Opus paid no private copying levy in respect of the media delivered to its customers in the Netherlands, either in that Member State or in Germany; the cost of the reproduction media sold by Opus did not therefore include any element corresponding to the private copying levy.
Arguing that Opus had to be regarded as the ‘importer’ and, consequently, responsible for paying the private copying levy, the Stichting sued for payment of that levy. Opus denied liability, saying it couldn't be classified as an importer into the Netherlands of the reproduction media which it sold and that it was individual Dutch consumers who must be classified as importers. The trial court and first appellate court agreed with Opus, following which the Stichting appealed to the Hoge Raad. That court referred the following questions to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling:
‘(1) Does [the InfoSoc] Directive [2001/29], in particular Article 5(2)(b) and (5) thereof, provide any assistance in determining who should be regarded under national law as owing the “fair compensation” referred to in Article 5(2)(b)? If so, what assistance does it provide?
(2) In a case of distance selling in which the buyer is established in a different Member State to that of the seller, does Article 5(5) of Directive [2001/29] require national law to be interpreted so broadly that a person owing the “fair compensation” referred to in Article 5(2)(b) of the directive who is acting on a commercial basis owes such compensation in at least one of the Member States involved in the distance selling?’The Court ruled today as follows:
"1. Directive 2001/29 ..., in particular Article 5(2)(b) and (5) thereof, must be interpreted as meaning that the final user who carries out, on a private basis, the reproduction of a protected work must, in principle, be regarded as the person responsible for paying the fair compensation provided for in Article 5(2)(b).
However, it is open to the Member States to establish a private copying levy chargeable to the persons who make reproduction equipment, devices and media available to that final user, since they are able to pass on the amount of that levy in the price paid by the final user for that service.
2. Directive 2001/29, in particular Article 5(2)(b) and (5) thereof, must be interpreted as meaning that it is for the Member State which has introduced a system of private copying levies chargeable to the manufacturer or importer of media for reproduction of protected works, and on the territory of which the harm caused to authors by the use for private purposes of their work by purchasers who reside there occurs, to ensure that those authors actually receive the fair compensation intended to compensate them for that harm. In that regard, the mere fact that the commercial seller of reproduction equipment, devices and media is established in a Member State other than that in which the purchasers reside has no bearing on that obligation to achieve a certain result. It is for the national court, where it is impossible to ensure recovery of the fair compensation from the purchasers, to interpret national law in order to allow recovery of that compensation from the person responsible for payment who is acting on a commercial basis."Public comments from the English-speaking rights management and collection sectors are keenly awaited. Meanwhile, the Court's ruling looks like the source of major headaches for national legislatures (how to provide a scheme which ensures that authors actually receive the fair compensation), courts (how to achieve an appropriate means of enforcing local and EU law in respect of payment which may have to be recovered from a supplier which has no place of business in the jurisdiction or indeed anywhere but cyberspace) and authors and bodies collecting for them (how to identify chargeable uses and then to quantify payments).