The UK Supreme Court has decided to refer a question to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) regarding the extent of copyright protection given to material which is viewed on the internet.

The Meltwater case has finally reached the UK Supreme Court following a lengthy legal process. This followed an appeal of the UK Copyright Tribunal’s decision which held that the news aggregator website had infringed copyright in linking its customers to articles (see our previous articles here and here).

The decision to refer the case to the CJEU was influenced by the potentially wide-reaching implications of the eventual decision for internet users throughout the EU and the fact that the case raises “an important question about the application of copyright law to the technical processes involved in viewing copyright material on the internet”.

The CJEU will be asked whether EU copyright law extends to the mere viewing of copyright materials online, as well as the downloading and/or printing of those materials. Where a web page is viewed by an end-user of Meltwater’s service, a temporary copy of the material is created both on the screen and in a cache on that user’s computer. The Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) who took the action against Meltwater argued that users of the news aggregator were required to be licensees of the information they received from the service. The view of the UK Supreme Court was that these copies are merely transient and incidental to online consumption of information and so it is disputed as to whether viewing them online constitutes an infringement of the copyright protection afforded to that information. For clarity, the CJEU will be asked to opine on this matter.

The CJEU ruling will offer guidance on whether those who receive temporary copies of copyright material should be required to agree to licensing terms regardless of the level of content they receive or the fact that they merely view the information online without making substantial use of or reproducing that material. The judgment has the potential to greatly influence the way in which we all browse and consume information online.