In its judgment of October 18, 2018 (case C-149/17), the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that the owner of an internet connection through which a copyright infringement has been committed cannot be exempted from liability simply by indicating a family member who had the opportunity to access the internet network in question.


The issue underlying the ruling involves a publishing house – owner of the copyright on an audiobook – acting against a German citizen requesting compensation for the damages resulting from the infringement of its copyright. In particular, the publishing house complained against the sharing of its audiobook, on a peer-to-peer platform, through the Internet connection of which the citizen was the owner, so that the audiobook could be freely downloaded by an unlimited number of users. The citizen owner of the internet network claimed that also his relatives could access the network and that for this reason he could not be considered as responsible of the infringement. The network owner also pointed out that according to the German legislation a similar line of defense would be sufficient to exclude his liability. The Court of Munich therefore addressed the Court of Justice of European Union in order to know if the applicable German law is in compliance with EU legislation on copyright.

The EUCJ held that even if a balance were to be struck between the right to respect family life, on the one hand, and the right of intellectual property, on the other hand, the latter would be unjustifiably infringed if it were considered sufficient to exclude the liability of the internet line owner the indication that the internet line is available also to his family members, without further evidence being provided as to when the connection was used by such family member and the nature of that use. In doing so, the Court maintains, the fundamental right to an effective remedy and the fundamental right of intellectual property protected by EU law and in particular by EU Directives 2001/29 and 2004/48 would be seriously infringed.