The European court has rules in the case C‑299/17 VG Media Gesellschaft zur Verwertung der Urheber- und Leistungsschutzrechte von Medienunternehmen mbH v Google LLC.
The case concerns the following:
VG Media is a collective management organisation, authorised in Germany, that defends copyright and rights related to copyright of television channels and private radio stations, as well as rights to digital editorial content. Against this background, VG Media concludes with rights holders the ‘administration agreement for television, radio and publishers’, in which those rights holders grant it, for exclusive administration, their current rights as well as those accruing to them during the term of the agreement, in respect of the newspapers or magazines produced by them.
Google operates several internet search engines including, in particular, the search engine of the same name, together with an automated news site (‘Google News’). On the ‘Google’ search engine, after the search term has been entered and the search function has been initiated, a short text or text excerpt (‘the Snippet’) appears with a thumbnail image that is intended to enable users to gauge the relevance of the displayed website in the light of the information they are looking for. As regards the news site ‘Google News’, it displays news from a limited number of news sources in a format akin to that of a magazine. The information on that site is collected by computers by means of an algorithm using a large number of sources of information. On that site, ‘the Snippet’ appears in the form of a short summary of the article from the website concerned, often containing the introductory sentences of that article.
In addition, Google publishes, by means of its online services, third-party advertisements on its own websites and on third party websites for a fee.
VG Media brought an action for damages against Google before the referring court in which it disputes, in essence, the use by Google, since 1 August 2013, of text excerpts, images and animated images produced by its members, without paying a fee in return for displaying search results and news summaries.
The referring court seeks to ascertain whether Paragraphs 87f and 87g of the UrhG are applicable to the dispute in the main proceedings. That court seeks guidance on whether those provisions, arising from the amendment, with effect from 1 August 2013, to the UrhG, should have been notified to the Commission during their drafting stage as foreseen in the first subparagraph of Article 8(1) of Directive 98/34. In that connection, the referring court relies on the case-law of the Court according to which the provisions adopted in breach of the duty of notification under that provision are inapplicable and are, therefore, unenforceable against individuals.
In those circumstances, the Landgericht Berlin (Regional Court, Berlin, Germany) decided to stay the proceedings and to refer the following questions to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling:
‘(1) Does a national rule which prohibits only commercial operators of search engines and commercial service providers which edit content, but not other users, including commercial users, from making press products or parts thereof (excluding individual words and very short text excerpts) available to the public constitute, under Article 1(2) and (5) of [Directive 98/34], a rule which is not specifically aimed at the services defined in [Article 1(2)],
and, if that is not the case,
(2) does a national rule which prohibits only commercial operators of search engines and commercial service providers which edit content, but not other users, including commercial users, from making press products or parts thereof (excluding individual words and very short text excerpts) available to the public constitute a technical regulation within the meaning of Article 1(11) of [Directive 98/34], namely a compulsory rule on the provision of a service?’
The Court’s decision:
Article 1(11) of Directive 98/34/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 June 1998 laying down a procedure for the provision of information in the field of technical standards and regulations and of rules on Information Society services (as amended by Directive 98/48/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 July 1998), must be interpreted as meaning that a provision of national law, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, which prohibits only commercial operators of search engines and commercial service providers that similarly publish content from making newspapers or magazines or parts thereof (excluding individual words and very short text excerpts) available to the public, constitutes a ‘technical regulation’ within the meaning of that provision, the draft of which is subject to prior notification to the Commission pursuant to the first subparagraph of Article 8(1) of Directive 98/34, as amended by Directive 98/48.