The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has delivered its long-awaited judgment in Public Relations Consultants Association Ltd (PRCA) v Newspaper Licensing Agency Ltd (NLA) and Others, Case C-360/13. The CJEU confirmed that internet browsing (without downloading or printing) does not require a copyright licence, as it falls within the temporary copying exemption under Article 5(1) of the Copyright Directive (2001/29/EC). The decision provides reassurance to internet users that they can browse the internet without fear of liability for copyright infringement.

Background

The PRCA, an association of public relations professionals, uses the media monitoring service offered by Meltwater.  Meltwater produces monitoring reports on press articles published on the internet, those reports being compiled on the basis of key words provided by its customers.  The monitoring reports contain the opening words of the article and a hyperlink (in the form of a reproduction of the headline) which enables the user to access the article on the relevant source website. Meltwater sends the monitoring reports to its customers by email or they can be accessed on Meltwater's website.

The NLA is a body set up by newspaper publishers in the UK for the purpose of providing collective licensing of newspaper content.  It took the view that Meltwater and its customers were required to obtain authorisation from the copyright owners for, respectively, providing and receiving the media monitoring reports.

It was accepted by Meltwater that it needed a copyright licence to provide the reports.  Before the Supreme Court, Meltwater further accepted that its customers needed a licence to receive the reports by email, as the reports are not temporary copies, but rather stored on the recipient's hard drive until the recipient deletes them. Accordingly, the question on appeal to the Supreme Court was whether Meltwater's customers also needed a licence to view the reports on Meltwater's website, if they are not downloaded or printed out. The NLA argued that such browsing required the copyright owner's authorisation as it leads to copies being made on the user's computer screen, and in the internet cache of that computer's hard disk, which does not come within the temporary copying exemption provided for in Article 5(1).

Article 5(1) provides that an act of reproduction is exempt from the reproduction right provided for in Article 2 of the Copyright Directive on condition that the copying is: (i) temporary; (ii) transient or incidental; (iii) an integral part of the technological process; (iv) its sole purpose is to enable a transmission in a network or a lawful use of work, and (v) it has no independent economic significance.

The Supreme Court referred the matter to the CJEU for clarification, due to the possible implications of the decision for internet users on an EU-wide scale. The Supreme Court found that the on-screen copies and cached copies satisfied the fourth and fifth conditions in Article 5(1). Therefore, the reference related only to whether the first three conditions were satisfied.

Decision

The CJEU held that the exemption in Article 5(1) of the Copyright Directive must be interpreted as meaning that the on-screen copies and the cached copies, made by an end-user in the course of viewing a website, satisfied the conditions that those copies must be temporary, that they must be transient or incidental in nature, and that they must constitute an integral and essential part of a technological process, as well as various conditions in Article 5(5).  The decision therefore confirms that internet users may browse (i.e. view) material published on the internet without the need to obtain the copyright owner's authorisation.