[A2k] ECHR: Copyright vs. freedom of expression
james.love at keionline.org
Sat Feb 23 06:21:08 PST 2013
ECHR: Copyright vs. freedom of expression
By Kluwer Blogger
ECtHR (5th section), 10 January 2013, case of Ashby Donald and others
v. France, Appl. nr. 36769/08.
By Dirk Voorhoof, Ghent University and Inger Høedt-Rasmussen,
Copenhagen Business School.
“Although the European Court did not find a violation of Article 10 in
the case of Ashby Donald and others v. France, the judgment in this
case has definitely confirmed that copyright enforcement, restrictions
on the use of copyright protected works and sanctions based on
copyright law ultimately can be regarded as interferences with the
right of freedom of expression and information.”
For the first time in a judgment on the merits, the European Court of
Human Rights has clarified that a conviction based on copyright law
for illegally reproducing or publicly communicating copyright
protected material can be regarded as an interference with the right
of freedom of expression and information under Article 10 of the
European Convention. Such interference must be in accordance with the
three conditions enshrined in the second paragraph of Article 10 of
the Convention. This means that a conviction or any other judicial
decision based on copyright law, restricting a person’s or an
organisation’s freedom of expression, must be pertinently motivated as
being necessary in a democratic society, apart from being prescribed
by law and pursuing a legitimate aim.
It is, in other words, no longer sufficient to justify a sanction or
any other judicial order restricting one’s artistic or journalistic
freedom of expression on the basis that a copyright law provision has
been infringed. Neither is it sufficient to consider that the
unauthorised use, reproduction or public communication of a work
cannot rely on one of the narrowly interpreted exceptions in the
copyright law itself, including the application of the so-called
three-step test (art. 5.5 EU Directive 2001/29 of 22 May 2001). The
European Court’s judgment of 10 January 2013 in the case of Ashby
Donald and others v. France unambiguously declares Article 10 of the
Convention applicable in copyright cases interfering with the right of
freedom of expression and information of others, adding an external
human rights perspective to the justification of copyright
enforcement. Due to the important wide margin of appreciation
available to the national authorities in this particular case, the
impact of Article 10 however is very modest and minimal.
Pictures published on the Internet, infringing copyright
In this case, the applicants were Robert Ashby Donald, Marcio
Madeira Moraes and Olivier Claisse, respectively an American, a
Brazilian and a French national living in New-York, Paris and Le
Perreux-sur-Marne. All three are fashion photographers. The case
concerned their conviction in France for copyright infringement
following the publication of pictures on the Internet site
Viewfinder of a fashion company run by Mr. Donald and Mr.
Moraes. The photos were taken by Mr. Claisse at fashion shows in
Paris in 2003 and published without the permission of the fashion
houses. The three fashion photographers were ordered by the Court of
Appeal of Paris to pay fines between 3.000 and 8.000 euro and an award
of damages to the French design clothing Federation and five fashion
houses, all together amounting to 255.000 euro. Donald, Moraes and
Claisse were also ordered to pay for the publication of the judgment
of the Paris Court of Appeal in three professional newspapers or
magazines. In its judgment of 5 February 2008 the Supreme Court (Court
de Cassation) dismissed the applicants’ argumentation based on Article
10 of the Convention and on Article 122-9° of the French Copyright Act
(Code de la Propriété Intellectuele). The Supreme Court was of the
opinion that the Court of Appeal had sufficiently justified its
decision. Accordingly, the applicants could not rely on an exception
in French copyright law, allowing the reproduction, representation or
public communication of works exclusively for news reporting and
In Strasbourg the applicants complained in particular of a breach of
their rights under Article 10 (freedom of expression and information)
of the European Convention. The European Court declared the
application admissible and not manifestly ill-founded (§ 25), but
concluded on the merits of the case that the conviction of the
applicants because of breach of the French Copyright Act did not
amount to a violation of Article 10 of the Convention by the French
authorities. The Court was indeed of the opinion that the conviction
for breach of copyright and the award of damages was to be considered
as an interference with their rights protected by Article 10 of the
Convention. However, this interference was prescribed by law, pursued
the legitimate aim of protecting the rights of others and was to be
considered necessary in a democratic society.
