Wednesday, 4 April 2018

French Law's Principle of Strict Interpretation

One of the cardinal principles of French copyright law is the principle whereby any license/assignment of a copyright interest by an author is to be strictly interpreted such that any right not expressly mentioned is not granted.

An appellate ruling by the Court of Appeal of Aix-en-Provence (8 February 2018) is illustrative of this.  A professional photographer had licensed the rights to one of his photographs to an advertising agency for use in a real-estate promoter's brochure and website for the price of 844 euros.

He later learned that the photograph was used, without his authorization (but with credit, such that there was no issue regarding his right of attribution) in an advertising campaign, appearing inter alia in Paris Match, the well-known magazine.

He thus brought legal action against the agency for copyright infringement.

The Court started by recalling the provisions of Section L.131-3 of the French Intellectual Property Code pursuant to which the license (or assignment) of copyright is subject to the condition that each right be distinctly mentioned and that the license (or assignment) be delineated with respect to its scope, purpose, territory and duration.  This is the stautory provision that forms the foundation of the principle of strict interpretation.

On this basis, the Court agreed with the photographer that the licensed use was indeed strictly limited to use in the brochure and the website and nothing else.  It was not, as the defendant had argued, "implicit" that the license also covered the written press and periodicals (such as Paris Match):

"The license relates to the illustration of a brochure and there is no express mention of a press advertisement, such that use in Paris Match goes beyond the authorization that was given."

In an interesting aside, the Court rejects the defendant's contention that the quantum of the license fee could be used to construe the scope of the license; defendant had argued that the amount of 844 euros was much too high to be consistent with the limited scope claimed by the photographer and militated against such an interpretation. 

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