ECJ Judgment in Case C-5/11 (Titus Alexander Jochen Donner) – The free movement of goods may be restricted on grounds of protection of copyright

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A Member State may bring an action under national criminal law against a transporter for the offence of aiding and abetting the prohibited distribution of copyright-protected works on national territory, even where those works are not protected by copyright in the vendor’s Member State

Mr Donner, a German national, was found guilty by the Landgericht München II (Regional Court, Munich II, Germany) of aiding and abetting the prohibited commercial exploitation of copyright-protected works. According to the findings of the regional court, between 2005 and 2008 Mr Donner had distributed replicas of furnishings in the so-called ‘Bauhaus’1 style, which was protected by copyright in Germany, for sale to customers residing in Germany.

These replicas originated from Italy, where they were not protected by copyright between 2002 and 2007, nor were they fully protected at the relevant time because, according to Italian case-law, that protection was unenforceable against producers who had reproduced or offered them for sale and/or marketed them for a certain time. The replicas had been offered for sale to customers residing in Germany by the Italian undertaking Dimensione Direct through advertisements and supplements in newspapers, direct publicity letters and a German-language internet website.

For transport to customers residing in Germany, Dimensione recommended using the Italian transport undertaking In.Sp.Em, of which Mr Donner was the principal director. The In.Sp.Em drivers collected the items ordered by German customers in Italy and paid the relevant purchase price to Dimensione. The In.Sp.Em drivers then collected the purchase price and freight charges from the customer on delivery in Germany. From a legal point of view, ownership of the goods sold by Dimensione was transferred in Italy to the German customers. The transfer of the power of disposal over the goods, however, did not take place until the goods were handed over to the purchaser in Germany, with the help of Mr Donner. Thus, according to the regional court, the distribution for the purposes of copyright did not take place in Italy, but rather in Germany, where it was prohibited in the absence of authorisation from the copyright holders.

Mr Donner appealed on a point of law against the judgment of the regional court to the Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Court of Justice, Germany). That court seeks to know whether the application of German criminal law gives rise, in the present case, to an unjustified restriction on the free movement of goods, as guaranteed under EU law. Here to read more.

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