyright is a property right rewarded because of creativity, not managing an agenda (no matter how difficult and laborous that can be). Football Dataco and the FA thought otherwise, emphasizing the very significant labour and skill that went into creating match fixtures for football matches in England and Scotland.

The FA and Football Dataco  got into a legal battle with Yahoo and other companies over this. The Court of Appeal subsequently referred the case to the Court to ask whether article 3(1) of the Copyright Directive (Directive 96/9/EC) granted copyright to the creators of annual match fixtures. The Court answered that ‘no other criteria than that of the originality is to be applied to determine the eligibility of a database for copyright protection’:

41      Therefore, on the one hand, provided that the selection or arrangement of the data ­– namely, in a case such as the one in the main proceedings, data corresponding to the date, the time and the identity of teams relating to the different fixtures of the league concerned (see paragraph 26 of the present judgment) ­– is an original expression of the creativity of the author of the database, it is irrelevant for the purpose of assessing the eligibility of the database for the copyright protection provided for by Directive 96/9 whether or not that selection or arrangement includes ‘adding important significance’ to that data, as mentioned in section (b) of the referring court’s first question.

42      On the other hand, the fact that the setting up of the database required, irrespective of the creation of the data which it contains, significant labour and skill of its author, as mentioned in section (c) of that same question, cannot as such justify the protection of it by copyright under Directive 96/9, if that labour and that skill do not express any originality in the selection or arrangement of that data.

Consequently:

–        the intellectual effort and skill of creating that data are not relevant in order to assess the eligibility of that database for protection by that right;

–        it is irrelevant, for that purpose, whether or not the selection or arrangement of that data includes the addition of important significance to that data, and

–        the significant labour and skill required for setting up that database cannot as such justify such a protection if they do not express any originality in the selection or arrangement of the data which that database contains.

It is now up to the Court of Appeal to determine whether creating annual match fixtures is an original expression of the creativity of Football Dataco or not.

Primacy and the Czech Constitutional Court

Primacy, that is the precedence EU law takes over any national laws in cases of conflict, is one of the most fundamental aspects of EU law. The primacy doctrine elaborated in Costa/ENEL by the Court has not always been fully endorsed by various constitutional courts in the Member States (the Solange judgment of the Bundesverfassungsgericht is the most well known example). However, to date national courts have always applied the doctrine, albeit with reservations.

That has ended with a recent ruling by the Czech Constitutional Court. In a case concerning an alleged discrimanatory pension scheme in the Czech republic that resulted from the dissolvation of Czechoslovakia, it held that the Court in its judgment in Case C-399/09 Landtová acted ultra vires and subsequently gave Czech national law precedence over EU law. This is a quote from the press release of the Czech Constitutional Court:

In its judgement, the Constitutional Court first expressed its view on the conclusions following from the judgement of the Court of Justice of the EU. In the introduction, the Constitutional Court summarized its previous case-law concerning the relationship between national and European law and above all emphasised the thesis (which follows also from the doctrine of the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany) under which constitutional courts maintain their role of supreme guardians of constitutionality even in the realms of the EU and even against potential excesses on the side of EU bodies. In this respect, the Constitutional Court believes that a European regulation which governs co-ordination of pension system among the member states may not be applied to an entirely specific situation of a dissolution of the Czechoslovak federation and to consequences stemming thereof. The Constitutional Court wishes to emphasise that the period of employment for an employer based in the territory of today´s Slovak Republic cannot be considered a period of employment in abroad (besides, social security had been subject to federal competence in the entire period of existence of the Czechoslovak federation). Therefore, the Constitutional Court expressed the view that matters of social security and claims following from them did not in the case of so-called Slovak pensions contain a foreign element which is a prerequisite for the application of the co-ordination regulation. This issue cannot be compared to consideration of social security claims with respect to acknowledgement of periods obtained in different states, whilst it is the issue of consequences of dissolution of the Czechoslovak federation and of division of costs on social security between the successor states.

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Case C-467/10 Akyüz

The ECJ issued a fun judgment today on the mutual recognition of driving licenses in the EU.