The Court explicitly recognises the applicability of Article 10 in
this case : “La Cour rappelle que l’article 10 de la Convention a
vocation à s’appliquer à la communication au moyen de l’Internet (..),
quel que soit le type de message qu’il s’agit de véhiculer (..), et
même lorsque l’objectif poursuivi est de nature lucrative (..). Elle
rappelle aussi que la liberté d’expression comprend la publication de
photographies (..). Elle en déduit que la publication des
photographies litigieuses sur un site Internet dédié à la mode et
proposant au public des images de défilés à la consultation libre ou
payante et à la vente relève de l’exercice du droit à la liberté
d’expression, et que la condamnation des requérants pour ces faits
s’analyse en une ingérence dans celui-ci” (§ 34). The Court hereby
confirms its approach that while freedom of expression is subject to
exceptions, these exceptions must be construed strictly, and the need
for any restrictions must be established convincingly : “La liberté
d’expression (..) telle que la consacre l’article 10, (..) est
assortie d’exceptions qui appellent toutefois une interprétation
étroite, et le besoin de la restreindre doit se trouver établi de
manière convaincante” (§ 38).
A particular important wide margin of appreciation
The Court is of the opinion that in this case a wide margin of
appreciation is to be given to the domestic authorities, as the
publication of the pictures of models at a fashion show and the
fashion clothing shown on the catwalk in Paris was not related to an
issue of general interest for society and concerned rather a kind of
“commercial speech”. As the Court points out : “En l’espèce, les
photographies litigieuses ont été publiées sur un site Internet
appartenant à une société gérée par les deux premiers requérants, dans
le but notamment de les vendre ou d’y donner accès contre
rémunération. La démarche des requérants était donc avant tout
commerciale. De plus, si l’on ne peut nier l’attrait du public pour la
mode en général et les défilés de haute couture en particulier, on ne
saurait dire que les requérants ont pris part à un débat d’intérêt
général alors qu’ils se sont bornés à rendre des photographies de
défilés de mode accessibles au public” (§ 39).
The member states are furthermore in a position to balance conflicting
rights and interests, such as the right of freedom of expression under
Article 10 of the Convention with the right of property as protected
by Article 1 of the First Protocol to the Convention. The Court,
referring to its 2007 Grand Chamber judgment in Anheuser-Busch Inc.
v. Portugal, reiterates that “l’ingérence dans le droit à la liberté
d’expression des requérants visait à la protection des droits d’auteur
des créateurs de mode. Dès lors que l’article 1 du Protocole no 1
s’applique à la propriété intellectuelle (..), elle visait ainsi à la
protection de droits garantis par la Convention ou ses Protocoles” (§
Hence, two crucial elements in this case justify that the national
authorities enjoy a particularly wide margin of appreciation. The
European Court refers to “une marge d’appréciation particulièrement
importante” (§ 41). These elements are the “commercial
speech”-character of the publication of the pictures on the website
and the balancing exercise the Court needs to undertake regarding the
conflicting rights guaranteed by Article 10 of the Convention and the
right of property as protected by Article 1 of the First Protocol to
The European Court consequently refers to the Paris Court of Appeal’s
finding that the applicants had reproduced and represented the
pictures without authorisation by the copyright holders, hence
infringing the rights of intellectual property of others. The European
Court refers to the reasoning by the Paris Court “que les requérants
avaient, en connaissance de cause, diffusé les photographies
litigeuses sans l’autorisation des titulaires des droits d’auteurs,
qu’ils ne pouvaient se dégager de leur responsabilité en se prévalant
du fait que le système de l’engagement de presse était inadapté ou mal
respecté, et qu’ils s’étaient donc rendus coupables du délit de
contrefaçon. Elle ne voit pas de raison de considérer que le juge
interne a excédé sa marge d’appréciation en faisant par ces motifs
prévaloir le droit au respect des biens des créateurs de mode sur le
droit à la liberté d’expression des requérants” (§ 42).
Finally the European Court does not consider the fines and the
substantial award of damages as disproportionate to the legitimate aim
pursued, arguing that the applicants gave no evidence that these
sanctions had “financially strangled” them : “La Cour observe
toutefois avec le Gouvernement que, si les requérants affirment avoir
été « étranglés financièrement », ils ne produisent aucun élément
relatif aux conséquences de ces condamnations sur leur situation
financière ». The Court accepts the reasoning of the domestic courts
and their calculation of the damages, with respect for the guarantees
of a fair trial not being under dispute in this matter. The Court
“relève en outre que le juge interne a fixé ces montants à l’issue
d’une procédure contradictoire dont l’équité n’est pas en cause et a
dûment motivé sa décision, précisant en particulier les circonstances
qui, selon son appréciation, les justifiaient” (§ 43).
In these circumstances and taking into account the particular
important margin of appreciation of the national authorities, the
Court concludes unanimously that there is no violation of Article 10
of the Convention.
