Court of Justice of European Union finds that when a film is unlawfully uploaded onto an online platform the rights holder can require the operator to provide the postal address of the user only, not his/her email, IP address or telephone number

HomeInsightsCourt of Justice of European Union finds that when a film is unlawfully uploaded onto an online platform the rights holder can require the operator to provide the postal address of the user only, not his/her email, IP address or telephone number

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In 2013 and 2014, the films Parker and Scary Movie 5 were uploaded onto the video platform YouTube without the consent of Constantin Film Verleih GmbH, the holder of the exclusive exploitation rights in the films in Germany. The films were viewed tens of thousands of times. Constantin Film requested that YouTube and Google provide it with information on each of the users who had uploaded those films from their user accounts. Both platforms refused to provide the information, in particular their email addresses, telephone numbers and IP addresses, either from the time when the files were uploaded or when the users had last accessed their Google/YouTube accounts.

The main area of dispute was whether email addresses, telephone numbers and IP addresses were included in the term “addresses” under the Enforcement Directive (2004/48/EC). The Directive provides that judicial authorities can order the disclosure of information on the origin and distribution networks of goods or services that infringe an intellectual property right. That information includes, inter alia, the “addresses” of producers, distributors and suppliers of the infringing goods or services.

The CJEU found that the usual meaning of the word “address” is a postal address, i.e. a person’s permanent address or habitual residence. Therefore, the CJEU said, when the word is used without any further clarification, as in the Directive, it does not include a person’s email address, telephone number or IP address. Further, the CJEU said, the travaux preparatoires that had led to the adoption of the Directive contained nothing to suggest that the term “address” should be understood as referring not only to the postal address but also to a person’s email address, telephone number or IP address. In addition, the CJEU found that no other EU legal instrument refers to email addresses or IP addresses as just an “address” without also including further details to define a telephone number, IP address or email address.

That interpretation was, the CJEU said, consistent with the Directive’s provisions on the right to information. Given that harmonisation on the enforcement of intellectual property rights is, in general, minimal, any such harmonisation was limited to narrowly defined information. Further, the aim of the Directive is to reconcile compliance with various rights, inter alia the rights of those holding the information and the personal data protection rights of users.

The CJEU concluded that the term “addresses” contained in the Directive does not cover, in respect of a user who has uploaded infringing files, his or her email address, telephone number or the IP address that was used to upload the files or the IP address used when the user’s account was last accessed.

The CJEU nevertheless stated that the Member States have the option of granting holders of intellectual property rights the right to receive fuller information, provided however that a fair balance is struck between the various fundamental rights involved and compliance with the other general principles of EU law, such as the principle of proportionality. (Case C-264/19 Constantin Film Verleih GmbH v YouTube LLC, EU:C:2020:542, (9 July 2020) — to read the judgment in full, click here).