AGCOM REGULATION ON COPYRIGHT HELD LAWFUL: REGIONAL ADMINISTRATIVE TRIBUNAL ISSUES VERY RECENT JUDGMENT. THE LAW FIRM LGV AVVOCATI HAS ALREADY DEALT WITH THE ISSUE ON THE 25TH EDITION OF THE PUBLICATION “QUADERNI DI AIDA – IL REGOLAMENTO AGCOM SUL DIRITTO D’AUTORE”.
With an extremely recent decision dated 30 March 2017, the Regional Administrative Tribunal for Latium rejected the claim for annulment of the regulation adopted by the Communications Authority with resolution no. 680/13/CONS of 12 December 2013 concerning the protection of copyrighted works on electronic communications networks. The issue and the regulation have already been commented by Ms Simona Lavagnini just after its entry into force, in 2014, in the 25th release of the well-known publication “Quaderni di AIDA- Il regolamento Agcom sul diritto d’autore”.
AGCOM is the Italian Communications Authority, responsible for supervising the implementation of fair competition among market operators and for protecting fundamental rights in the telecommunications, mass media and editorial sectors. In December 2013, the Authority adopted a Regulation dealing with the protection of copyrighted works made available on electronic communications networks (foremost, the Internet). The most important provisions of the Regulation are those allowing the copyright holder to petition the Authority in cases where his or her digital work has been made available on an Internet page and he or she believes that doing so amounts to an infringement of the Copyright Law. The Regulation then provides for an examination phase involving the service providers and, if possible, the person or entity that has made the content available on the web (i.e. the “uploader”), as well as the administrator of the web page and Internet website. This procedure can either end with the archiving of the case; or, alternatively, where a violation has been found, the Authority can adopt different types of measures such as selective removal of the works, disabling access to said works or disabling access to the Internet website. The innovative powers conferred by the regulation to the Authority brought some Italian scholars to examine in depth the upcoming scenario in the on-line copyright enforcement. The results of said analysis have been published on the 25th release of the well-known publication “Quaderni di AIDA” to which Ms. Simona Lavagnini has actively collaborated.
Shortly after its adoption a claim was put forward before the Regional Administrative Tribunal for Latium by a varied host of consumer and industry associations, who set forth a number of arguments which, summarily, were to the effect that with the adoption of the Regulation the Authority had exercised powers it had not been granted under the law. However, with its decision of 30 March 2017, the Tribunal held that such claim had no basis, for several reasons.
To begin with, it emerged that from a global reading of the applicable norms, the electronic communications providers are – contrary to what had been argued by the petitioners – required to collaborate with the Authority in pursuing copyright infringements carried out on their networks. More precisely, the Tribunal held that: “a systematic reading of the legislation confirms the existence of regulatory and supervising powers which the Authority can exercise with respect to the service providers, also by way of application of measures aimed at ending infringements of the Copyright Law, these being remedies that are concurrent and not substitutive of those conferred on the ordinary legislative authorities” (para. 6.4 of the judgment). Therefore, the Tribunal held that the Communications Authority is indeed the body responsible for monitoring copyright infringements occurring within the context of electronic communication, that it could and should have adopted means of exercising its functions, that it did so with the adoption of the Regulation and that this in no way encroached upon the jurisdiction of the ordinary courts (so-called “judicial and administrative double-track”). Furthermore, the Tribunal found that the adoption of the Regulation complied with the Italian Constitution. The Tribunal explicitly stated that, by adopting the Regulation, the Communications Authority had validly exercised its regulatory powers and, moreover, that the provisions of the Regulation “are not such as to raise any issues of unconstitutionality requiring intervention by the Constitutional Court” (para. 8).
In addition to the above, the Tribunal went on to consider the other points of the claim for annulment of the Regulation. In particular, the Tribunal held that the Authority can also issue blocking orders against infringers of copyrighted digital works, without thereby infringing EU law (para. 11 of the judgment). It also addressed the claim set forth by the petitioners to the effect that the costs of removals of infringing content entirely fell upon the ISPs, whereas the copyright holder, who could unlimitedly report infringements, incurred no such expenses. The Tribunal was unpersuaded by such argument and rejected it completely, incisively noting that “omitted financial contributions cannot determine a lack of protection [for the copyright holder]” (para. 15 of the judgment). Finally, the Regional Administrative Tribunal found that the Regulation and its provisions complied with EU law, noting especially that the Communications Authority had, as early as September 2013, conveyed to the European Commission the text of the proposed scheme of the Regulation, as required by EU Directive 98/34 (so-called transparency directive). The Commission did indeed submit its own observations and, subsequently, upon receiving the updated version of the Regulation draft in January 2014, stated it had no further comments. Consequently, no issues could be raised with regard to the compliance of the Regulation with EU norms either, and for all those reasons the Tribunal rejected the claim for annulment of the Regulation adopted by the Communications Authority.