Relying on Article 7 (no punishment without law), the applicants also
alleged that, in refusing to apply an exception to copyright law
provided for under Article 122-9°of the French Intellectual Property
Code, the Supreme Court failed to apply the principle that the
criminal law must be strictly interpreted. The European Court however
dismissed this part of the application as manifestly ill-founded.
The judgment of the European Court of 10 January 2013 is interesting
for several reasons.
1.Emerging internet cases.
First of all, the judgment illustrates that cases of (alleged)
breaches of fundamental rights and freedoms, enshrined in the European
Convention and its Protocols, situated in the digital, online world
have started to find their way to the European Court of Human Rights.
During the past few years and months the European Court has delivered
several judgments in “internet”-cases related to freedom of expression
and information, such as in Times Newspapers Ltd. v. United Kingdom
(ECtHR 10 March 2009), Editorial Board of Pravoye Delo and Shtekel v.
Ukraine (5 May 2011) and in its Grand Chamber judgment in Mouvement
Raëlien Suisse v. Switzerland (13 July 2012).
In Szima v. Hungary the case concerned a sanction of the person who
had editorial control over a police trade union’s website. She was
also the author of a series of blogs and articles that were considered
as instigation to insubordination by the Hungarian authorities. The
European Court accepted that there was a sufficient “pressing social
need” to interfere with the applicant’s freedom of expression (ECtHR 9
In Peta Deutschland v. Germany a civil injunction preventing the
applicant association inter alia from publishing seven specified
posters via the internet, comparing the atrocities of the genocide of
the Nazi-regime with animal suffering and hence banalising and
instrumentalising the holocaust, was not considered as a violation of
Article 10 (ECtHR 8 November 2012).
In a judgment of 18 December 2012, the European Court came to the
conclusion that the decision taken and upheld by the Turkish
authorities to block internet access to Google Sites amounted to a
violation of Article 10. The decision to block Google Sites had been
taken to prevent further access to one particular website hosted by
Google which included content deemed offensive to the memory of
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic. With its
judgment in Ahmet Yildirim v. Turkey the European Court of Human
Rights has reinforced the right of individuals to access the internet,
as in its ruling against the wholesale blocking of online content, it
asserted that the internet has now become one of the principal means
of exercising the right to freedom of expression and information
(ECtHR 18 December 2012).
Due to this emerging case law related to internet and other new forms
of technology, including rights and freedoms guaranteed by the
Convention, the European Court has recently updated its fact sheet on
the European Court’s case law on New Technologies.
The judgment of 10 January 2013 in Ashby Donald and others v. France,
concerning a copyright infringement following the publication of
pictures on an Internet site, is the first and will certainly not
be the last case before the European Court in 2013 which is
2.Money or message driven?
Secondly the Court’s judgment is a clear illustration of the
difference between, on the one hand, expression and content
contributing to an issue of public debate or a debate of general
interest for society, and on the other hand, “commercial speech”.
Speech, messages, pictures and content which are merely money driven
do not enjoy the added value of the protection guaranteed by Article
10 of the Convention. In the Court’s view, the margin of appreciation
in such circumstances is a very wide one, even in a case where the
interference by the authorities takes the form of a criminal
conviction or a very high award of damages, both ‘sanctions’ with a
risk of having a chilling effect.
This approach was also recently confirmed in Mouvement Raëlien Suisse
v. Switzerland, in which the Court stated : “Whilst there is little
scope under Article 10 § 2 of the Convention for restrictions on
political speech (..), a wider margin of appreciation is generally
available to the Contracting States when regulating freedom of
expression in relation to matters liable to offend intimate personal
convictions within the sphere of morals or, especially, religion (..).
Similarly, States have a broad margin of appreciation in the
regulation of speech in commercial matters or advertising” (§ 61, also
referring to ECtHR 20 November 1989, Markt intern Verlag GmbH and
Klaus Beermann v. Germany and ECtHR 24 February 1994, Casado Coca v.
This aspect is also emphasised in the case Ashby Donald and others v.
France. Hence no doubt in this case : “La démarche des requérants
était donc avant tout commerciale”. There is indeed no indication that
the applicants were involved in a debate of general interest (see e.g.
Barthold v. Germany, Hertel v. Switzerland, Stambuk v. Germany,
Vereinigung Gegen Tierfabriken SchweizVGT v. Switzerland, and Peta
Deutschland v. Germany). The three fashion photographers only made the
catwalk pictures of Paris fashion shows accessible to the public.
