Law & Practice

EUROPEAN UNION: ‘Addresses’ Does Not Cover Email, Telephone, or Internet Address

Published: August 5, 2020

Emil Edissonov Curell Suñol, S.L.P. Barcelona, Spain INTA Internet Committee—ICANN Engagement Subcommittee

Verifier: Natalia Moya Fernandez Fidal Paris, France

Courts may order intermediaries in intellectual property (IP) infringement cases to disclose the “names and addresses” of infringers. However, this does not include emails, phone numbers, or Internet addresses, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has ruled.

In its judgment of July 9, 2020, Constantin Film Verleih, C-264/19, the CJEU clarified the term “addresses” used in Article 8(2)(a) of the Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive (IPRED) 2004/48/EC of the European Parliament of the Council of 29 April 2004, which provides the courts with the authority to make the above mentioned orders.

YouTube and Google provide, on a commercial scale, services to users for uploading videos onto the YouTube platform. In this particular case, users were uploading infringing copies of the films Parker and Scary Movie 5 belonging to Constantin Film, a German film distributor.

Constantin Film requested the email addresses, mobile telephone numbers, and Internet addresses (commonly referred to as IP—or Internet Protocol—addresses) for the users who had uploaded the infringing files, as well as the Internet address last used to access their Google accounts associated with YouTube. Google and YouTube refused.

The dispute’s outcome depended on whether the term addresses, as included in the EU Enforcement Directive, covered the requested information. Germany’s Federal Court of Justice asked the CJEU whether it covered, with respect to users who have uploaded infringing files, their email address, telephone number, and Internet address used to upload the files or the Internet address used when an account was last accessed.

The CJEU held that the term addresses constitutes a concept of EU law, which must normally be given an independent and uniform interpretation throughout the EU and that the term’s meaning and scope must be determined by its usual meaning in everyday language, while also taking into account the context in which it occurs and the purposes of the rules of which it is part and, where appropriate, its origins.

The CJEU indicated that addresses did not cover the requested information, based on the following rationale:

  • The usual meaning of the term address in everyday language covers only the postal address, that is, the place of a given person’s permanent address or habitual residence;
  • The background to the enactment of the Enforcement Directive’s (travaux préparatoires (or preparatory discussions) contains nothing to suggest that it should be understood as referring to anything other than postal address; and
  • Other EU legal acts referring to email addresses or Internet addresses do not use the term address without further details, to designate the telephone number, Internet address, or email address.

The CJEU made clear, however, that the information rights set out in the IPRED are a minimum requirement. EU member states have the option of strengthening the disclosure obligations in national law in the event of IP rights infringement. EU member states could provide for further details to be disclosed if they establish a fair balance between the fundamental rights involved and compliance with general principles of EU law, including proportionality.

The CJEU’s narrow interpretation of addresses may not conform with current online practices. If information is limited to names and postal addresses, it may be of no use because users may use fictitious names, and their postal address is not requested when opening a Google account.

It may be seen as a win for privacy, but it is not good news in the fight against piracy and trademark infringement on online platforms.

Although every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of this article, readers are urged to check independently on matters of specific concern or interest. Law & Practice updates are published without comment from INTA except where it has taken an official position.

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