Current-Events Reporting Can Justify Copyright Breach

(CN) – Journalists for Germany’s Spiegel Online did not need permission from a member of parliament to publish his manuscript as part of a 2013 fact-check on his politicking, Europe’s top court ruled Monday.

The case was spurred by the written works of Volker Beck, a far-left member of Germany’s Green Party who held national office from 1994 to 2017.

Beck had been running for re-election in 2013 when he was confronted about a 1988 article he had written under a pseudonym about the criminalization of pedophilia. 

Though Beck claimed his manuscript had been edited by the publisher of the book in which it was included to imply that he was in favor of decriminalizing pedophilia, the news website Spiegel Online — a production of Der Spiegel, the largest weekly news magazine in Europe — reported otherwise and provided hyperlinks to the original publications. 

Beck cried foul, claiming copyright restrictions prohibited Spiegel Online from distributing his work. A German court ruled in his favor, but Spiegel’s appeal remains pending before the country’s top court.

Offering input on the case, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Justice concluded Monday that the current-events reporting supersedes the obligation of first obtaining authorization. As long as they’re used for informational purposes and the original author is cited, journalists do not need the prior consent of the author to cite the work, the court decided.

This exception to the copyright rule applies only when the original work has already been made available to the public, the ruling states. 

Germany’s high court, the Bundesgerichtshof, must still determine whether Beck’s publisher had the right to make the edits Beck claimed it made. The European court also deferred to the Bundesgerichtshof a determination on whether Spiegel Online’s publication of the manuscript “was necessary to achieve the informatory purpose.”

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