The case involves one Mr. Akyüz, a German national who was denied a German driving license because his “strong aggressive tendencies” caused him to fail a required medico-psychological exam (para. 18).  Being a savvy gentleman (and perhaps familiar with EU law?), Mr. Akyüz went to the Czech Republic and acquired a Czech licence instead. When he returned to Germany and drove using his new Czech qualification, he was convicted by the German courts for two counts of driving without a license. Mr. Akyüz appealed his convictions, and the German court sent a preliminary reference to the ECJ to ask whether Directives 91/439 and 2006/126 “must be interpreted as precluding legislation of a host Member State which allows that State to refuse to recognise, within its territory, a driving licence issued in another Member State in the case where the holder of that licence … was refused a first driving licence in that State on the ground that he did not satisfy, under that State’s legislation, the physical and mental requirements for the safe driving of a motor vehicle” (para. 35).

The ECJ answered in the affirmative:

41. It is for the issuing Member State to investigate whether the minimum conditions imposed by European Union law, particularly those relating to residence and fitness to drive … have been satisfied and, therefore, whether the issuing of a driving licence is justified … .

42. Once the authorities of one Member State have issued a driving licence … the other Member States are not entitled to investigate whether the conditions for issue laid down by that directive have been met. The possession of a driving licence issued by one Member State has to be regarded as constituting proof that on the day on which that licence was issued, its holder satisfied those conditions … .

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Untraceable consumers under Brussels I

Section 4 of the Brussels I Regulation (Regulation 44/2001/EC) contains special rules of jurisdiction over consumer contracts, generally designed to protect the weaker party (i.e. the consumer). According to Article 16 (2), the professional party may sue the consumer only in the courts of the Member State where the consumer is domiciled. Does this provision also apply to consumers who left their last known domicile and are simply nowhere to be found? Does the Brussels I Regulation preclude the use of provisions of national law which enable proceedings to be brought against persons of unknown address? These, essentially, were the questions referred to the Court in the case of mr Lindner (C-327/10). A Czech bank brought proceedings in the Czech republic against Lindner, a German national. It appeared Lindner had left his last known domicile in the Czech republic before the proceedings against him were brought. The Czech courts tried to track him down, to no avail. The court held:

55    – (…) in a situation such as that in the main proceedings, in which a consumer who is a party to a long-term mortgage loan contract, which includes the obligation to inform the other party to the contract of any change of address, renounces his domicile before proceedings against him for breach of his contractual obligations are brought, the courts of the Member State in which the consumer had his last known domicile have jurisdiction, pursuant to Article 16(2) of that regulation, to deal with proceedings in the case where they have been unable to determine, pursuant to Article 59 of that regulation, the defendant’s current domicile and also have no firm evidence allowing them to conclude that the defendant is in fact domiciled outside the European Union;

– that regulation does not preclude the application of a provision of national procedural law of a Member State which, with a view to avoiding situations of denial of justice, enables proceedings to be brought against, and in the absence of, a person whose domicile is unknown, if the court seised of the matter is satisfied, before giving a ruling in those proceedings, that all investigations required by the principles of diligence and good faith have been undertaken with a view to tracing the defendant.

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Commission requests opinion of the Court on ACTA

Today Commissioner Karel de Gucht announced that the Commission will request the opinion (pursuant article 218 (11) TFEU) of the Court on the compatibility of ACTA with the Treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights in particular. The Commisioner stated that

We are planning to ask Europe’s highest court to assess whether ACTA is incompatible – in any way – with the EU’s fundamental rights and freedoms, such as freedom of expression and information or data protection and the right to property in case of intellectual property.

(…) But let me be very clear: I share people’s concern for these fundamental freedoms. I welcome that people have voiced their concerns so actively – especially over the freedom of the internet. And I also understand that there is uncertainty on what ACTA will really mean for these key issues at the end of the day.

So I believe that putting ACTA before the European Court of Justice is a needed step. This debate must be based upon facts and not upon the misinformation or rumour that has dominated social media sites and blogs in recent weeks.

As I have explained before the European Parliament on several occasions, ACTA is an agreement that aims to raise global standards of enforcement of intellectual property rights. These very standards are already enshrined in European law. What counts for us is getting other countries to adopt them so that European companies can defend themselves against blatant rip-offs of their products and works when they do business around the world.

More on ACTA can be found here, here and here.

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