By Eleonora Rosati
|Visual map on linking after GS Media, available here|
A few days ago this blog reported on a recent decision of the Regional Court of Hamburg that, similarly to another German judgment – this being the also recent ruling of the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) [here] – questioned or, at least, proposed a restrictive meaning and application of the recent decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) on the right of communication to the public and linking to protected content under Article 3(1) of the InfoSoc Directive.
It appears, in particular, that it is the CJEU construction of prima facie liability for unauthorized linking as found in GS Media [Katposts here] – notably the presumption of knowledge applied to link providers with a profit-making intention (see my table on the right hand side) – to face resistance.
Thanks to a couple of German Katfriends, I have been made aware that there is a third recent decision that also shows an approach to linking and the GS Media presumption which is possibly different from the one envisaged by the CJEU.
It is once again a judgment (310 O 117/17) [also commented here] of the Regional Court of Hamburg, once again involving pug dog Loulou.
The new Hamburg decision
In a nutshell, in this case the Hamburg court held that there is no act of communication to the public within §§ 15(2) UrhG and 19a UrhG if a person who links to protected content without the relevant rightholder’s permission is unaware that such content is unlawful.
In particular, even if the link provider has a profit-making intention, there should be no presumption that he had awareness that the content linked to was unlawful if he operates in a context in which it would be unreasonable to expect that checks are performed to ensure that the content linked to is (and remains) lawful.
In the case at issue, the defendant’s linking activities were performed algorithmically and, similarly to the other Hamburg decision, also in this instance the infringing content linked to was available on Amazon.de.
Scaling down GS Media
According to the court [para 67], the GS Media presumption of knowledge cannot be considered as indistinctly applicable: instead, it should be only relevant in situations in which the link provider/defendant can be expected to carry out the necessary checks to determine the status – lawful or unlawful – of the content linked to.
Paragraph 68 of the decision contains a direct scaling down of the CJEU approach in GS Media.
The German court acknowledged that [at para 51] the CJEU seemingly mandated a generally applicable presumption for links posted out of profit. However, a conclusion of this kind would contradict what is stated at paragraph 34 of GS Media itself, ie that the assessment of whether a link provider can be liable under Article 3(1) of the InfoSoc Directive must be individualized and take account of several complementary criteria that “may, in different situations, be present to widely varying degrees”.
According to the court, in the case at issue it would be “unreasonable” and “economically unjustifiable” to expect that the defendant carries out such checks in relation to each and every content (automatically) linked to, including content hosted on a platform like Amazon.
The defendant’s business model – including the fact that the content is not ‘incorporated’ to look as the defendant’s own content - is such that no specific searches for unlawfulness can be expected. Holding otherwise would not only be unreasonable, but also amount to an undue compression of the fundamental freedom to conduct a business, pursuant to Article 16 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
This is the third decision in a short timeframe that proposes a 'minimalist' reading of the GS Media presumption for for-profit link providers.
In these cases the German courts, instead of holding the presumption rebutted in the specific instance considered (as it appears - or rather appeared? - to be the approach in GS Media), held against its applicability tout court, on grounds of reasonableness and by placing significant emphasis on the fundamental rights dimension.
From the reading of these judgments, the fear that the relationship between copyright protection and freedom to conduct a business might be too unbalanced in favour of the former is acutely felt. This - together with considerations relating to the proper construction of the right of communication to the public, including the requirement of an individualized assessment - arguably supported the resulting outcome.