A recent ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has indicated that mere accessibility in a Member State of an allegedly copyright-infringing image on a website is enough to confer jurisdiction on the courts of that Member State to hear the action.

In the recent Pez Hejduk case, photographs protected by copyright were published on a German website without the consent of the copyright owner. The Austrian photographer sought relief in a Viennese court, but as the website (a German .de domain) was not targeted at Austria, an issue arose as to whether the Austrian courts had jurisdiction to hear the case. 

Under European law, a plaintiff can sue in the place where the “harmful event occurred”. This has been interpreted by the CJEU to mean “both the place where the damage occurred and the place of the event giving rise to it”. This is derogation from the fundamental principle attributing jurisdiction to the courts of the Member State in which the defendant is domiciled.

The stance taken by the Court in this case was clear. As the photographs were protected by copyright in Austria as well as in Germany, the mere fact that the .de website was accessible in Austria was sufficient to establish damage in that Member State and therefore the Austrian court’s jurisdiction to hear the case.The Court also confirmed that where jurisdiction is based on the accessibility criteria alone, the court hearing the action can only rule on the damage caused in that Member State. This opens up the possibility of multiple law suits where a plaintiff has suffered loss in numerous Member States.

This is a particularly important decision given the global reach of online publications and opens up website operators to potential claims in jurisdictions that they may not intentionally or specifically target. This will likely be applicable to the unauthorised online posting of not only images but of all copyright works - particularly if such works have been made available to the public.