Case note

Case C-435/12 ACI Adam v Stichting de Thuiskopie

Justin Koo, PhD Candidate, The Dickson Poon School of Law, King’s College London

The claimants in this case were importers of data media storage devices such as CDs. By virtue of Article 16c(2) of the Auteurswet (Dutch copyright law), the claimants were responsible for the payment of remuneration to authors. This payment has the effect of offsetting the costs of the private copy exception under Article 16b given that the imported media storage devices facilitate acts of private copying. However, the claimants contended that the remuneration payable to the defendants incorrectly takes into account copying from unlawful sources. In other words, the importers were being forced to pay compensation for illegal acts that should not fall within the private copy exception under Article 16b.

On appeal to the Hoge Raad der Nederlanden (Supreme Court of the Netherlands), the case was stayed and three questions referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).[1] In short, the first question asked whether private copying from unlawful sources fell within the scope of the private copy exception under Article 5(2)(b) of the Information Society Directive. In terms of the second question, the Dutch Supreme Court essentially asked what the role of the three-step test under Article 5(5) of the Information Society Directive is. The CJEU in addressing both questions together, posed the question whether reading Article 5(2)(b) and Article 5(5) of the Information Society Directive together would preclude national legislation that does not distinguish between the sources (lawful or unlawful) from which a private reproduction is made. With this in mind, the significance of the case was not about the determination of the levy to be paid but rather, the scope and application of the private copy exception.

In simple form, Article 5(2)(b) does not expressly address whether the source of the reproduction must be lawful in order to come within the exception. As such it was unclear whether copying from unlawful sources could also be included in the scope of the private copy exception. From a preliminary perspective, the exceptions and limitations provided by Article 5 of the Information Society Directive must be interpreted strictly following the decision in Infopaq.[2] Furthermore, their implementation into domestic law must be in accordance with the three-step test, as provided under Article 5(5) and emphasised under Recital 44 of the Information Society Directive. Following this established reasoning, the interpretation of Article 5(2)(b) must be understood to preclude the making of private copies from unlawful sources.

In respect to the strict interpretation of the exceptions and limitations, this can be aligned to the aim of establishing a smooth functioning internal market. Therefore, adopting a broad interpretation of the private copy exception as in the case of Article 16c of the Dutch copyright law could be detrimental to the proper functioning of the internal market.  This is because it could allow Member States to have varying forms of copyright protection not envisaged by the Information Society Directive. Furthermore, tolerating private copies made from unlawful sources would run counter to the Information Society Directive’s aim to establish a high level of protection and foster creation and investment in copyright works. Moreover, it would likely influence further acts of piracy and counterfeiting. This is because the toleration of copies made from unlawful sources could be indirectly seen as toleration of the unlawful sources.

In terms of the application of the three-step test, making private copies from unlawful sources would fail that test in at least two regards. Firstly, allowing private copies to be made from unlawful sources would conflict with the normal exploitation of the work because persons would be inclined to make a personal copy from a cheaper illegitimate copy rather than from a legal copy. This could negatively impact on the demand for legitimate versions of authors’ works. Secondly, tolerating private copying from unlawful sources may prejudice the legitimate economic interests of the author because he would be effectively unable to rely on his exclusive right of reproduction in cases of private copying. In other words, authors would be forced to tolerate the reproduction infringements that accompany private copying even where the source is an unlawful one. Thus allowing, private copying from unlawful sources would undermine the effectiveness of the exclusive right of reproduction.

With this in mind, Articles 16b and 16c of the Dutch copyright law have to distinguish between the lawful and unlawful sources of private copying in order to be compliant with Article 5(2) (b) of the Information Society Directive. The implication of this is that the inclusion of compensation for copying from unlawful sources would not be fair on the grounds that copying from unlawful sources does not fall within the scope of the private copy exception.[3] As such the claimants were right in contending that the private copy levy they were being charged was unfair and excessive.

What Now

From this case it is made clear that the private copy exception only applies to copies made from lawful sources. Therefore, making copies from unlawful sources amounts to an infringement of the exclusive right of reproduction provided by Article 2 of the Information Society. However, the more pertinent lessons to be learned from this case relate more generally to the implementation of the exceptions and limitations found under Article 5 of the Information Society Directive. It would appear that Member States do not have much leeway in transposing and interpreting the twenty-one exceptions and limitations provided. Member States do not have the freedom to expand the scope of the exceptions provided. Rather, they only have the freedom to restrict the scope of the exceptions especially in regards to new technologies.[4] Furthermore, there must be coherent and consistent application of the exceptions across Member States. As a result, it can be inferred that the wording of the exceptions provided under Article 5 are not just prototypes but perhaps ready-made provisions to be implemented verbatim.

On the one hand this strict interpretation may be good in terms of legal certainty. However, from a different perspective this development of narrow exceptions may be cause for concern given the broad and far reaching interpretations given to the exclusive rights.

 


[1] Only the first two questions are looked at in this article.

[2] Case C-5/08 Infopaq International A/S v Danske Dagblades Forening [2009]

[3] This position was suggested in the earlier Advocate General Opinion of Trstenjak on Case C-467/08 Sociedad General de Autores y Editores (SGAE) v Padawan SL [2010] para 78

[4] See Recital 44 of the Information Society Directive