Copyright: car radios and car rental

Copyright: car radios and car rental

I was telling you about it here, a question was put to the Court of Justice of the European Union concerning the rental of cars with radio and copyright (C ‑ 753/18).

This question can be summarized as follows: does the fact of renting a car that is equipped with a car radio constitute for the person who hires the car an act of communication to the public of works within the meaning of copyright? With an important economic stake in the background: does the person who rents the car

 have to pay copyright (in particular to collecting societies)?

The question may seem surprising because we may not perceive, at first glance, the link between renting a car (even if it is equipped with a car radio) and the act of communication to the public within the meaning of the right of the author.

This link can be understood in reference to the case-law of the Court of Justice in the field of hotels. The Court has, in the past, decided that a hotelier who made television sets available to his customers in the hotel rooms that he rents to said customers, carries out an act of communication to the public of works to the senses. Copyright, because by making such television sets available, the hotelier allows its customers to access works protected by trademark management software (television shows, films, music, etc.).

In this context, the Swedish copyright collecting society estimated, by comparison, that a car rental company who rents vehicles equipped with car radios is in the same situation as a hotelier, and must therefore be judged in the same way: the car rental company allows its customers to access works protected by copyright (radio broadcasts, songs played on the radio, etc.).

In summary, the position of the Swedish collecting society is as follows:

  • If the equation for the hotelier is: hotel room rental + television sets = act of communication to the public of works within the meaning of copyright on the part of the hotelier
  • So necessarily for the car rental company: car rental + radio sets (car radios) = communication to the public of works within the meaning of copyright on the part of the car rental company

As I wrote here, this reasoning has merit in view of the existing case law in the hotel industry.

That being the case, Advocate General Szpunar had considered, in the terms of reasoning particularly heavy and difficult to understand (but perhaps this is because it is difficult to depart from the case law in the hotel industry!), That the car rental company was not communicating to the public in these circumstances.

In a very hot judgment today, the Court of Justice confirmed the solution proposed by its Advocate General.

In short: car rental companies, even if they rent out cars equipped with car radios, do not necessarily act in the public communication of works within the meaning of copyright, and therefore do not have to pay royalties to collect societies.

Although the consistency of the Court’s case-law is not always very noticeable (I again emphasize the case of hoteliers), this is probably a good decision – otherwise, by extension, the notion of communication to the public would risk being applied to a very large number of acts (which, however, have only a very indirect link with the communication of works) and could pose a problem.

I tend to consider that, with this judgment, the Court of Justice is initiating a kind of reversal or, at the very least, an inflection; while consolidating past lessons for hoteliers, rehabilitation centers, spas, etc., since in its judgment it reaffirms the significance of its Reha Training! But this is obviously only my opinion.

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