In the EU, rights to private and family life are respected. However, EU Advocate General Szpunar in his new publication has made it clear that people cannot misuse their powers. They cannot share copyrighted content without permission from the copyright holders.
On May 8, 2010, German citizen Michael Strotzer was operating an Internet connection from where an audiobook was made obtainable on a peer-to-peer network.
Bastei Lubbe AG, a German company, owned the copyrights to that content and had not granted Strotzer permission to share it online. Therefore, on October 28, 2010, Bastei Lübbe lettered to Strotzer with a demand for him to cease infringing their copyrights.
But, when the letter did not work, Bastei Lübbe took Strotzer to court in Germany to be compensated for the alleged damages caused.
Strotzer denied the copyright infringement claims by saying that his home network was secure and he wasn’t the one who did it. Additionally, he stated that his parents had access to his system.
But, neither did they have the audiobook on their computer nor use file-sharing networks. Furthermore, he said that their computer had been shut down at the time when the audiobook was shared online.
The court dismissed the case by saying that that the copyright infringement could not be directly attributed to Strotzer since his parents could also have shared the audiobook. Answering back, Bastei Lübbe filed an appeal with the Regional Court of First Instance in Munich.
The Court felt Michael Strotzer was responsible for the infringement as no third party involvement was evident from his statement.
The law of the case, however, made it complicated. Previously, the Federal Court ruled that the copyright holder should prove the infringement. It also said that the Internet connection owner is the likely committer if no-one was using at the time of the violation.
On that note, the connection owner should reveal the identity of those people who used it if he is not the one.
But, under Article 7 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights which safeguards the right to respect for a citizen’s private and family life, it was argued that the owner of the connection is not required to give more information if a family member has had access to his network.
Keeping this in mind, the Munich court referred the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) for guidance. Advocate General Szpunar published his opinion on June 6 in 21 different languages (except English) but thanks to lawyer Eleonora Rosati, there are findings.
But, if national law foresees such beliefs to ensure the protection of copyright, this shall be applied logically to guarantee effective copyright protection.
Meaning, if a country (in this case Germany) has national that lower the burdens of proof to help protect copyright law (something which is not mandatory under EU law), it does not necessarily mean that rightsholders cannot enforce their rights even if it conflicts with the right to respect for private family life.
When cases are taken to the CJEU, the judgment and future decisions of the Court often contain language which aims to balance what are usually seen as conflicting rights. In this case, it’s opined that the right to family life should not be used as an excuse to avoid liability in a matter where the rights of another party have been infringed.
The opinion of the Advocate General is not final, but the CJEU typically takes such advice.