It would undoubtedly have been different if the pictures posted on the
Internet had contributed to a public debate e.g. on women’s rights in
the world of fashion, or on public health issues related to anorexia
and young girls being tempted to look like models in the glossy
fashion magazines. In this case the photos were solely used in a
commercial setting, while the pictures contained no further message
than reproducing the images of the Paris fashion shows. It is not
because the website or the media platform is part of a commercial
company, that the invoked freedom of expression will receive a lower
degree of protection from the scope of Article 10 of the Convention.
What essentially matters is whether the publication, the article, the
expression or the pictures contribute to a debate of general interest,
a notion which is broadly interpreted by the European Court of Human
Rights : “what constitutes a subject of general interest will depend
on the circumstances of the case” (ECtHR (Grand Chamber) 7 February
2012, Axel Springer Verlag AG v. Germany, § 90. See also D. VOORHOOF,
“Freedom of Expression under the European Human Rights System”,
Inter-American and European Human Rights Journal / Revista
Interamericana y Europa de Derechos Humanos 2009/1-2, 3-49).
If the publication or the public communication of the litigious
pictures had contributed to such a debate of general interest, and if
the publication of the pictures had been justified in this context
(ECtHR 18 January 2011, MGN Limited v. United Kingdom and ECtHR (Grand
Chamber) 7 February 2012, Von Hannover nr. 2 v. Germany), a more
strict scrutiny by the European Court from the perspective of Article
10 would have been necessary, at the same time reducing the margin of
appreciation available to the national authorities.
3.Copyright law enforcement must be in accordance with Article 10 of
Another reason why the European Court accepts a wide margin of
appreciation in Ashby Donald and other v. France is because it has to
balance two conflicting fundamental rights enshrined in the Convention
and its Protocols. In such a context the Court is required to verify
whether the domestic authorities struck a fair balance when protecting
two values guaranteed by the Convention and its Protocols. In this
case the Court had to balance on the one hand, freedom of expression
protected by Article 10 and, on the other, the right to property
enshrined in Article 1 of the First Protocol. Especially since its
Grand Chamber judgment in Anheuser-Busch Incl. v. Portugal in a
trademark dispute, there can be no doubt that “Article 1 of Protocol
No. 1 is applicable to intellectual property as such” (ECtHR (Grand
Chamber) 11 January 2007, § 72). Indeed, in Melnychuk v. Ukraine,
which concerned an alleged violation of the applicant’s copyright, the
Court had earlier decided that Article 1 of the First Protocol was
applicable to intellectual property (ECtHR (decision) 7 July 2005,
Melnychuk v. Ukraine).
Where the balancing exercise between two Convention rights has been
undertaken by the national authorities in conformity with the criteria
laid down in the Court’s case-law, it requires strong reasons for the
European Court to substitute its view for that of the domestic courts
(ECtHR (Grand Chamber) 7 February 2012, Axel Springer Verlag AG v.
Germany, § 88). However, the circumstance itself of the balancing of
conflicting rights does not exclude a thorough analysis by the Court
of the findings and reasoning by the national courts, as is
demonstrated in the Court’s Grand Chamber judgments of 7 February 2012
in the cases of Axel Springer Verlag AG v. Germany and Von Hannover
nr. 2 v. Germany.
The European Court of Justice in some recent judgments has also
confirmed this approach when it had to balance the enforcement of
copyright on the internet with other rights. The EU Court of Justice
in Scarlet v. Sabam (24 November 2011) has reiterated that “the
protection of the right to intellectual property is indeed enshrined
in Article 17(2) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European
Union (‘the Charter’). There is, however, nothing whatsoever in the
wording of that provision or in the Court’s case-law to suggest that
that right is inviolable and must for that reason be absolutely
protected” (§ 43).
According to the CJEU “the protection of the fundamental right to
property, which includes the rights linked to intellectual property,
must be balanced against the protection of other fundamental rights”,
including the right of freedom of expression and information
guaranteed by Article 10 of the Convention (CJEU 24 November 2011,
C-70/10, Scarlet Extended NV v. Belgische Vereniging van Auteurs,
Componisten en Uitgevers CVBA (SABAM); CJEU 16 February 2012,
C-360/10, Belgische Vereniging van Auteurs, Componisten en Uitgevers
CVBA (SABAM) v. Netlog NV. See also CJEU (GC) 16 December 2008,
C-73/07, Tietosuojavaltuutettu / Satakunnan Markkinapörssi Oy,
The CJEU clarified that “in the context of measures adopted to protect
copyright holders, national authorities and courts must strike a fair
balance between the protection of copyright and the protection of the
fundamental rights of individuals who are affected by such measures”
(CJEU 24 November 2011, C-70/10, § 45). From this perspective, the
CJEU considered that an injunction to install an internet filtering
system as a measure of enforcement of copyright “could potentially
undermine freedom of information”, since that system might not
distinguish adequately between unlawful content and lawful content,
with the result that its introduction could lead to the blocking of
lawful communications (compare with ECtHR 18 December 2012, Ahmet
Yildirim v. Turkey).
