EU Welcomes Lawsuits Over Online Content

The European Court of Justice recently issued a ruling that could change the way courts around the world view the Internet. In the decision, a panel of judges found that material placed online could be seen by an indefinite number of worldwide users and therefore, held that plaintiffs may sue over online content in any forum of their choosing in the EU, no matter where they reside.

The Constitutional precedent upon which the court relied establishes jurisdiction in “the place where the harmful event occurred or may occur.”  Even though this has traditionally  meant the defendant’s domicile or principle place of business, the court acknowledged that “media has been forever changed by the Internet.”

The decision then states:

“It thus appears that the Internet reduces the usefulness of the criterion relating to distribution, in so far as the scope of the distribution of content placed online is in principle universal. Moreover, it is not always possible, on a technical level, to quantify that distribution with certainty and accuracy in relation to a particular Member State or, therefore, to assess the damage caused exclusively within that Member State.”

It is therefore acceptable to bring lawsuits throughout the EU, so long as plaintiffs can establish a damage was incurred at the chosen jurisdiction.  Damages, however, will be limited to those that resulted in the forum country.

Are the courts keeping up with the changing times or are they pushing too far with this ruling?  Is this a positive step in limiting the number of jurisdiction suits or will this ruling create even more jurisdictional issues?

For more information, see: The Hollywood Reporter.

3 comments

  1. With these decisions, it does seem that the courts are adapting with the times. In today’s digital society, it is definitely becoming more and more difficult to ascertain exactly where “the harmful event occurred or may occur.” It may also be difficult to establish where the publication was actually distributed. Days of publishing news stories from centralized locations are almost a thing of the past. Stories can be published, distributed, or disseminated from any location as long as there is an Internet connection. Additionally, those who publish these digital stories can easily conceal their location, by hiding IP addresses, etc., making it extremely difficult to trace the actual place of distribution. Lastly, considering the global reach of the Internet, it seems to be logical that damage caused to the plaintiff can be multi-national and not just exclusively within the Member State.

  2. I wonder what kind of impact this case will have on jurisdictional/forum disputes concerning substantive passive internet-based cases in the United States. I have to admit, personal jurisdiction as it relates to information distributed on the internet is not my area of expertise. Nevertheless, it is my understanding that a passive webpage is insufficient to establish personal jurisdiction, but an interactive site through which business is conducted with residents in the forum is sufficient to establish personal jurisdiction. See Zippo Mfr. Co. v. Zippo Dot Com, Inc., 952 F. Supp. 1119 (W.D. Pa. 1997). To me, the European Court of Justice’s holding here is counter to the notion of no personal jurisdiction for a passive webpage originating from a sovereign. My thought is that initially the European Court of Justice’s holding will have little impact on U.S. personal jurisdiction doctrine, but things may change in time. What do others think?

  3. I think this ruling was necessary based on the fact that the Internet is worldwide, and therefore jurisdiction cannot always be pinned down. Information can be instantaneously shared with anyone with Internet access and the courts need to open their minds about how they can most efficiently deal with that fact. In today’s Internet savvy and technologically advanced society information on one website may be produced from people all over the world. In order for the court to have any say in these lawsuits over online content they have to broaden their horizons, otherwise they will have an extremely difficult time controlling these issues. Like Christopher said there is also an issue of those distributing the information being able to conceal their identity and therefore conceal the location that may have proper jurisdiction. I think that it was a good decision to open things up to any forum in the EU and that the court can now have more of an impact on this issue.

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