The Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) has ruled that producing copies of web pages, on-screen and in caches, generated in the course of browsing the internet, does not infringe copyright law.

The decision follows a referral from the UK’s Supreme Court on whether cached and on-screen copies of web pages, as generated in the course of browsing, may be made without the authorisation of copyright holders. It was held that internet users that read articles online, without actually downloading them, did not infringe upon the publisher’s copyright as long as the website provider was authorised to provide access to the content.

The primary question before the CJEU was whether the characteristics of cached and on-screen copies satisfied the relevant criteria to enable end-users rely on the temporary copies exception in law. In order to satisfy these criteria, copies must be:

  • Temporary
  • Transient or incidental
  • An integral and essential part of a technological process
  • Have a sole purpose to enable a transmission in a network (or a lawful use) of a work or other subject-matter
  • Have no independent economic significance

In holding that both on-screen and cached copies satisfied those criteria, the CJEU attached particular weight to the notion that generating these copies while browsing was an integral part of the technological process of browsing.

This decision is perhaps not all that surprising. A ruling otherwise might have had serious and arguably negative consequences for internet users and usage. The case confirms that internet users across the European Union who merely open and view copyright protected content online will generally not require any additional specific licence. However, it should be noted that this decision is limited to online browsing; it does not of itself legitimise the printing and distribution, or other forms of downloading of online materials without the permission of copyright owners. This case forms part of a series of recent cases emanating from Europe on browsing, links and other internet uses. See also: Court Confirms Not Copyright Infringement to Link to Freely Available Copyrighted Works; English Court Grants Order Blocking Access to Sports Streaming Site; and The Pirate Bay Blocked Using Controversial New Law