BREAKING: AG Cruz Villalón says the distribution right includes right to prevent offer for sale of a work

At last! After a couple of months, this morning Advocate General (AG) Cruz Villalón returned to the copyright scene with his Opinion in Case C-516/13 Dimensione Direct Sales and Labianca.

Sadly, so far the Opinion is not available in English or Italian, so this Kat had to attempt understanding somehow the French version.

As IPKat readers will remember, this is a reference for a preliminary ruling from the Bundesgerichtshof (Germany), seeking clarification as regards one of the sexiest economic rights, ie the right of distribution within Article 4 of the InfoSoc Directive

The questions referred to everybody's favourite court, ie the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) are the following:
  1. Does the distribution right under Article 4(1) of [the InfoSoc Directive] include the right to offer the original or copies of the work to the public for sale? [this Kat would say yes, especially following the decision in Cassinahere, in which the CJEU held (paras 31-33) that the concept of the right of distribution enjoyed by the authors of literary and artistic works is to be intended as the exclusive right of authorising the making available to the public of the original and copies of their works through sale or other transfer of ownership]
  2. If the first question is to be answered in the affirmative: Does the right to offer the original or copies of the work to the public for sale include not only contractual offers, but also advertising measures? [possibly 'no', courtesy of para 41 in the Cassina decision: "the concept of distribution to the public, otherwise than through sale, of the original of a work or a copy thereof, for the purpose of Article 4(1) of Directive 2001/29, applies only where there is a transfer of the ownership of that object."]
  3. Is the distribution right infringed even if no purchase of the original or copies of the work takes place on the basis of the offer? [probably not: it is true that para 34 in Cassina referred to "acts entailing a transfer of ownership", but it would not seem that an offer that is not followed by an actual purchase could be considered as an act entailing a transfer of ownership]
Merpel's buen retiro,

Knoll International SpA is an Italian company that trades in furniture. Also Dimensione Direct Sales (Mr Labianca is its director) is an Italian company that trades in furniture, which it offers for sale on its website Apparently between 2005 and 2006 Dimensione Labianca offered for sale in Germany items that would infringe copyright in furniture to which Knoll International owns the copyright.

Litigation ensued before German courts, and Knoll succeeded at both first instance and appeal. The case eventually reached the Bundesgerichtshof, that decided to stay the proceedings and seek guidance from the CJEU. 

The AG Opinion

The AG noted that the facts of this case are rather different from those in CassinaTitus Donner [here; incidentally, Dimensione Direct Sales was also involved there] and Blomqvist [here], in that here Dimensione Direct Sales made clear its intention to market the alleged infringing furniture, but no sale or actual delivery of infringing goods actually occurred.

The AG referred extensively to the CJEU decision in Cassina and reached different conclusions from those advanced above, possibly on grounds that the offer for sale by Dimensione Direct Sales was fairly unequivocal. 

In particular, he held that Article 4(1) of the InfoSoc Directive must be interpreted in the sense that the right to distribution within the meaning of that provision includes the right of the copyright owner of the original or copies thereof to prohibit anyone from offering for sale to the public said original or the copies without his/her consent, provided that such offer displays a clear intention to conclude a contract that would involve the transfer of ownership over the original or the copies of a work. 

He advised the Court to rule as follows:

"L’article 4, paragraphe 1, de la directive 2001/29/CE du Parlement européen et du Conseil, du 22 mai 2001, sur l’harmonisation de certains aspects du droit d’auteur et des droits voisins dans la société de l’information, doit être interprété en ce sens que le droit de distribution au sens de cette disposition comprend le droit pour le titulaire du droit d’auteur sur l’original ou les copies d’une œuvre protégée d’interdire à toute personne d’offrir à la vente au public ledit original ou lesdites copies sans son consentement, y compris lorsque cette offre n’a donné lieu à aucune acquisition, pour autant qu’une telle offre intervienne dans l’intention manifeste de conclure des contrats de vente ou tout autre acte impliquant un transfert de propriété de ceux-ci."

An observation

Is Dimensione Direct Sales and Labianca such a complex case that it required an AG Opinion in the first place? Perhaps ... But it is also probably no more complex than other references that the CJEU decided without an AG Opinion, notably Svensson [yet, this is not the only instance: see here], or even by means of an order [this is BestWater, here]

So: does Dimensione Direct Sales and Labianca raise "a new point of law" as per Article 20 of the Treaty on the European Unionwhile cases like - say - Svensson were much more straightforward? 

The right answer seems to be: "unlikely". 

Cases like Dimensione Direct Sales and Labianca may appear more important to the CJEU because they have a closer connection with free movement provisions (and so they have a more traditional EU dimension). Yet, are cases like these the most important ones to current and future EU copyright developments? 
BREAKING: AG Cruz Villalón says the distribution right includes right to prevent offer for sale of a work BREAKING: AG Cruz Villalón says the distribution right includes right to prevent offer for sale of a work Reviewed by Eleonora Rosati on Thursday, December 04, 2014 Rating: 5


  1. I couldnt get your click "here" link to work for other instances of copyright cases with no AG opinion, but another example would be PRCA v NLA, despite the fact that the Supreme Court referred it to the CJEU because "the issue has a transnational dimension and that the application of copyright law to internet use has important implications for many millions of people across the European Union".

  2. Hi Simon,

    Indeed (although I think that PRCA was not as controversial as Svensson, as the UK Supreme Court had basically answered already). I have now fixed the link in the post:


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