On the 17th April 2013, the UK Supreme Court decided that internet users do not need permission to browse and view copyrighted material via relevant web pages on the internet. This is obviously beneficial to information providers as well as users of the internet. On the other hand, publishers will have a neutral opinion considering the fact that they still charge media monitoring companies and end users fees for aggregation of content.
This resulted from the case Public Relations Consultants Association Limited v The Newspaper Licensing Agency Limited and others which consisted of a three year legal battle between the Newspaper Licensing Agency and a media monitoring company, Meltwater, which charges PR companies for alerts about their clients.
The main question on the appeal was whether Meltwater’s customers would need a license to receive its service if the monitoring report was made available only on Meltwater’s website. The reason for this being, that once a web page is viewed without being downloaded, the technical process still involves a reproduction of temporary copies on screen and in the internet ‘cache’ on the hard disk of the computer. This was seen as an infringement of copyright by the High Court. The Supreme Court rejected the idea by the High Court that article 5.1 of Directive 2001/29/EC did not apply to temporary copies generated by an end-user of the internet. Article 5.1 creates an exception for temporary copies which applies only to the reproduction right.
The Supreme Court stated that had they not overturned the High Court decision, it would have affected millions of non-commercial users of the internet who may, no doubt unwittingly, be incurring civil liability by viewing copyright material on the internet without the authority of the rights owner, for example because it has been unlawfully uploaded by a third party.
Furthermore, the Supreme Court decided to refer to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) the question whether the requirements of Article 5.1 of the Directive, that acts of reproduction should be (i) temporary, (ii) transient or incidental and (iii) an integral and essential part of the technological process, are satisfied by the technical features described within the judgment. In particular, having regard to the fact that a copy of protected material may in the ordinary course of internet usage, remain in the cache for a period of time after the browsing session which had generated that copy is completed until it is overlaid by other material, and a screen copy will remain on screen until the browsing session is terminated by the user.
Lord Sumption found it appropriate to refer to the CJEU considering the fact that this had a transnational dimension and that the application of copyright law to internet use has important implications for many millions of people across the EU making use of what has become a basic technical facility. The CJEU is expected to rule on the case in the next two years, at which point it will come back to the English courts for implementation.