When was the last time you sent a friend a letter? Now how about an email? In a digital world, should the meaning of the word ‘addresses’ be limited to physical addresses? Well, the Court of Justice of the European Union (the "CJEU") has decided that the answer to this last question is yes.
The CJEU has ruled in Constantin Film Verleih GmbH v YouTube LLC, Google Inc. (C-264/19) that when a film is unlawfully uploaded onto an online platform, such as YouTube, under the IP Enforcement Directive the rightholder may only require the operator to provide a postal address of the infringing user concerned - not their email address, telephone number or IP addresses (used to upload the infringing material and last access their account).
The ruling, following a referral by the German Supreme Court, hinged on whether such information is covered by the term ‘addresses’ in Article 8(2)(a) of the IP Enforcement Directive. In this instance, the CJEU, following the reasoning of AG Øe in his Opinion which we discussed in the Lens (see that post here), concluded that:
1) 'address’ must be given its everyday meaning, which is just a postal address, and therefore if the term is used without further clarification (as is the case here) it does not refer to email, telephone or IP addresses;
2) the preparatory materials of the IP Enforcement Directive contain nothing to suggest that ‘address’ should be interpreted as anything other than a postal address; and
3) where the EU legislature has intended to refer to email or IP addresses it has done so expressly by qualifying the word ‘address'.
Therefore, the term ‘addresses’ in the IP Enforcement Directive does not cover (in respect of a user who has uploaded files which infringe an intellectual property right) their email address, telephone number or IP addresses.
Nevertheless, the CJEU reiterated that Article 8(3)(a) of the IP Enforcement Directive gives Member States the option to grant rightholders the right to receive fuller information, so long as a fair balance is struck between the various fundamental rights involved (i.e. Article 17(2) on the protection of intellectual property and Article 8 on the protection of personal data of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union) and compliance with the other general principles of EU law, such as the principle of proportionality. We will see if this is a course that Member States chart, but for the time being the CJEU has put its thumb on the scales in favour of preserving rights in respect of personal data.