Copyright and the right of distribution

Print publication


The Court of Justice of the European Union has delivered a ruling [1] in respect of the distribution right set out in Article 4(1) of the Copyright Directive [2]. Article 4(1) states: “Member States shall provide for authors, in respect of the original of their works or of copies thereof, the exclusive right to authorise or prohibit any form of distribution to the public by sale or otherwise.”

The claimant owned the copyright in various chair designs. The first defendant advertised furniture similar to the designs on its website, in various German newspapers and magazines and in an advertising brochure. They offered to sell the furniture from Italy. The claimant instituted copyright infringement proceedings (in Germany, the furniture constituted works of art and, as such, was protected by copyright) and the case worked its way up to the Court of Justice.

The European Court ruled that Article 4(1) allowed the copyright holder to prevent an offer for sale or a targeted advertisement of an original or copy of a copyright work, even if the advertisement did not give rise to the purchase of the protected work by an EU buyer, in so far as the advertisement invited consumers in the Member State in which the work was protected to buy it.

The Court reasoned that a distribution to the public was characterised by a series of acts, of which the offer for sale of the copyright-protected work formed part. The distribution right in Article 4(1) would be infringed where a trader, through its website, offered copyright-protected goods for sale to consumers in the Member State where the works were protected. It was immaterial that there might not later be a sale.

Note that no jurisdictional issues were raised. The fact of manufacture in Italy did not preclude action being taken in Germany, since the advertising was aimed at the German market and the designs were protected in Germany.


[1] Case C-516/13 Dimensione Direct Sales Srl and another v Knoll International SpA
[2] Directive 2001/29/EC