(CN) – Readying a blow to press freedoms, the European Court of Justice found Monday that the online publication of military deployments might have violated the German government’s copyright.
Funke Medien, which publishes of the daily newspaper Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, first demanded the parliament briefings, abbreviated in German as UdPs, in September 2012.
Though classified, the reports are tagged with the lowest-level confidentiality mark recognized in Germany. The reports detail the deployment of national military forces and are distributed to certain members of the German parliament. Germany also publishes public summaries of the reports.
When the government refused Funke Medien’s request for briefings compiled since September 2001, citing harm national security, Funke Medien got hold of the records from an undisclosed source and published them online.
Funke Medien had to take down the so-called Afghanistan Papers after the regional court in Cologne found that the publication had infringed the government’s copyright. The newspaper is appealing, but Germany’s Federal Court of Justice asked Europe’s highest court to weigh in before the case proceeds.
The ruling Monday from the Grand Chamber in Luxembourg says the newspaper could be liable if the German government can prove the validity of its copyright.
“It follows that it must be held that military status reports, such as those at issue in the main proceedings, can be protected by copyright only if those reports are an intellectual creation of their author which reflect the author’s personality and are expressed by free and creative choices made by that author in drafting those reports, which must be ascertained by the national court in each case,” the judgment states.
Even if the reports are protected by copyright, however, the court called it possible they fall into an exception regarding the use of materials in reporting on current events.
The ruling follows a recommendation from an EU magistrate in October, who said he had “serious doubt that such documents should be classified as works protected by copyright.”