In the case of Ashby Donald and others v. France the European Court of
Human Rights did not need to undertake itself such a balancing
exercise, as it found that the French judicial authorities have done
this exercise in an acceptable way. As the Court stated, it saw no
reason to disagree with the findings by the French courts : “Elle ne
voit pas de raison de considérer que le juge interne a excédé sa marge
d’appréciation en faisant par ces motifs prévaloir le droit au respect
des biens des créateurs de mode sur le droit à la liberté d’expression
des requérants” (§ 42). The Court followed the same reasoning
regarding the proportionality of the fine and the award of damages the
applicants are ordered to pay (§43).
The deferential approach by the European Court, due to the appropriate
way the French courts have handled the case and especially due to the
fact that it ‘only’ concerned an interference in the context of
“commercial speech”, does not exclude at all that in other cases the
European Court may scrutinize in a more strict way the balancing of a
conflict between the right of freedom of expression and copyright.
That will especially be the case in matters that concern prior
restraint, such as the blocking of internet sites, artistic freedom of
expression, political speech, the use of official documents,
reproduction and public communication of works for educational or
scientific purposes or NGOs participating in debate on matters of
public concern such as health and environmental issues. Similarly, in
cases where journalists and media are exercising their public watchdog
function in a democracy, in cases of parody, caricatures or other
forms of transformative use and when sanctions risk to have a chilling
effect on the freedom of expression and information in a democracy. In
such cases interferences with the right of freedom of expression and
information, based on copyright law, will indeed need to undergo a
more careful balancing test between Article 10 and Article 1 of the
Some national courts, within their margin of appreciation, already
have referred to or have applied Article 10 in cases where the
enforcement of copyright law otherwise could lead to a violation of
the right of freedom of expression and information guaranteed by
Article 10 of the Convention (see e.g. Cass. Fr. 19 October 2006
Camel/Japan Tobacco v. CNMRT; Rb. Amsterdam, 22 December 2006, Staat
der Nederlanden v. Greenpeace and Rb. ‘s-Gravenhage (Summary
Proceeding) 4 May 2011, Louis Vuitton v. Nadia Plesner).
Although the European Court did not find a violation of Article 10 in
the case of Ashby Donald and others v. France, the judgment in this
case has definitely confirmed that copyright enforcement, restrictions
on the use of copyright protected works and sanctions based on
copyright law ultimately can be regarded as interferences with the
right of freedom of expression and information. This requires
inevitably a balancing test between the rights involved. In terms of
predictability of the outcome of such a balancing test, a clear set of
criteria need to be developed, like the Grand Chamber did in Axel
Springer Verlag AG v. Germany, balancing the Articles 8 and 10 of the
Convention (see §§ 89-109).
As long as it is unclear which criteria should be used in this
balancing exercise and how they should be applied, legal advisors and
counsels, whose predictability is founded in legal sources, might be
troubled when the balancing test arguments can be derived from an
extensive and unpredictable sample of legal, financial, commercial,
ethical, technical or factual elements or justifications.
Unfortunately the facts and circumstances in the case of Ashby Donald
and others v. France did not give a real opportunity to the European
Court to give preliminary assistance in this matter. This leaves
however an uncertain future for the application of Article 10 in
matters of copyright enforcement interfering with the right of freedom
of expression and information.
A printable PDF-version of the article can be downloaded here.
The article was also published on the ECHR Blog.
References (in chronological order) :
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R.C. DREYFUS, D.L. ZIMMERMAN en H. FIRST (eds.), Expanding the
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D. VOORHOOF, “Freedom of Expression, Parody, Copyright and
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on Adjuncts and Alternatives to Copyright, Columbia University, School
of Law, New York, ALAI-USA, 2002, 636-649.
C. GEIGER, Droit d’auteur et droit du public à l’information. Approche
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James Love. Knowledge Ecology International
http://www.keionline.org, +1.202.332.2670, US Mobile: +1.202.361.3040,
Geneva Mobile: +41.76.413.6584, efax: +1.888.245.3140.
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