Intellectual Property | Web Browsing Referred To European Court

On 17th April the UK Supreme Court gave judgment in the case of Public Relations Consultants Association v The Newspaper Licensing Agency and Others [2013] UKSC18 answering the question of whether or not a user of a computer creates a copy of a web page when viewing that page.

When viewing a web page, the technical process requires temporary copies to be made on screen and also on the hard disk of the computer. The inevitable consequence of this is breach of copyright in the information being viewed.

The court overruled the appeal judgment given in the High Court and held that there that a user does not breach copyright law when viewing a web page as they are not downloading the web page or printing the web page.

The case in question was between the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) and a media monitoring company called Meltwater. Meltwater charges PR companies a fee to supply email alerts on news articles relating specific search terms which usually link to their clients. These search terms then generate automatic headline links which are emailed to the client. The client can then use the link to direct them to the relevant article on the internet.

The Supreme Court’s majority opinion was that web pages shown on a computer monitor are “merely an incidental consequence of using a computer to view material” and are therefore exempt from breaching copyright laws pursuant to section 28A of the Copyright Design and Patent Act 1988 which states that copyright “is not infringed by making a temporary copy which is transient or incidental…to the lawful use of the work and which has no independent economic significance.”

The Supreme Court said that to find otherwise would have been “an unacceptable result”, as it would have made infringers of the many millions of ordinary users of the internet who browse for private as well as commercial purposes.

The Court however refrained from giving judgment and instead requested that the case be referred to the European Court of Justice for confirmation that the Supreme Courts opinion is harmonised with EU Directive 2001/29/EC which states that temporary reproductions of copyrighted works do not breach EU copyright law.

As a solicitor, Rebecca Howlett, specialises in intellectual property

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Mackrell Turner Garrett Solicitors in London