Court of Justice rules on dissemination of allegedly disparaging remarks on the internet

Compensation for the resulting damage in a member state may be sought before the courts of that member state. That jurisdiction is subject only to the condition that the harmful content is or has been accessible in that member state.

The Court of Justice of the European Union has issued its ruling in Case C-251/20 Gtflix Tv.

Background

Gtflix Tv is a company established in the Czech Republic which produces and distributes adult audiovisual content. DR, who is domiciled in Hungary, is another professional in that field.

Gtflix Tv alleged that DR made disparaging comments about it on several websites. It brought proceedings before the French courts, seeking:

  • the removal of those comments and the rectification of the published information and;
  • compensation for the damage suffered as a result. 

The French courts ruled that they had no jurisdiction to rule on those claims. The referring French appeal court said that Gtflix Tv’s centre of interests was established in the Czech Republic and that DR was domiciled in Hungary, and therefore held that the French courts had no jurisdiction to hear the application for the removal of the allegedly disparaging comments and the rectification of the published information. Nevertheless, it referred the issue to the Court of Justice.

Findings of the Court

According to the Court, a person who, considering that their rights have been infringed by the online dissemination of disparaging comments about them, seeks the rectification of information and the removal of the content placed online concerning them and also compensation for the resulting damage may claim, before the courts of each member state in which those comments are or were accessible, compensation for the damage suffered in the member state of the court seised, even though those courts do not have jurisdiction to rule on the application for rectification and removal.

The Court relied on its case law, saying that the rule of special jurisdiction in Article 7(2) of Regulation No 1215/2012 in favour of the courts ‘for the place where the harmful event occurred or may occur’ is intended to cover both the place where the damage occurred and the place of the event giving rise to it, because each of them could, depending on the circumstances, be particularly helpful in relation to the evidence and the conduct of the proceedings.

Regarding the allegations of infringement of personality rights by content placed on a website, the Court said that the option exists of bringing an action for liability, for all the damage caused, either before the member state’s courts in which the publisher of that content is established or before the courts of the member state in which the person’s centre of interests is based. 

That person may also, instead of an action for liability seeking compensation for all the damage caused, bring an action before the courts of each member state in which content placed online is or has been accessible. However, those courts have jurisdiction only for the damage caused in the territory of the member state of the court seised.

Consequently, under Article 7(2) of Regulation No 1215/2012, a person who considers that they have been harmed by the placing of information on a website may, to rectify that information and to remove the content, bring proceedings before the courts with jurisdiction to rule on the entirety of an application for compensation for the damage suffered - namely either the court of the place of establishment of the publisher of that content or the court within whose jurisdiction the centre of interests of that person is situated - on the basis of the place where the damage occurred.

In that regard, the Court said that an application for rectification of information and removal of content placed online cannot be brought before a court other than the court with jurisdiction to rule on the entirety of an application for compensation for damage, because it constitutes a single and indivisible application. By contrast, an application for compensation may seek either full or partial compensation. 

With that in mind, it is not justified to exclude the possibility for the applicant to claim partial compensation before any other court within whose jurisdiction they consider that they have suffered damage.

Moreover, according to the Court, the sound administration of justice does not require the exclusion of that possibility, because a court which has jurisdiction to rule solely on the damage at issue in its own member state appears perfectly capable of assessing, in the context of proceedings conducted in that member state and in the light of the evidence gathered there, the existence and the extent of the alleged damage.

Lastly, the only requirement for the courts concerned to have the jurisdiction to rule on the damage caused in their own member state is that the harmful content must be accessible or have been accessible in that member state. Article 7(2) of Regulation No 1215/2012 does not impose any additional conditions. Imposing further conditions could, in practice, lead to the exclusion of the option, for the person concerned, to bring an action for partial compensation before the courts of the place where they consider that they suffered damage.

Published: 2022-01-08T10:00:00

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