Ger­man Govern­ment fai­led in 2013 to issue important Noti­fi­ca­ti­on

Jud­ges not bound to Advo­ca­te Gene­ral – jud­ge­ment in first half of 2019

Press Release
Luxembourg/Berlin, 2018-12-13

In Luxem­bourg the Advo­ca­te Gene­ral at the Euro­pean Court of Jus­ti­ce (ECJ), Gerard Hogan, just pre­sen­ted his opi­ni­on in the pro­cee­dings bet­ween VG Media ./. Goog­le Inc. con­cer­ning the Fede­ral Government’s noti­fi­ca­ti­on obli­ga­ti­on, based on the Ger­man ancil­la­ry right for press publishers. He has con­cluded that the §§ 87f et seqq. Ger­man Copy­right Act would have to have been noti­fied in 2013 by way of a for­mal infor­ma­ti­on pro­ce­du­re by the Fede­ral Govern­ment to the EU Com­mis­si­on. The Advo­ca­te Gene­ral has left the legal con­se­quen­ces of the miss­ing noti­fi­ca­ti­on open.

Con­tra­ry to Google’s argu­ment, the Advo­ca­te Gene­ral express­ly empha­si­s­es the signi­fi­can­ce of the “free and living press as part of the life­b­lood of demo­cra­cy (…). It is enti­re­ly unrea­li­stic to expect high-qua­li­ty and diver­se jour­na­lism that adhe­res to the hig­hest stan­dards of media ethics and respect for the truth when news­pa­pers and other press out­lets do not pos­sess a sus­tainable flow of reve­nue”, says Advo­ca­te Gene­ral Gerard Hogan (mar­gin no. 42).

The super­vi­so­ry board mem­bers of VG Media, Chris­ti­an DuMont Schüt­te, chair­man of the super­vi­so­ry board of DuMont Medi­en­grup­pe GmbH & Co. KG, and Dr. Edu­ard Hüf­fer, CEO of Aschen­dorff Medi­en GmbH & Co. KG, sta­te:

In 2013 Ger­ma­ny was the first coun­try to intro­du­ce an ancil­la­ry right for press publishers. This land­mark decis­i­on by the Ger­man Bun­des­tag has beco­me more pro­vi­dent than ever: today, around five years later, Euro­pean insti­tu­ti­ons are advi­sing the bin­ding imple­men­ta­ti­on of such a law in all mem­ber sta­tes. This illus­tra­tes the importance of a sepa­ra­te, strong legal posi­ti­on of press publishers against digi­tal mono­po­lies. Plu­ra­li­ty of opi­ni­on is a neces­sa­ry pre­re­qui­si­te for our demo­cra­tic order. The ancil­la­ry right for press publishers ensu­res the eco­no­mic foun­da­ti­on of a diver­se press land­scape. The Advo­ca­te Gene­ral con­firms this. Up until now press publishes have joint­ly inves­ted mil­li­ons of euros in judi­cial and legal repre­sen­ta­ti­on fees in a dif­fi­cult eco­no­mic envi­ron­ment in order to be able to imple­ment the first law pro­vi­ded to them by the Ger­man legis­la­tor against digi­tal mono­po­lies. The Land­ge­richt Ber­lin (regio­nal court) reco­g­nis­ed the merits of the cla­im in May 2017. The Advo­ca­te Gene­ral is also not ques­tio­ning this. It would be high­ly reg­rettable if a for­mal fail­ure by the Fede­ral Govern­ment would result in the­se gre­at, and abo­ve all cur­rent, efforts to be in vain. The fail­ure to send a simp­le infor­ma­ti­ve let­ter would, in one stro­ke, nul­li­fy the years of work inves­ted in making digi­tal cor­po­ra­ti­ons com­ply with legal regu­la­ti­ons. It is thus all the more cri­ti­cal that the Fede­ral Govern­ment con­ti­nues to sup­port us.

The Mana­ging Direc­tors of VG Media, Mar­kus Run­de and Dr. Ste­fan Heck, com­men­ted on the decis­i­on as fol­lows:

In the hea­ring befo­re the ECJ, the repre­sen­ta­ti­ve of the Fede­ral Govern­ment explai­ned why the­re was no obli­ga­ti­on to noti­fy the Euro­pean Com­mis­si­on in accordance with Ger­man law. The Com­mis­si­on its­elf agreed with this assess­ment in the pro­cee­dings befo­re the ECJ. We deep­ly reg­ret that the Advo­ca­te Gene­ral did not fol­low that reaso­ning. The final decis­i­on regar­ding the con­ti­nua­tion of the ancil­la­ry right for press publishers now lies with the ECJ. We are cer­tain that the jud­ges will tho­rough­ly con­sider the argu­ments. The efforts for a copy­right law by the EU Par­lia­ment, Coun­cil and Com­mis­si­on make one unu­su­al sce­na­rio pos­si­ble: the natio­nal press publisher‘s right could be declared inap­pli­ca­ble due to vio­la­ti­on of for­mal EU law. Almost simul­ta­neous­ly, Ger­man law­ma­kers will in turn be obli­ga­ted by EU law to intro­du­ce a near­ly iden­ti­cal publisher‘s right.


In 2013 the Ger­man Bun­des­tag pas­sed an ancil­la­ry right for press publishers. Num­e­rous publishers sub­se­quent­ly trans­fer­red their rights regar­ding their digi­tal offe­rings to the coll­ec­ting socie­ty VG Media in order to be able to joint­ly enforce their claims against search engi­nes and news aggre­ga­tors. Sin­ce 2014 press publishers orga­nis­ed through VG Media have been invol­ved in legal pro­cee­dings to assert their cla­im to infor­ma­ti­on and pay­ment against Goog­le Inc.

In May 2017 the Land­ge­richt Ber­lin ruled that the publishers’ claims are at least par­ti­al­ly jus­ti­fied, alt­hough the court sus­pen­ded the pro­cee­dings at Google’s request and pre­sen­ted the case to the ECJ. The ECJ (no. C‑299/17) must now deci­de whe­ther the Ger­man Fede­ral Govern­ment would have had to noti­fy the law to the Euro­pean Com­mis­si­on at the time. If the Fede­ral Govern­ment fai­led to issue this noti­fi­ca­ti­on in vio­la­ti­on of Euro­pean law, this may inva­li­da­te the Ger­man law.

During the oral hea­ring befo­re the ECJ on 24 Octo­ber 2018, the Fede­ral Govern­ment and the Euro­pean Com­mis­si­on agreed in their reaso­ning as to why the­re was no noti­fi­ca­ti­on obli­ga­ti­on. In pro­cee­dings befo­re the ECJ the jud­ges are assis­ted by so-cal­led Advo­ca­tes-Gene­ral. With their opi­ni­ons they prepa­re the Chamber’s jud­ge­ment. The jud­ges are not bound to the opi­ni­ons of the Advo­ca­tes-Gene­ral but do fol­low them in the majo­ri­ty of cases.

VG Media is the coll­ec­ting socie­ty of pri­va­te broad­cas­ting com­pa­nies and press publishers, based in Ber­lin. It repres­ents the copy­rights and ancil­la­ry rights of near­ly all Ger­man and mul­ti­ple international, pri­va­te radio and tele­vi­si­on broad­cas­ters, as well as about 200 digi­tal press pro­ducts of major publishers.

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