"Punitive damages" is one of those topics that sharply divide the community of European lawyers. Some cannot fail to see the economic logic that when the rate of detection of IP infringement is below 100%, adequate deterrence of infringement requires that compensation exceed actual damages (and/or profits) of the infringer. Others insist that the function of private law is not to punish (and not to deter?), but only to compensate (for actual damages). In recital (26) to the Enforcement Directive, the European legislator tread very carefully, stating that
"where it would be difficult to determine the amount of the actual prejudice suffered, the amount of the damages might be derived from elements such as the royalties or fees which would have been due if the infringer had requested authorisation to use the intellectual property right in question. The aim is not to introduce an obligation to provide for punitive damages but to allow for compensation based on an objective criterion while taking account of the expenses incurred by the rightholder, such as the costs of identification and research."
The CJEU will have the opportunity to be criticized for whatever views it expresses on this contentious topic in a number of pending referrals. They all concern (not all of them exclusively) the interpretation of Art. 13 Enforcement Directive, which reads:
1. Member States shall ensure that the competent judicial authorities, on application of the injured party, order the infringer who knowingly, or with reasonable grounds to know, engaged in an infringing activity, to pay the rightholder damages appropriate to the actual prejudice suffered by him/her as a result of the infringement.
When the judicial authorities set the damages:
|Cape daisy of unknown variety|
Case C-481/14, Jørn Hansson
In this case, which also arose under the Plant Variety Rights Regulation but has implications for the infringement of all intellectual property rights, the Oberlandesgericht Düsseldorf refers no less than eight questions on the interpretation of Art. 94 Plant Variety Regulation and Art. 13 Enforcement Directive to the CJEU. In its first question, the referring court raises the question whether in addition to the usual royalty rate, an "infringer supplement" may be added "on a flat-rate basis in every case" of non-consensual use of plant variety right. The German doctrine is, like the court, rather sceptical that this is legally permissible. The rest of the questions concern the individual circumstances that may or must be taken into account when setting a "reasonable compensation", which permit - without blatantly introducing double or treble damages - increasing the compensation above actual damages. The court namely wonders whether when setting the applicable royalty rate, it may be taken into account that the infringer, unlike a licensee, does not bear the risk to pay for the use of an IP right that turns out to be invalid.
|Unauthorized use of visual work, hopefully not morally prejudicial|
Stowarzyszenie Oławska Telewizja Kablowa is a (the?) Polish collective rights society administering broadcasting rights in Poland. Defendant has been distributing television programmes containing copyright-protected audiovisual works via cable TV in a region of Poland without the collecting society's consent. In the resulting litigation, the collecting society argued that Article 79 Polish Copyright Act entitled a copyright holder whose rights have been infringed to a compensation that is equivalent to two or three times that which the infringer would have had to have paid for a licence in the first place. Defendant challenges the legality of the relevant provisions in the Polish Copyright Act, and claims that Polish law does not comply with the Enforcement Directive. The Polish Supreme Court would like to know from the CJEU whether Art. 13(1) Enforcement Directive, namely in view of recital (26) of the Directive, allows for a lump-sum payment several times the "usual" license fee. The outcome of this case will have direct consequences for Germany, where the BGH's GEMA case law permits doubling of the usual license fee when an authorized collecting society demands the double fee (but not for others).