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6 Jun, 2014 04:03

Internet users won't get sued for web browsing, EU top court rules

Internet users won't get sued for web browsing, EU top court rules

​EU internet surfers can breathe at ease as they can now safely browse the web without worrying that cached copies of lawful material on their hard drives may infringe someone’s copyright, according to the European Court of Justice recent ruling.

The case which took 5 years to settle started in 2009 when a media monitoring firm Melwater and the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) filed a lawsuit in the British copyright tribunal against the UK's Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA). Initially, the UK court ruled that internet users need a license for temporary copies of webpages stored on their computers.

In a landmark ruling on Thursday, the highest judicial authority in the EU said that the law must be interpreted as meaning that the temporary “on-screen copies and the cached copies made by an end-user in the course of viewing a website” may be made “without the authorisation of the copyright holders.”

Such temporary copies however, should be “transient or incidental in nature” or be an “essential part of a technological process” to not infringe on any copyrighted material.

“We are utterly delighted that the CJEU has accepted all of our arguments against the NLA, which represents eight national newspapers,” said PRCA director-general Francis Ingham, “The Court of Justice, like the Supreme Court before them, understands that the NLA’s attempts to charge for reading online content do not just affect the PR world, but the fundamental rights of all EU citizens to browse the internet. This is a huge step in the right direction for the courts as they seek ways to deal with the thorny issues of internet use and copyright law.”

Meltwater also welcomed ECJ ruling calling it an “important precedent for Internet freedom across the European Union.”

“This ruling serves the interests of business, technology and millions of Internet users and ensures protection from being accused of copyright infringement,” said Jorn Lyseggen, CEO of Meltwater.

The European Court of Human Rights in the French eastern city of Strasbourg. (AFP Photo / Johanna Leguerre)

The losing side said that the ruling will have no impact on the license NLA Media Access issued to Meltwater and other media monitoring agencies.

“Media monitoring agencies still require a licence to copy online content to create paid-for services for their clients and their clients still need a licence to receive those services. This ruling does not change anything in that. If you're a client of Meltwater, you still need a licence to view that content,” David Pugh, managing director of the NLA, was quoted by PRWire.

Meltwater Group operates a media monitoring service that displays mainly news headline results to paying Meltwater clients who do not purchase a license from the original news source or copyright service to view a summary of applicable search results displayed to them by Meltwater.

British watchdog, the NLA introduced a license covering media monitoring services that generate results on paid-for services sites. Most media monitoring agencies engaged in this type of content aggregation signed up for the new NLA web license. Meltwater did not, instead arguing that no license is needed by its clients for this purpose.

One of the key sticking points in the case was whether temporary digital “cached” copies of online news content made when a user surfs the web, violate a copyright holders rights came into question. The NLA argued that for an end user to view extracts, constituted 'copying' and re-use by the end user, and was therefore infringing copyrights.