How much information is enough? CJEU and German Federal Court of Justice rule what information platform owners have to provide about uploaders to copyright holders

In 2019 the German Federal Court of Justice asked the CJEU to rule on the extent of the information that a copyright holder has the right to receive regarding uploaders who have allegedly infringed their copyright. Franz Gernhardt provides an update on the CJEU's ruling.

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As reported on MediaWrites, the German Federal Court of Justice has asked the CJEU to rule whether a copyright holder has a right to receive information from YouTube on the e-mail addresses, phone numbers and IP addresses of uploaders who have committed copyright infringements under Article 8 (2) lit. a) of EC Directive 2004/48 on the enforcement of intellectual property rights.

I. Background of the Case

The Federal Court of Justice had asked the CJEU to rule on the extent of the information that has to be provided under the above mentioned Article, which provides that the copyright owner shall be provided with the names and addresses of the alleged infringers to allow them to use this information to enforce their rights directly against the infringers.

The main question in the proceeding was therefore, whether the address as mentioned in Article 8 (2) lit. a) of EC Directive 2004/28 not only covers the postal address but also the e-mail addresses and telephone numbers of the relevant users as well as the IP addresses at the time the infringing material was uploaded.

This question has now been answered by the CJEU and the Federal Court of Justice.

II. Decision of the CJEU

The CJEU confirmed the initial interpretation of Article 8 (2) lit. a) of EC Directive 2004/28 by the Federal Court of Justice and ruled that the Article must be interpreted that the term “addresses” does not cover, in respect of a user who has uploaded files which infringe an intellectual property right, his or her email address, telephone number and the IP address used to upload those files or the IP address used when the user’s account was last accessed (CJEU, Decision 0f 09 July 2020, C-264/19).

The CJEU argued in the decision that the term “address” shall be interpreted in the same way throughout the European Union. In everyday language it covers only the postal address that is a person’s permanent address or habitual residence. The CJEU however also mentioned that it would be up to the Members to grant owners of intellectual property rights the right to receive additional information. If local law doesn’t require more information, the term “address” would only cover the postal address.

III. Decision of the Federal Court of Justice

Not surprisingly the Federal Court of Justice followed the reasoning of the CJEU in its decision of 10 December 2020 (Federal Court of Justice, Ref. I ZR 153/17).

In its decision the Federal Court of Justice argued in particular that it would not be up to courts to undertake a broad and dynamic interpretation of the meaning of the word “address” if the local law did only provide for a harmonization of the relevant law to a minimum extent.

IV. Comment

The decisions of the CJEU and the Federal Court of Justice had been expected and they confirmed that when analyzing a legal provision, the pure wording of the provision is still one of the most important factors, if not the most important, for the interpretation. In particular, the CJEU held that when a European legislative act contains a word like “address” that is a common word in most of the languages of the European Union, this word shall be interpreted in the same way throughout the European Union. Platform owners are therefore only required to provide copyright holders with the name and postal address of the uploader of alleged copyright infringing material, unless the local law does requires further information to be provided.

This of course makes it more difficult for copyright owners to enforce their rights if they cannot obtain additional information like e-mail or IP addresses.

The scope of the decision should not however be overstated, as during the implementation of the new Copyright Directive most Member States will implement new legal regimes for the enforcement of alleged copyright infringements by uploaders on content sharing platforms. MediaWrites will of course keep an eye on the progress of the implementation in the different Member States and update its readers regularly.

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