Copyright judgments in 2015: what’s in the pipeline from the CJEU (and will we be able to understand them?)
2015 will be another busy copyright year for the CJEU, starting with Case C-30/14 Ryanair (copyright/database rights) this Thursday [watch this space], followed a week later on 22 January by C-419/13 Art & Allposters (exhaustion of rights) [on which see here, here and here] and C-441/13 Hejduk (online jurisdictional issues) [see here]. Later this year, we expect to see rulings in C-279/13 C More Entertainment (hyperlinks) [see here] and 3 cases on the scope of the private copying exception: C-463/12 Copydan [here], C-572/13 Hewlett-Packard [here] and C-470/14 Egeda [here].
With this in mind, and as we enter a new year (and
reluctantly emerge from the cranial fuzziness induced by the festive period), this Kat thought that now would be a timely opportunity to recap on the relevance of CJEU judgments and share some thoughts on the challenges (and frustrations) encountered in practice when seeking to interpret and advise on these rulings.
Preliminary rulings from the CJEU: what are they again?
|Post-festive cranial fuzziness|
In interpreting a European directive, the CJEU must consider its wording, the context in which it occurs and its underlying objectives. The CJEU must also interpret the directive in a manner consistent with international law, particularly where its provisions are intended to give specific effect to an international agreement (e.g. the WIPO Copyright Treaty, TRIPS).
What impact does a CJEU ruling have on EU Member States?
The CJEU's rulings are very important with potentially wide-reaching ramifications across the EU. This is because the CJEU’s rulings establish how a European directive is to be interpreted. EU national courts must, in turn, seek to interpret their national law so far as is possible in conformity with, and to achieve the result intended by, that directive (known as the ‘Marleasing principle’). CJEU rulings are binding on the referring court and other Member State courts.
The operative part of the ruling is found at the end, where the CJEU provides its ‘answers’ to the referred questions. The ‘answers’ [often phrased in a less-than-clear manner] are to be interpreted by national courts in light of the CJEU’s underlying reasoning that is found in the preceding paragraphs.
However, in practice, the level of detail about the CJEU’s underlying reasoning can be lacking, which can lead to difficulties when advising on the ruling’s implications (as to which see further below). [This Kat’s personal view is that the absence of detailed reasoning may be a by-product of the unanimous nature of a CJEU’s ruling which must endorsed by all judges convened to hear the case (there is no provision for a dissenting judgment). It is feasible that any contentious paragraphs (i.e. the underlying reasoning) are vulnerable to being removed unless all the convened judges can be brought on-board. If this is a correct assumption, one can imagine the behind-the-scenes challenges in getting three judges (let alone thirteen judges in a Grand Chamber case) to agree on the underlying reasoning.]
Can CJEU rulings be appealed?
CJEU rulings are final - although a ruling can be disturbed by a subsequent judgment of the CJEU. [This Kat wonders however whether there have been any cases where CJEU rulings raise substantive human rights issues and how this might relate (if at all) to the appeal process to the European Court of Human Rights. Do readers have any thoughts on this?]
What role does the Advocate-General play?
An Advocate-General is usually assigned to each reference and his/her role is to assist the CJEU by providing an impartial and independent legal opinion on the referred case. Roughly speaking, the CJEU tends to follow the Opinion in around 80% of cases. However, crucially, the Opinion is not binding on the CJEU or the national courts, unless the CJEU’s ruling expressly adopts particular paragraphs of the Opinion.
How does the preliminary reference procedure work?
- The national court refers questions to the CJEU - either at its own initiative or at the parties’ request - via an “Order for Reference” which is accompanied by the court’s summary of the relevant factual background, the relevant points of law, and the questions put to the CJEU.
- The parties to the proceedings, any Member State, and the EU Commission can file written submissions [known as ‘written observations’] to the CJEU within a set time period (usually around 2 months from the date of the Order for Reference). Written observations are filed simultaneously and there is usually no opportunity to provide any written evidence in reply. [So you have to set out your case, predict what opposing arguments might be raised, and counter these where possible in your written observations.]
- An oral hearing may be convened at the parties’ request where the CJEU considers it is necessary for further submissions. Parties are usually only given 20 minutes to make oral submissions, and the CJEU may direct that submissions are focused on specific points [i.e. the written observations are really the only opportunity you have to set out your substantive case]. The hearing is heard in public [if you fancy a trip to Luxembourg], but it is not possible to obtain a transcript of the hearing (as far as this Kat is aware).
- The Advocate-General may provide an Opinion (although an Opinion is not always requested).
- The CJEU hands down its ruling [roughly speaking, between 18-24 months after the Order for Reference, and usually around 3-4 months after the Opinion if there is one]
Parties tear their hair out trying to understand what on earth the CJEU meant.
What are the challenges in interpreting CJEU rulings?
|I still have no idea |
what you are saying
A further issue is when the CJEU [unilaterally] decides to ‘paraphrase’ the questions carefully formulated by the referring court and delivers its ‘answer’ on the basis of its own re-formulated question. This can lead to substantive argument between the parties on what the CJEU meant, and how its ruling should be applied to the facts of a case.
This issue is compounded where the ruling also lacks sufficient underlying reasoning, leaving the national courts trying to make reasoned assumptions on what the CJEU intended. One example of this was in SAS Institute where during the hearing the Court of Appeal commented how it had to indulge in “an exercise in Kremlinology” to try and infer what the CJEU intended in its third ruling in the absence of sufficient underlying reasoning.
What improvements could be made to the preliminary reference procedure?
A particular bugbear for this (primarily English-speaking) Kat is when Opinions of the Advocate-General are translated into the vast majority of EU languages except for English (as was the case in Art & Allposters, Hejduk, Ulmer, and Copydan).
Even where the Advocate-General’s Opinion is not ultimately followed by the CJEU, generally speaking, the Opinion usually provides a greater degree of analysis and detail than the CJEU’s ruling (including the arguments submitted by the parties and often the factual background underlying the reference). It can therefore provide a helpful insight into the underlying factual background which is relevant to anyone needing to understand how a CJEU ruling might be applied in different circumstances. As helpful as Google Translate may be, it is sub-optimal (to say the least) to have to try and advise on an Opinion that is not written in your native language.
Another observation is the extent to which Member States generally engage in the preliminary reference process by filing written observations, which are taken into account by the CJEU when making its ruling. If we pick out this Kat’s 11 major CJEU cases from the last year (Svensson, PRCA, UPC Telekabel, Deckmyn, ACI Adam, Ulmer, Nintendo, Blomqvist, OSA, HI Hotel, BestWater), the Member States collectively filed 31 written observations with the following breakdown:
- Italy, Poland: 5
- UK: 4
- Austria, Germany: 3
- France, Netherlands: 2
- Belgium, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Lithuania, Spain: 1
In light of the significance of CJEU rulings across all Member States, should more Member State governments be engaging with the process? And if so, is the current framework adequate to encourage participation (in particular, the tight timeframes for interested parties to feed back to their national governments the issues raised by the referred case)? In addition, should written observations be made publically available so we can understand what position has been adopted by each Member State? What do readers think?
CJEU statistics here
CJEU judges here
Copyright judgments in 2015: what’s in the pipeline from the CJEU (and will we be able to understand them?) Reviewed by Tom Ohta on Monday, January 12, 2015 Rating: