CJEU holds that hiring out motor vehicles with radios is not a communication to the public

April 6, 2020

The Court of Justice of the European Union has held in Föreningen Svenska Tonsättares Internationella Musikbyrå u.p.a. (Stim) and Svenska artisters och musikers intresseorganisation ek. för. (SAMI) v Fleetmanager Sweden AB and Nordisk Biluthyrning AB (Case C-753/18) that hiring out motor vehicles equipped with radio receivers does not constitute a communication to the public subject to payment of royalties.

Stim collectively manages copyright in music and SAMI manages the related rights of performers in Sweden. 

The companies Fleetmanager Sweden AB and Nordisk Biluthyrning AB are motor vehicle rental companies established in Sweden. They offer, directly or through intermediaries, hired vehicles equipped with radio receivers, in particular for periods not exceeding 29 days. This is considered a short-term hire under Swedish law.

Stim claimed that Fleetmanager, by making available to motor vehicle rental companies vehicles fitted with radio receivers for short-term hires to private clients, contributed to the copyright infringements committed by those companies, who made musical works available to the public without being authorised to do so. Stim therefore brought an action against Fleetmanager for a finding of those infringements.

Separately, NB sought a declaration from the Swedish patent court that NB was not required, on the basis of the sole fact that the vehicles which it hires to individuals and entrepreneurs are equipped with radio receivers and CD readers, to pay fees to SAMI for the use of sound recordings.

Both cases were brought before the Supreme Court. It referred the cases to the Court of Justice asking whether the hiring out of motor vehicles equipped with radio receivers constitutes a communication to the public under Directives 2001/29 and 2006/1152 on copyright. 

The CJEU referred to recital 27 of Directive 2001/29, under which ‘the mere provision of physical facilities for enabling or making a communication does not in itself amount to communication within the meaning of this directive’ in its judgment.  

It held that the supply of a radio receiver forming an integral part of a hired motor vehicle makes it possible to receive, without any additional intervention by the leasing company, the terrestrial radio broadcasts available in the area in which the vehicle is located. That is different from acts of communication by which service providers intentionally broadcast protected works to their clientele, by distributing a signal by means of receivers that they have installed in their establishment. 

It follows that by making available to the public vehicles equipped with radio receivers, vehicle rental companies are not carrying out an ‘act of communication’ to the public of protected works. As a result, in the view of the Court, there was no need to examine whether such making available must be regarded as a communication to a ‘public’.