The Advocate General of the European Court M. SZPUNAR gave his opinion on Case C‑469/17 Funke Medien NRW GmbH versus Bundesrepublik Deutschland, which concerns the following:
The defendant, the Federal Republic of Germany, has a military status report drawn up every week on the deployments of the Bundeswehr (Federal Armed Forces, Germany) abroad and on the developments at the deployment locations. The reports are referred to as ‘Unterrichtung des Parlaments’ (Parliament briefings, ‘UdPs’) and are sent to selected members of the Bundestag (Federal Parliament, Germany), to sections of the Bundesministerium der Verteidigung (Federal Ministry of Defence, Germany) and other federal ministries, and to subordinate bodies of the Federal Ministry of Defence. UdPs are categorised as ‘classified documents — Restricted’, the lowest level of confidentiality. At the same time, the defendant publishes summaries of the UdPs known as ‘Unterrichtung der Öffentlichkeit’ (public briefings, ‘UdÖs’).
The applicant, Funke Medien NRW GmbH (‘Funke Medien’), a company incorporated under German law, operates the website of the daily newspaper Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung. On 27 September 2012, it applied for access to all UdPs drawn up between 1 September 2001 and 26 September 2012. The application was refused on the ground that disclosure of the briefings could have adverse effects on security-sensitive interests of the federal armed forces. The defendant nevertheless obtained, by unknown means, a large proportion of the UdPs and published several of them as the ‘Afghanistan-Papiere’ (Afghanistan Papers).
The Federal Republic of Germany took the view that Funke Medien had infringed its copyright over those reports and thus brought an action against it seeking an injunction, which was upheld by the Landgericht (Regional Court, Germany). Funke Medien’s appeal was dismissed by the appellate court. By its further appeal on a point of law, Funke Medien maintains its form of order seeking dismissal of the injunction action.
In those circumstances, the Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Court of Justice) decided to stay the proceedings and refer the following questions to the Court for a preliminary ruling:
‘(1) Do the provisions of Union law on the exclusive right of authors to reproduce (Article 2(a) of Directive 2001/29) and publicly communicate their works, including the right to make works available to the public (Article 3(1) of Directive 2001/29), and the exceptions or limitations to these rights (Article 5(2) and (3) of Directive 2001/29) allow any latitude in terms of implementation in national law?
(2) In which way are the fundamental rights of the Charter … to be taken into account when ascertaining the scope of the exceptions or limitations provided for in Article 5(2) and (3) of Directive 2001/29 to the exclusive right of authors to reproduce (Article 2(a) of Directive 2001/29) and publicly communicate their works, including the right to make works available to the public (Article 3(1) of Directive 2001/29)?
(3) Can the fundamental rights of freedom of information (second sentence of Article 11(1) of the Charter) or freedom of the media (Article 11(2) of the Charter) justify exceptions or limitations to the exclusive rights of authors to reproduce (Article 2(a) of Directive 2001/29) and publicly communicate their works, including the right to make works available to the public (Article 3(1) of Directive 2001/29), beyond the exceptions or limitations provided for in Article 5(2) and (3) of Directive 2001/29?’
13. The request for a preliminary ruling was received at the Court on 4 August 2017. Written observations were lodged by Funke Medien, the German, French and UK Governments and the European Commission. The same parties were represented at the hearing on 7 July 2018.
The Advocate’s position:
Article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, read in conjunction with Article 52(1) thereof, must be interpreted as precluding a Member State from invoking copyright under Article 2(a) and Article 3(1) of Directive 2001/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 May 2001 on the harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and related rights in the information society in order to prevent the communication to the public, in the context of a debate concerning matters of public interest, of confidential documents emanating from that Member State. That interpretation does not prevent the Member State from applying, in compliance with EU law, other provisions of its domestic law, including those relating to the protection of confidential information.