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Dispute about photograph in school project referred to CJEU: Land Nordrhein-Westfalen v. Renckhoff

By Chris J Holland, on 14 August 2018

The Renckhoff case, C-161/17 is fascinating for a number of reasons: Firstly there is the bizarre fact that the reuse of a photograph of an historic bridge in Cordoba, copied from an online travel magazine and used in the Spanish language project of a school pupil, posted on the school’s website, should require a decision from the Court of Justice of the European Union. The words “sledgehammer” and “nut” spring to mind.

Secondly the conclusion of the Court is diametrically opposed to the lengthy preliminary opinion of its own Advocate General (in this case AG Campos Sanchez-Bordona). The Court does not always follow the opinion of the AG but in this case the contrast is quite striking and the Court does not address the reasons for this divergence of views.

Thirdly both the AG’s opinion and the judgment of the Court discuss the boundaries of the important concept of “communication to the public”. The latter is one of the restricted acts which are the preserve of the author (copyright owner). The question to be addressed by the CJEU was whether the re-posting on one website of a photograph previously posted without any (stated) restrictions and with the consent of the copyright holder on another website constitutes “communication to the public.” Both sites were freely available to users of the internet. If the answer is “yes” the re-use of the photograph is potentially¬† infringing, if “no” then it is not infringing.

The Court came to the conclusion that re-posting the photograph in these circumstances does count as “communication to the public” and is therefore infringing (unless in the given circumstances the re-use is covered by one of the exceptions to copyright ). There is interesting discussion of the concept of a “new public” which has become significant in copyright decisions by the CJEU and this discussion tends to reveal the limited usefulness of the “new public” concept in drawing a line between infringing and non-infringing reuse of copyright protected material. See also the coverage of this case on the IPKAT blog.

 

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