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Freeze Frame: EU Copyright Holders Entitled to Restrict Framing

In a case referred by German authorities, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) resolved a dispute between a visual arts copyright collecting society and a cultural heritage foundation involving a digital library that includes images and links to the institution providing the subject matter. The CJEU affirmed that the principle of the right of communication to the public is subject to technical measures to prevent infringement. VG Bild-Kunst v. Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Case C-392/19 (CJEU, 9 March 2021) (Grand Chamber).

Takeaways:

  • Framing and inline linking remain generally permitted. Both forms of linking do not necessarily constitute an act governed by copyright law.
  • Where the copyright holder has adopted or obliged licensees to employ, measures to restrict framing so as to limit access to its work from websites other than that of its licensees, framing must be authorized by the rights holders concerned.

Framing

At the core of this decision is “framing.” The technique of framing consists of dividing a website page into several frames and posting within one of them, by means of a clickable link or an embedded internet link (inline linking), an element from another site in order to hide from users the original environment to which that element belongs.

Background

The decision was based on a request for a preliminary ruling in proceedings between VG Bild-Kunst, a visual arts copyright collecting society in Germany, and SPK, a German cultural heritage foundation. The proceedings concerned VG Bild-Kunst’s refusal to conclude a license agreement with SPK for the use of its catalogue of works unless the agreement contained a provision obliging SPK as a licensee, when using protected work and subject matter covered by that agreement, to implement effective technological measures to prevent third parties from framing such protected work or subject matter.

The German Federal Court of Justice referred the following question to the CJEU for a preliminary ruling:

Does the embedding of a work—which is available on a freely accessible website with the consent of the right holder—in the website of a third party by way of framing constitute communication to the public of that work within the meaning of Article 3(1) of Directive 2001/29 where it circumvents protection measures against framing adopted or imposed by the right holder?

The Decision

The CJEU’s reasoning behind the above ” takeaways” is that by adopting or obliging licensees to employ, technological measures limiting access to works from websites other than those on which the copyright owner has authorized communication to the public of such works, a copyright holder is deemed to have expressed its intention to attach qualifications to its authorization to communicate those works to the public by means of the internet, in order to confine the public for those works solely to the users of one particular website.

Consequently, where the copyright holder has adopted or obliged licensees to employ, measures to restrict framing so as to limit access to its work from websites other than that of its [...]

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CJEU Referral on Preliminary Injunctions by the Munich I District Court

The 21st Civil Chamber of the Munich I District Court has referred a question on the availability of preliminary injunctions against patent infringements to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in Luxembourg (Munich I District Court docket no. 21 O 16782/20, decision of 19 January 2021).

Key takeaways

  • The Munich I District Court has referred a question to the CJEU on whether the current standard for granting preliminary injunctions in patent litigation should be lowered.
  • The Munich judges indicate that the current standard imposes an undue burden on patentees, especially for newly issued patents.

IN DEPTH

Background

Granting a preliminary injunction requires a sufficient likelihood that the asserted patent is valid. Under current German appellate case law however, it is usually not sufficient to meet that standard by simply showing that the asserted patent has been granted by a respective patent office. Rather, with certain exceptions only, it is required that validity has been confirmed in inter partes invalidity proceedings (i.e., in opposition proceedings before the European Patent Office or the German Patent and Trademark Office, or in nullity proceedings before the Federal Patent Court). In the opinion of the Munich I District Court, this standard may impose an undue burden on patentees in view of the European Directive 2004/48/EC on the enforcement of intellectual property rights. The Munich judges reason that first, it would be difficult to enforce newly granted patents. Second, a patentee has little influence on whether validity of his patent will be challenged by third parties.

At the same time, and as mentioned by the Munich I District Court, it is widely accepted that there are exceptions that apply to the basic rule that that validity should first be confirmed in inter partes invalidity proceedings. For example in the landmark “Olanzapine” case, the Düsseldorf Appeal Court issued a preliminary injunction based on a patent that had been invalidated in first instance nullity proceedings, while an appeal in the invalidity proceedings was pending. Therefore, while the relevant patent had not survived first instance invalidity proceedings, a preliminary injunction was granted.

The question referred

The Munich I District Court referred the following question to the CJEU:

Is it in line with Article 9(1) of Directive 2004/48/EC for the Higher Regional Courts having jurisdiction at final instance in proceedings for interim relief to refuse in principle to grant interim measures for infringement of patents if the patent in dispute has not survived opposition or nullity proceedings at first instance?

Practice Note:

It will be interesting to follow the further development in connection with this referral, as the implications of the CJEU decision are likely to be far-reaching. The Munich referral may lead to new enforcement opportunities and strategies for patentees. At the same time, the Munich referral is in tension with current reform of German patent law which, if enacted, will emphasize a hurdle for injunctions, namely that injunctions must not be disproportionate.




German Competition Authority Files Amicus Brief in SEP Litigation

In 2019, Nokia filed a series of patent infringement complaints against Daimler before several German courts. Nokia alleged that connected cars made by Daimler infringed Nokia’s patents. Nokia considered the relevant patents as essential for certain wireless communication standards. Nokia v. Daimler, Case No. 2 O 34/19 (Mannheim District Court). On 18 June 2020, the litigation took a surprising turn: The German competition authority, the Federal Cartel Office (FCO), filed an amicus curiae brief with the relevant patent infringement courts (FCO docket no. P-66/20). (more…)




2019 IP Law Year in Review: European Issues

Executive Summary

The last year of the 2010s has been prolific in terms of important new pieces of legislation and case law within the European Union, and in France and Germany in particular. Indeed, the European Parliament and the EU Council adopted in April 17, 2019, a controversial directive (Directive 2019/790 on copyright and related rights in the Digital Single Market) imposing on online content-sharing service providers—such as YouTube—a new liability system, based on popularity, time and turnover criteria. This directive was created to encourage these service providers to make greater efforts in fighting copyright counterfeiting on their platforms. In France, the PACTE law, which went into force on May 22, 2019, introduced new material changes—namely the strengthening of the French patent office granting procedure (extension of examination scope) and the introduction of patent opposition proceedings before the French patent office. These two legislations greatly influenced EU and French IP law across the year.

(more…)




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