BREAKING NEWS – Military reports and copyright – a European Court’s decision

us-army-379036_960_720The European court has issued its decision on the case C‑469/17 Funke Medien NRW GmbH v Bundesrepublik Deutschland. This case concerns whether or not military reports can be subject to copyright protection. The background is as follow:

The Federal Republic of Germany prepares a military status report every week on the deployments of the Bundeswehr (Federal armed forces, Germany) abroad and on 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 certain bodies subordinate to the Federal Ministry of Defence. UdPs are categorised as ‘Classified Documents — Restricted’, which is the lowest of the four levels of confidentiality laid down under German law. At the same time, the Federal Republic of Germany publishes summaries of UdPs known as ‘Unterrichtung der Öffentlichkeit’ (‘public briefings’), which are available to the public without any restrictions.

Funke Medien operates the website of the German 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. That application was refused by the competent authorities on the ground that disclosure of the information in those UdPs could have adverse effects on security-sensitive interests of the Federal armed forces. In that context, the competent authorities referred to the regularly published public briefings, which are versions of UdPs that do not affect those interests. Funke Medien nevertheless obtained, by unknown means, a large proportion of the UdPs, which it published in part as the ‘Afghanistan Papiere’ (‘the Afghanistan papers’) and could be read online as individually scanned pages accompanied by an introductory note, further links and a space for comments.

The Federal Republic of Germany, which takes the view that Funke Medien thereby infringed its copyright over the UdPs, brought an action for an injunction against Funke Medien, which was upheld by the Landgericht Köln (Regional Court, Cologne, Germany). The appeal brought by Funke Medien was dismissed by the Oberlandesgericht Köln (Higher Regional Court, Cologne, Germany). In its appeal on a point of law (Revision), brought before the referring court, Funke Medien maintained its contention that the action for an injunction should be dismissed.

The referring court notes that the reasoning of the Oberlandesgericht Köln (Higher Regional Court, Cologne) is based on the premiss that UdPs may be protected under copyright as ‘literary works’ and that they are not official texts excluded from the protection emanating from that right. It nevertheless states that that court has not made any finding of fact from which it can be concluded that UdPs are original creations.

However, the referring court considers that it is not possible to dismiss the judgment of the Oberlandesgericht Köln (Higher Regional Court, Cologne) and to remit the case to that court to allow it to make findings to that effect a posteriori, if copyright infringement of UdPs, which must be presumed for the purposes of an appeal on a point of law (Revision), is, in any event, covered by the derogation relating to reporting current events or quotations, laid down in Paragraphs 50 and 51 of the UrhG, or if such an infringement is justified by freedom of information or the freedom of the press, laid down respectively in the first and second sentences of Article 5(1) of the Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany) of 23 May 1949 (BGBl. 1949 I, p. 1; ‘the GG’) and in Article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (‘the Charter’). According to the referring court, if that is the case, then judgment could be given in the case to the effect that the referring court would be required to amend the judgment of the Landgericht Köln (Regional Court, Cologne) and dismiss the action for an injunction which the Federal Republic of Germany brought before it.

The referring court considers, in that regard, that the interpretation of Article 2(a), Article 3(1) and Article 5(3)(c) and (d) of Directive 2001/29 read in the light of fundamental rights, in particular of freedom of information and of freedom of the press, is not obvious. It asks inter alia whether those provisions allow any discretion for the purposes of their transposition into national law. It notes in that regard that, according to the case-law of the Bundesverfassungsgericht (Federal Constitutional Court, Germany), national legislation which transposes an EU directive must be measured, as a rule, not against the fundamental rights guaranteed by the GG, but solely against the fundamental rights guaranteed by EU law, where that directive does not allow the Member States any discretion in its transposition.

In those circumstances, the Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Court of Justice, Germany) decided to stay the proceedings and to refer the following questions to the Court of Justice 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) Directive 2001/29), beyond the exceptions or limitations provided for in Article 5(2) and (3) of Directive 2001/29?’

The Court’s decision:

1.  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 must be interpreted as constituting measures of full harmonisation of the scope of the exceptions or limitations which they contain. Article 5(3)(c), second case, and (d) of Directive 2001/29 must be interpreted as not constituting measures of full harmonisation of the scope of the relevant exceptions or limitations.

2. Freedom of information and freedom of the press, enshrined in Article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, are not capable of justifying, beyond the exceptions or limitations provided for in Article 5(2) and (3) of Directive 2001/29, a derogation from the author’s exclusive rights of reproduction and of communication to the public, referred to in Article 2(a) and Article 3(1) of that directive respectively.

3.  In striking the balance which is incumbent on a national court between the exclusive rights of the author referred to in Article 2(a) and in Article 3(1) of Directive 2001/29 on the one hand, and, on the other, the rights of the users of protected subject matter referred to in Article 5(3)(c), second case, and (d) of that directive, the latter of which derogate from the former, a national court must, having regard to all the circumstances of the case before it, rely on an interpretation of those provisions which, whilst consistent with their wording and safeguarding their effectiveness, fully adheres to the fundamental rights enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

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