Double trouble: fresh CJEU reference from Swedish Supreme Court regarding scope of communication to the public inside cars

Swedish Collective Management Organisation (STIM) and the Swedish Artists’ and Musicians’ Interest Organisation (SAMI) brought two separate proceedings against two companies that operate in the automobile leasing/renting industry. Both cases followed missed payment (since 2014) of yearly licensing fees to STIM and SAMI, and they are currently pending before the Swedish Supreme Court. This has now decided to stay the proceedings, and ask the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) to clarify the scope of communication to the public in Article 3(1) of Directive 2001/29 (InfoSoc Directive) and Article 8(2) of the Directive 2006/115 (the Rental Rights Directive). 

The first case was brought by STIM against Fleetmanager, a company that leases vehicles, primarily to companies. The cars are equipped with built-in radio systems and are usually rented out to customers for a period of 29 days or less (short-term hire). 

The second case was brought by SAMI against Nordisk Biluthyrning, which leases vehicles to private individuals, governmental authorities, and various companies. According to evidence submitted, eleven of the vehicles leased by the company are for short-term hire.

Background

STIM v Fleetmanager 

STIM submitted that Fleetmanager should be considered responsible for obtaining a licence to make radio equipment systems available in its own vehicles to listen to protected content. 

The District Court held that the leasing of cars equipped with radios meant that protected subject matter would be made available to the public within the scope of Section 2 of the Swedish Copyright Act (SCA). This sets out that: [C]opyright shall include the exclusive right to exploit the work by making copies of it and by making it available to the public […]. However, Fleetmanager could not be regarded as participating in the unlicensed activity and Stim’s claim was therefore dismissed.

The Court of Appeal subsequently held that the scope of Section 2 of the SCA should be assessed in light of Article 3(1) of the InfoSoc Directive. The Court of Appeal reached the same conclusion as the District Court in regard to the liability claim. The case was therefore rejected. 

Following Fleetmanager’s appeal to the Swedish Supreme Court, this submitted that leasing vehicles with built-in radio systems should not be considered as a "communication to the public" within the meaning of Article 3(1) of the InfoSoc Directive. In particular, leasing cars equipped with integrated radio receivers - which are an integral part of the cars' control and information systems – is akin to providing the physical facilities required to enable or implement such transmission (as per Recital 27 of the of the InfoSoc Directive). Furthermore, the circle of people that rent vehicles cannot be regarded as "a public" that either, simultaneously, or in progression, listen to one and the same musical work via the radio in the rental car. Neither do the people who rent cars constitute a new public because they have the ability to access the same musical works which are being broadcasted through the car's radio, through their smartphones that can be connected to the car's control and information system.

SAMI v Nordisk Biluthyrning 

Nordisk Biluthyrning also submitted to the Patent and Market Court that it does not publicly transmit or transfer sound recordings to the public. In particular, the company stated that it was not a communicating the works to the public, because the vehicles’ built-in radio system forms an integral part of the car's equipment. The company could not therefore be considered as carrying out any deliberate action but as merely providing the physical conditions for a communication to the public to take place. The Patent and Market Court reasoned that the relevant provision, namely Article 8(2) of the Rental Rights Directive substantially corresponds to the provision relating to "communication to the public" in Article 3(1) of the InfoSoc Directive. Thus, by providing radio receivers in rental cars, the company made audio recordings available to its customers, which constituted a communication to the public. 

The case was subsequently appealed to the Patent and Market Court of Appeal that reversed the first instance decision and held that the company could not be held liable. 

The referral from the Swedish Supreme Court 

Further to appeals to the Supreme Court, this stated that, according to CJEU case law, it is apparent that a communication to the public may take place – in the manner envisaged by Article 3(1) of the InfoSoc Directive – when transmissions are made by means of technical equipment to a nearby audience (e.g. in a café, rehabilitation centre, or a spa). Furthermore, the CJEU has held that hotel operators carry out a “communication to the public” in light of Article 8(2) of the Rental Rights Directive, when hotel rooms are equipped with phonograms available in digital or physical form and which can be played or intercepted (Phonographic Performance Ireland, C-162/10). Nonetheless, the CJEU also came to the contrary conclusion regarding transmission of phonograms in a dental office (Società Consortile Fonografici, C-135/10). 

Another question is how the term “indeterminate number of potential recipients” (Reha Training, C-117/15, para 41) should be interpreted against the background in the case at hand. The Supreme Court has therefore asked the CJEU to answer the following questions (please note that this is my own translation from Swedish):
  1. Does the leasing of cars, equipped with a radio receiver, mean that the leasing company, is a user who provides a communication to the public within the meaning of Article 3(1) of Directive 2001/29 or a communication to the public within the meaning of Article 8(2) of Directive 2006/115, respectively? 
  2. What significance, if any, does the scope of the car leasing business have, and the leasing period?
Double trouble: fresh CJEU reference from Swedish Supreme Court regarding scope of communication to the public inside cars Double trouble: fresh CJEU reference from Swedish Supreme Court regarding scope of communication to the public inside cars Reviewed by Nedim Malovic on Thursday, December 06, 2018 Rating: 5

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