The judgment of the CJUE (Case C-572/17) of 19 December was issued within the context of a request for a preliminary ruling from the Swedish Supreme Court in criminal proceedings brought by the Public Prosecutor’s Office of this Court against Mr. Imran Syed concerning the infringement of trade marks and infringements of copyright in literary and artistic works.
Mr Syed ran a retail shop in Stockholm (Sweden) in which he sold clothes and accessories with rock music motifs. In addition to offering the items for sale in that shop, Mr Syed stored such goods in a storage facility adjacent to the shop and in another storage facility located in Bandhagen, a suburb of Stockholm. It is established that Mr Syed’s shop was regularly restocked with merchandise from those storage facilities.
The issue arising was whether goods stored by someone in a warehouse and bearing a protected motif could be considered as being on sale whenever there are identical goods on sale in a retail establishment run by such person.
In this judgment the CJUE recalls that such an act can constitute an infringement of the exclusive distribution right (Article 4(1) of Directive 2001/29) even if that act is not followed by the transfer of ownership to a purchaser of the protected work or a copy thereof (expressly citing its judgment of 13 May 2015, Dimensione Direct Sales and Labianca, C‑516/13). Therefore, an act prior to the actual sale of a work or a copy thereof protected by copyright, which takes place without the rightholder’s consent and with the objective of making such a sale, may infringe the distribution right. Although carrying out the sale is not a necessary element for the purpose of establishing an infringement of the right of distribution, it must nonetheless be proven that the goods concerned are actually intended to be distributed to the public without the rightholder’s consent, inter alia by their being offered for sale in a Member State where the work at issue is protected.
The fact that a person, selling goods bearing copyrighted motifs in a shop without the rightholder’s authorisation, stores identical goods, may be an indication that the stored goods are also intended to be sold in that shop and that, accordingly, that storage may constitute an act prior to a sale being made, which is liable to infringe that rightholder’s distribution right.
Although the distance between the storage facility and the place of sale may constitute evidence that can be used in seeking to establish that the goods concerned are intended to be sold in that place of sale, that evidence cannot, on its own, be decisive. It may, on the other hand, be taken into account in a concrete analysis of all the factors likely to be relevant, such as, for example, the regular restocking of the shop with goods from the storage facilities at issue, accounting elements, the volume of sales and orders as compared with the volume of stored goods, or current contracts of sale.
The judgment finally rules that the storage by a retailer of goods bearing a motif protected by copyright on the territory of the Member State where the goods are stored may constitute an infringement of the exclusive distribution right when that retailer offers for sale, in a shop without the authorisation of the copyright holder, goods identical to those which he is storing, provided that the stored goods are actually intended for sale on the territory of the Member State in which that motif is protected. The distance between the place of storage and the place of sale cannot, on its own, be a decisive element in determining whether the stored goods are intended for sale in the territory of that Member State.
Once more, with this judgment the CJUE imposes order regarding the problem of copyright-infringing acts or means, prior to the sale of goods, that regrettably and painfully affect creators far too frequently.Author: Juan José Caselles
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