In recent years Irish airline Ryanair has been involved in numerous legal battles against so-called ‘screen scrapers’ across Europe. ‘Screen scraping’ is the manner in which some price-comparison websites automatically collect and compare data from various service providers’ websites without such service providers’ consent. This practice has led to litigation across Europe. In this most recent decision, the Irish Supreme Court confirmed that the Irish Courts have jurisdiction to deal with alleged screen scraping of the Ryanair site. This decision, which comes in the wake of the CJEU ruling that Ryanair can restrict screen scrapers’ access to its website via its Terms of Use, marks a further victory for the Irish airline in its battle against screen scrapers.

How did the case come about?

Billigfluege, Ticket Point and On the Beach Limited are price comparison websites which compare the prices of flights across multiple airlines, including Ryanair, on a number of different routes. Billigfleuge and Ticket Point, both based in Germany, and On the Beach Limited, which is a UK site, sought to appeal separate decisions of the Irish High Court which had found that their use of Ryanair’s website amounted to an enforceable agreement that they could be sued before the Irish Courts.   

Ryanair had initiated proceedings in Ireland against these sites, alleging breaches of its intellectual property and its website’s Terms of Use. The airline contended that anyone accessing their website is automatically bound by the Terms of Use, which are provided in the footer of the site. On the point of jurisdiction, Ryanair specifically referenced clause 7 of the Terms (Applicable law and jurisdiction) which states that a party using the Ryanair website submits to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Courts of Ireland. This means that, in general, cases brought against Ryanair under the Terms must be taken in the Irish Courts, and Ryanair is free to issue proceedings against its users in Ireland.

The travel sites claimed that the Terms of Use are only triggered when a customer decides to purchase a seat on a Ryanair flight, and that this does not occur on their own sites as they merely forward the customer to the Ryanair website. As a result, they argued that the Irish Courts did not have jurisdiction to hear their cases and that the issue should be dealt with in their respective home courts.

The question for the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court was asked to determine whether the High Court had been correct in deciding that the Irish Courts had jurisdiction to hear these cases. The Supreme Court found that the issue centred on what is commonly called the “Brussels I Regulation” which deals with jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters in cross-border litigation. The Regulation provides that a person based in a specific Member State should be sued in that Member State (in this case, Germany and United Kingdom), except where certain exceptions are made including where the parties validly agree to a different choice of jurisdiction.

What was the result?

The Court disagreed with the arguments put forward by the travel websites. It found that the price comparison sites’ engagement with the Ryanair website to gather pricing information for onward transmission to their own customers constituted use of the Ryanair site. The Supreme Court ultimately agreed with the findings of both High Court judges that, by using a website, the user of the site would become bound by the site’s terms of use.

What effect will this have?

This case confirms that website owners can rely on the terms and conditions of their websites to choose the courts where disputes under those terms should be heard. By using the website, other parties are bound by these terms. Website owners should ensure that their terms and conditions are drafted to include a clause governing jurisdiction. Equally, price comparison sites should note that simply by accessing an airline’s website they will automatically be bound by the website’s terms of use, including any stipulation as to jurisdiction.

Despite the above, it is important to highlight that consumers generally have the right to sue in their home jurisdiction, regardless of any provision in a site’s terms of use.