The Sunday Mirror today lost its bid to stop a high-profile French actor bringing a privacy legal action in his own country over an article which appeared on the paper’s website.
The European Court of Justice ruled that Olivier Martinez, whose well-documented relationships include current girlfriend Halle Berry, could seek redress wherever he wished in the EU: in France or in the UK in respect of all alleged damage caused across Europe, or in the courts of each member state where the online story was accessible.
If he went to each country, the national courts could only award compensation, if any, in respect of damage to the individual caused in its own jurisdiction.
Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) had gone to court in France to oppose the actor’s action over a Sunday Mirror website article which appeared in February 2008 under the headline “Kylie Minogue is Back with Olivier Martinez”.
The English-language text contained details of a meeting between the Australian singer and Martinez, who then began legal action against MGN claiming interference with his private life and infringement of his right to his image.
Lawyers for MGN argued that the French court did not have international jurisdiction because there was an insufficiently close connecting factor between the information being placed online in the UK and the alleged damage in French territory.
But the European Court of Justice ruled today that placing content on an internet website was different from “the regional distribution of printed matter” because the online material “can be consulted instantly by an indefinite number of internet users worldwide”.
The judgment said: “Thus, universal distribution, firstly, is liable to increase the seriousness of the infringements of personality rights and, secondly, makes it extremely difficult to locate the places in which the damage resulting from those infringements has occurred.”
In those circumstances, the court said, the court best placed to assess the potential impact on an individual’s “personality rights” might be the court where the individual has his “centre of interests” or “habitual residence”.
The judgment went on: “The Court of Justice designates that court as having jurisdiction in respect of all damage caused within the territory of the EU.”
But it added: “The court points out, however, that, in place of an action for liability in respect of all of the damage, the victim may always bring an action before the courts of each member state in the territory of which the online content is or has been accessible.
“In that case, in the same way as damage caused by printed matter, those courts have jurisdiction to deal with cases only in relation to damage which occurred within the territory of the state in which they are situated.
“Similarly, the person whose rights have been infringed may also bring an action, in respect of all of the damage caused, before the courts of the member state in which the publisher of the online content is established.”
The case was referred to the European court by the Paris Regional Court, which had asked whether EU rules stating that people were sued in their country of residence in civil and commercial cases also applied to “infringements of personality rights committed by means of content placed online on an internet website”.
The judgment said: “Victims of infringements of personality rights by means of the internet may bring actions before the courts of the member state in which they reside in respect of all of the damage caused.
“However, the operator of an internet website covered by the (EU) e-commerce directive cannot be made subject, in that state, to stricter requirements than those provided for by the law of the member state in which it is established.”
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