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5 June 2014Copyright

Browsing online does not infringe copyright, CJEU rules

Browsing online is not an illegal act of reproduction of copyright material, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled today, June 5.

The CJEU affirmed a decision from the UK in April 2013 that viewing a web page does not constitute copyright infringement.

The UK court ruled in the case, Public Relations Consulting Agency (PRCA) v Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA), that internet users were not obliged to enter into a licensing deal to view published content.

PRCA, the largest PR association in Europe, represents the online news monitoring service Meltwater, which compiles reports of web content online and sends them to its clients.

Meltwater had agreed to enter into a licensing deal with the NLA to use links in its reports to clients, after the  England & Wales High Court ruled in 2009 that the copying of headlines in the reports infringed the copyright of news websites.

Meltwater, however, appealed against the decision and took it to the UK Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled that Meltwater did not require a licence for its reports.

Despite the ruling, the UK Supreme Court referred the decision to the CJEU to gain further clarity that the decision was in line with the requirements of Article 5.1 of the European Directive 2001/29.

Article 5.1 of the European Directive 2001/29 prevents copyrighted works from being reproduced without authorisation. Reproductions, however, are deemed not to infringe existing copyrighted works if they are “temporary”, “incidental” or “integral to the technological process”.

There were questions over whether the caching of web content, a method of storing information viewed online, constituted an illegal reproduction of copyrighted content.

The CJEU, however, said that “the cached copies are normally automatically replaced by other content after a certain time” and that “the technological process could not function correctly and efficiently” without caching the information.

Michael Hart, partner at Baker & McKenzie LLP, who represented PRCA in the case, said: “This is a groundbreaking decision for our clients, which allows consumers and businesses across the EU lawfully to read and browse online content.”

While agreeing with the decision from the court, Jeremy Blum, partner at Bristows LLP, warned about the problems of  piracy online and the need to tackle it.

He said: “It is a slightly frustrating, if not predictable, result for copyright holders because piracy is rife on the internet.”

“Copyright holders have to persist with pursuing those entities that are uploading the content or communicating the content to the public. It forces right holders to continue to focus on the source of the pirated works, which is often a more difficult and onerous task,” he added.

The case will now return to the UK Supreme Court, which will make a final decision.

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