European Union Court of Justice Holds that Individuals Browsing Websites are not in Violation of Copyright Law
By Kellen Wittkop – Edited by Yixuan Long
Case C‑360/13, Pub. Relations Consultants Ass’n v. Newspaper Licensing Agency Ltd. (E.C.R., June 5, 2014)
The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) affirmed the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, which had held that webpage browsers do not need license to view copyrighted materials online. The court concluded that the on-screen and cached copies meet the criteria for exemption from reproduction laws laid out in Articles 5(1) and 5(5) of the Directive 2001/29, art. 5, 2001 O.J. (L 167/10) 16, 17 (EC) (hereinafter “Directive”), finding both types to be: temporary, created in the context of the technological process of viewing webpages, contributing to the efficiency of browsing, and transient and/or incidental in nature. The court also concluded that these reproduction acts do not unreasonably prejudice the interests of rightholders and do not conflict with the normal exploitation of the reproduced works.
With this holding, the CJEU issued a crucial decision for European Union law, balancing the rights of copyright holders and the rights of individuals to browse authorized content without being liable for infringement.
The Guardian and PCWorld provide overviews of the case. Ars Technica offers a critical perspective on the decision, claiming that the real issue was much narrower than the CJEU portrayed with its decision.
Proceedings began when the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) brought a claim against Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) in 2010. PRCA members received a media monitoring service provided by the Meltwater Group, which allowed them to use key words to track published online media articles. NLA argued that to use the service, PRCA members needed to obtain a license.
When internet users browse webpages, their computer makes a copy of the content which it displays on the screen (“on-screen copies”). An additional cached copy is made on the computer’s hard drive (“cached copies”). The NLA contended that these two kinds of copies violated the European Union (EU)’s Directive. Article 5(1) of the Directive states criteria for exemptions to reproduction rights. Directive at 16. The acts must be “temporary,” “transient or incidental,” and “an integral and essential part of the technological process.” Id. Article 5(5) states that these exceptions and limitations can only be applied in “certain special cases” that do not “conflict with normal exploitation of the work” and “do not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the rightholder.” Id. at 17.
In applying the criteria set forth in Article 5 of the Directive, the CJEU first decided that both on-screen and cached copies are temporary because the on-screen copies are deleted once the user moves away from the screen and the cached copies are automatically replaced by other content the user browses. Case C‑360/13. The court then ruled that both copies were made “entirely in the context of the implementation of a technological process” and the reproduction was necessary for the technological process to function “correctly and efficiently.” Id. Both types of copies are created and deleted by viewing webpages and are thus made in the context of that process at issue. They are necessary for the efficient browsing of the internet (the cached copies allow the computer to handle the volume of online data transmitted and the on-screen copies allows content to be viewed). The court also held that the on-screen copies are transient because they exist only when the webpage is, and the cached copies are incidental because they are dependent on the web browsing. Id.
The court specifically noted that web browsing is a special case. The interests of the rightholders are not unreasonably prejudiced because the works must be made available to the users through proper authorization. Id. Similarly, the reproductions are the means by which users access the authorized content, so the court determined that they did not conflict with a normal exploitation of the works. Id.
This decision by the CJEU is a crucial judgment in EU copyright law, protecting web-browsers at large from liability for their on-screen and cached copies of authorized content. As Brussels director of the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) said in response to the ruling, “any other ruling would essentially mess up the Internet for European citizens.” PCWorld.