Copyrights over music samples – a hot EU Court decision

pexels-photo-2381596.jpegThe European Court has ruled in the case C‑476/17 Pelham GmbH, Moses Pelham, Martin Haas v Ralf Hütter, Florian Schneider-Esleben. The case background is as follow:

Hütter and another are members of the group Kraftwerk. In 1977, that group published a phonogram featuring the song ‘Metall auf Metall’.

Mr Pelham and Mr Haas composed the song ‘Nur mir’, which was released on phonograms recorded by Pelham GmbH in 1997.

Hütter and another submit that Pelham electronically copied (‘sampled’) approximately 2 seconds of a rhythm sequence from the song ‘Metall auf Metall’ and used that sample in a continuous loop in the song ‘Nur mir’, although it would have been possible for them to play the adopted rhythm sequence themselves.

As the phonogram producers, Hütter and another’s principal claim is that Pelham infringed their copyright-related right. In the alternative, they claim that their intellectual property right as performers and Mr Hütter’s copyright in the musical work were infringed. In the further alternative, they claim that Pelham infringed competition law.

Hütter and another brought an action before the Landgericht Hamburg (Regional Court, Hamburg, Germany) seeking a prohibitory injunction, damages, the provision of information and the surrender of the phonograms for the purposes of their destruction.

That court upheld the action, and Pelham’s appeal before the Oberlandesgericht Hamburg (Higher Regional Court, Hamburg, Germany) was dismissed. Following an appeal on a point of law (Revision) brought by Pelham before the Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Court of Justice, Germany), the judgment of the Oberlandesgericht Hamburg (Higher Regional Court, Hamburg) was overturned and the case was referred back to that court for re-examination. That court dismissed Pelham’s appeal a second time. In a judgment of 13 December 2012, the Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Court of Justice) once again dismissed Pelham’s appeal on a point of law. That judgment was overturned by the Bundesverfassungsgericht (Federal Constitutional Court, Germany), which referred the case back to the referring court.

The referring court notes that the outcome of the Revision proceedings turns on the interpretation of Article 2(c) and Article 5(3)(d) of Directive 2001/29 and of Article 9(1)(b) and Article 10(2) of Directive 2006/115.

According to the referring court, it must, in the first place, be determined whether, by using Hütter and another’s sound recording in the production of its own phonogram, Pelham encroached on the exclusive right of Hütter and another to reproduce and distribute the phonogram featuring the song ‘Metall auf Metall’, as laid down in Paragraph 85(1) of the UrhG, which transposes Article 2(c) of Directive 2001/29 and Article 9 of Directive 2006/115. In particular, it must be determined whether such an infringement can be found where, as in the present case, 2 seconds of a rhythm sequence are taken from a phonogram then transferred to another phonogram, and whether that amounts to a copy of another phonogram within the meaning of Article 9(1)(b) of Directive 2006/115.

In the second place, if it is found that there has been an infringement of the phonogram producer’s right, the question arises of whether Pelham may rely on the ‘right to free use’, laid down in Paragraph 24(1) of the UrhG, which is applicable by analogy to the phonogram producer’s right, according to which an independent work created in the free use of the work of another person may be published or exploited without the consent of the author of the work used. The referring court notes, in that context, that that provision has no express equivalent in EU law and therefore asks whether that right is consistent with EU law in the light of the fact that that provision limits the scope of protection of the phonogram producer’s exclusive right to reproduce and distribute his or her phonogram.

In the third place, the national law exceptions and limitations to the reproduction right referred to in Article 2(c) of Directive 2001/29 and to the distribution right referred to in Article 9(1)(b) of Directive 2006/115 are based on Article 5(3) of Directive 2001/29 and the first paragraph of Article 10(2) of Directive 2006/115. However, the referring court harbours doubts as to the interpretation of those provisions in circumstances such as those at issue in the main proceedings.

