Supreme Court asks ECJ whether internet browsing is copyright infringement

The Supreme Court is to refer to the ECJ the question of whether the mere viewing of copyright material on the internet could amount to copyright infringement. The Supreme Court’s view (subject to the reference) was that normal browsing benefitted from the exemption under Article 5(1) of the Copyright Directive (2001/29/EC) covering temporary acts of reproduction. The decisions of the High Court and the Court of Appeal earlier in the proceedings had raised doubt that browsing was not covered by the exemption but, as the Supreme Court pointed out, those decisions had been superseded by subsequent rulings of the ECJ on related issues. Nevertheless, the court decided to refer the question given its transnational dimension and that the application of copyright law to the internet had important implications for millions of non-commercial users of the internet across the EU, who might unwittingly be incurring civil liability by viewing copyright material on the internet without the authority of the rights owner, for example, because it had been unlawfully uploaded by a third party. We will report the decision as soon as it is published.

Matt Worsnop from BHW Solicitors in Leicester regularly writes on IPR issues. Matt can be contacted on 0116 281 6235 or at

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