A recent ruling by the Paris Court of Appeals highlights French courts' approach to jurisdiction in matters of copyright infringement on the internet.
At issue was the unauthorized use of a musical work within the trailer of the Belgian version of the television show "The Voice" that was made available on the show's Facebook page. The plaintiffs brought suit against the defendants (Belgian broadcaster RTBF La Une and the production company Endemolshine Belgium) on grounds of copyright infringement before the Paris Tribunal de grande instance.
The defendants contended that the French courts lacked jurisdiction, arguing that (i) both defendants had their head offices in Belgium, (ii) the targeted public was exclusively Belgian and (iii), that the use of the song on the Facebook page was purely accessory to the television broadcast. They also noted that the site was geo-blocked (to Belgium).
Affirming the lower court's decision, the Court of Appeals rejected this line of reasoning and held that the mere fact that site was accessible from France was sufficient for jurisdictional purposes:
"It is established by bailiff's report dated 29 February 2016 that the trailer for the television show "The Voice" made available on the show's facebook page made fraudulent use of the the song "Badminton"; it is not disputed that this site was at that time perfectly accessible in France; although RTBF has produced a baliff's report dated 7 March 2017 showing that its internet site is geo-blocked, such report was drawn up nearly one year after that produced by plaintiffs such that it is irrelevant with respect to the impugned facts."
It will be recalled that the applicable legal principles in such matters are set forth in Section 7 (2) of EU Regulation 1215/2012 of 12 December 2012under which:
"A person domiciled in a Member State may be sued in another Member State:
in matters relating to tort, delict or quasi-delict, in the courts for the place where the harmful event occurred or may occur;"
While this case raised the issue of jurisdiction in an international (albeit within the European Union) context, the approach of French courts to this issue is identical in the domestic context.
The French Supreme Court (Cour de cassation) recently handed down a decision on the basis of Section 46 of the French Code of Civil Procedure which mirrors the ruling by the Court of Appeals. It held that accessibility in the territorial jurisdiction of the court before which the matter is brought of an internet site disseminating advertising suffices to establish jurisdiction thereof, such jurisdiction being based on the place of materialization of the alleged harm, with respect to the alleged infringement of plaintiff's copyright.
Needless to say, this approach is highly favourable to plaintiffs (who need only show accessibility of the impugned site in the chosen court's territorial jurisdiction) but is tempered to some extent by principles limiting the territorial scope of such jurisdiction with respect to damages that may be claimed (as well as, potentially, by conflict of law rules).
Link to decision by Paris Court of Appeals here
Link to decision by Cour de cassation here