In the fourth place, the referring court notes that EU law must be interpreted and applied in the light of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (‘the Charter’). In that context, it asks whether the Member States have any discretion for the purposes of the transposition into national law of Article 2(c) and Article 5(2) and (3) of Directive 2001/29 and of Article 9(1)(b) and the first paragraph of Article 10(2) of Directive 2006/115. The referring court notes that, according to case-law of the Bundesverfassungsgericht (Federal Constitutional Court), national legislation which transposes an EU directive must be measured, as a rule, not against the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany) of 23 May 1949 (BGBl. 1949 I, p. 1), but solely against the fundamental rights guaranteed by EU law, where that directive does not allow the Member States any discretion in its transposition. That court also harbours doubts as to the interpretation of those fundamental rights in circumstances such as those at issue in the main proceedings.

In those circumstances, the Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Court of Justice) decided to stay the proceedings and to refer the following questions to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling:

‘(1)  Is there an infringement of the phonogram producer’s exclusive right under Article 2(c) of Directive 2001/29 to reproduce its phonogram if very short audio snatches are taken from its phonogram and transferred to another phonogram?

(2)  Is a phonogram which contains very short audio snatches transferred from another phonogram a copy of the other phonogram within the meaning of Article 9(1)(b) of Directive 2006/115?

(3)  Can the Member States enact a provision which — in the manner of Paragraph 24(1) of [the UrhG] — inherently limits the scope of protection of the phonogram producer’s exclusive right to reproduce (Article 2(c) of Directive 2001/29) and to distribute (Article 9(1)(b) of Directive 2006/115) its phonogram in such a way that an independent work created in free use of its phonogram may be exploited without the phonogram producer’s consent?

(4)  Can it be said that a work or other subject matter is being used for quotation purposes within the meaning of Article 5(3)(d) of Directive 2001/29 if it is not evident that another person’s work or another person’s subject matter is being used?

(5) Do the provisions of EU law on the reproduction right and the distribution right of the phonogram producer (Article 2(c) of Directive 2001/29 and Article 9(1)(b) of Directive 2006/115) and the exceptions or limitations to those rights (Article 5(2) and (3) of Directive 2001/29 and the first paragraph of Article 10(2) of Directive 2006/115) allow any latitude in terms of implementation in national law?

(6)  In what way are the fundamental rights set out in [the Charter] to be taken into account when ascertaining the scope of protection of the exclusive right of the phonogram producer to reproduce (Article 2(c) of Directive 2001/29) and to distribute (Article 9(1)(b) of Directive 2006/115) its phonogram and the scope of the exceptions or limitations to those rights (Article 5(2) and (3) of Directive 2001/29 and the first paragraph of Article 10(2) of Directive 2006/115)?’

The Court’s decision:

1.  Article 2(c) 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, in the light of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, be interpreted as meaning that the phonogram producer’s exclusive right under that provision to reproduce and distribute his or her phonogram allows him to prevent another person from taking a sound sample, even if very short, of his or her phonogram for the purposes of including that sample in another phonogram, unless that sample is included in the phonogram in a modified form unrecognisable to the ear.

2.  Article 9(1)(b) of Directive 2006/115/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 December 2006 on rental right and lending right and on certain rights related to copyright in the field of intellectual property must be interpreted as meaning that a phonogram which contains sound samples transferred from another phonogram does not constitute a ‘copy’, within the meaning of that provision, of that phonogram, since it does not reproduce all or a substantial part of that phonogram.

3.  A Member State cannot, in its national law, lay down an exception or limitation, other than those provided for in Article 5 of Directive 2001/29, to the phonogram producer’s right provided for in Article 2(c) of that directive.

4.  Article 5(3)(d) of Directive 2001/29 must be interpreted as meaning that the concept of ‘quotations’, referred to in that provision, does not extend to a situation in which it is not possible to identify the work concerned by the quotation in question.

5.  Article 2(c) of Directive 2001/29 must be interpreted as constituting a measure of full harmonisation of the corresponding substantive law.

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