European court's decision - first and second questions
The first question
It should be borne in mind that under Article 5(2)(b) of Directive 2001/29 Member States which decide to introduce the private copying exception into their national law are required to provide for the payment of ‘fair compensation’ to rightholders. It should be noted at the outset that neither Article 5(2)(b) nor any other provision of Directive 2001/29 refers to the national law of the Member States as regards the concept of ‘fair compensation’. The concept of ‘fair compensation’ which appears in a provision of a directive which does not contain any reference to national laws must be regarded as an autonomous concept of European Union law and interpreted uniformly throughout the European Union. Having regard to the foregoing considerations, the answer to the first question is that the concept of ‘fair compensation’, within the meaning of Article 5(2)(b) of Directive 2001/29, is an autonomous concept of European Union law which must be interpreted uniformly in all the Member States that have introduced a private copying exception, irrespective of the power conferred on them to determine, within the limits imposed by European Union law and in particular by that directive, the form, detailed arrangements for financing and collection, and the level of that fair compensation.
The second question
In the first place, as regards the role played by the criterion of the harm suffered by the author in the calculation of fair compensation, it is apparent from recitals 35 and 38 in the preamble to Directive 2001/29 that the purpose of fair compensation is to compensate authors ‘adequately’ for the use made of their protected works without their authorisation. In order to determine the level of that compensation, account must be taken – as a ‘valuable criterion’ – of the ‘possible harm’ suffered by the author as a result of the act of reproduction concerned, although prejudice which is ‘minimal’ does not give rise to a payment obligation. The private copying exception must therefore include a system ‘to compensate for the prejudice to rightholders’.
It is clear from those provisions that the notion and level of fair compensation are linked to the harm resulting for the author from the reproduction for private use of his protected work without his authorisation. From that perspective, fair compensation must be regarded as recompense for the harm suffered by the author. It follows that fair compensation must necessarily be calculated on the basis of the criterion of the harm caused to authors of protected works by the introduction of the private copying exception. Copying by natural persons acting in a private capacity must be regarded as an act likely to cause harm to the author of the work concerned. It follows that the person who has caused harm to the holder of the exclusive reproduction right is the person who, for his own private use, reproduces a protected work without seeking prior authorisation from the rightholder. Therefore, in principle, it is for that person to make good the harm related to that copying by financing the compensation which will be paid to the rightholder.
However, given the practical difficulties in identifying private users and obliging them to compensate rightholders for the harm caused to them, and bearing in mind the fact that the harm which may arise from each private use, considered separately, may be minimal and therefore does not give rise to an obligation for payment, as stated in the last sentence of recital 35 in the preamble to Directive 2001/29, it is open to the Member States to establish a ‘private copying levy’ for the purposes of financing fair compensation chargeable not to the private persons concerned, but to those who have the digital reproduction equipment, devices and media and who, on that basis, in law or in fact, make that equipment available to private users or who provide copying services for them. Under such a system, it is the persons having that equipment who must discharge the private copying levy.
It should be observed, first, that the activity of the persons liable to finance the fair compensation, namely the making available to private users of reproduction equipment, devices and media, or their supply of copying services, is the factual precondition for natural persons to obtain private copies. Second, nothing prevents those liable to pay the compensation from passing on the private copying levy in the price charged for making the reproduction equipment, devices and media available or in the price for the copying service supplied. Thus, the burden of the levy will ultimately be borne by the private user who pays that price. In those circumstances, the private user for whom the reproduction equipment, devices or media are made available or who benefit from a copying service must be regarded in fact as the person indirectly liable to pay fair compensation. Accordingly, since that system enables the persons liable to pay compensation to pass on the cost of the levy to private users and that, therefore, the latter assume the burden of the private copying levy, it must be regarded as consistent with a ‘fair balance’ between the interests of authors and those of the users of the protected subject-matter.
Having regard to all of the foregoing considerations, the answer (auf Deutsch) to the second question is that Article 5(2)(b) of Directive 2001/29 must be interpreted as meaning that the ‘fair balance’ between the persons concerned means that fair compensation must be calculated on the basis of the criterion of the harm caused to authors of protected works by the introduction of the private copying exception. It is consistent with the requirements of that ‘fair balance’ to provide that persons who have digital reproduction equipment, devices and media and who, on that basis, in law or in fact, make that equipment available to private users or provide them with copying services are the persons liable to finance the fair compensation, inasmuch as they are able to pass on to private users the actual burden of financing it.