Oracle v. UsedSoft

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Court of Justice of European Union, Oracle v. UsedSoft, C-128/11, 03.07.2012

Type Judgement
Legal context EU
Abstract Questions referred for a preliminary ruling:
  1. Is the person who can rely on exhaustion of the right to distribute a copy of a computer program a “lawful acquirer” within the meaning of Article 5(1) of Directive 2009/24?
  2. If the reply to the first question is in the affirmative: is the right to distribute a copy of a computer program exhausted in accordance with the first half-sentence of Article 4(2) of Directive 2009/24 when the acquirer has made the copy with the rightholder’s consent by downloading the program from the internet onto a data carrier?
  3. If the reply to the second question is also in the affirmative: can a person who has acquired a “used” software licence for generating a program copy as “lawful acquirer” under Article 5(1) and the first half-sentence of Article 4(2) of Directive 2009/24 also rely on exhaustion of the right to distribute the copy of the computer program made by the first acquirer with the rightholder’s consent by downloading the program from the internet onto a data carrier if the first acquirer has erased his program copy or no longer uses it?
Link http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:62011CJ0128:EN:HTML
Topics Contract, Intellectual Property, Property, Transparency

Notes

This decision really matters for us because of the definition of "sale" given by the CJEU.

39 According to settled case-law, the need for a uniform application of European Union law and the principle of equality require that the terms of a provision of European Union law which makes no express reference to the law of the Member States for the purpose of determining its meaning and scope must normally be given an independent and uniform interpretation throughout the European Union (see, inter alia, Case C-5/08 Infopaq International [2009] ECR I-6569, paragraph 27; Case C-34/10 Brüstle [2011] ECR I-9821, paragraph 25; and judgment of 26 April 2012 in Case C-510/10 DR and TV2 Danmark, paragraph 33).

40 The wording of Directive 2009/24 does not make any reference to national laws as regards the meaning to be given to the term ‘sale’ in Article 4(2) of the directive. It follows that that term must be regarded, for the purposes of applying the directive, as designating an autonomous concept of European Union law, which must be interpreted in a uniform manner throughout the territory of the European Union (see, to that effect, DR and TV2 Danmark, paragraph 34).

41 That conclusion is supported by the subject-matter and purpose of Directive 2009/24. Recitals 4 and 5 in the preamble to that directive, which is based on Article 95 EC, to which Article 114 TFEU corresponds, state that its objective is to remove differences between the laws of the Member States which have adverse effects on the functioning of the internal market and concern computer programs. A uniform interpretation of the term ‘sale’ is necessary in order to avoid the protection offered to copyright holders by that directive varying according to the national law applicable.

42 According to a commonly accepted definition, a ‘sale’ is an agreement by which a person, in return for payment, transfers to another person his rights of ownership in an item of tangible or intangible property belonging to him. It follows that the commercial transaction giving rise, in accordance with Article 4(2) of Directive 2009/24, to exhaustion of the right of distribution of a copy of a computer program must involve a transfer of the right of ownership in that copy.

45 As regards the question whether, in a situation such as that at issue in the main proceedings, the commercial transactions concerned involve a transfer of the right of ownership of the copy of the computer program, it must be stated that, according to the order for reference, a customer of Oracle who downloads the copy of the program and concludes with that company a user licence agreement relating to that copy receives, in return for payment of a fee, a right to use that copy for an unlimited period. The making available by Oracle of a copy of its computer program and the conclusion of a user licence agreement for that copy are thus intended to make the copy usable by the customer, permanently, in return for payment of a fee designed to enable the copyright holder to obtain a remuneration corresponding to the economic value of the copy of the work of which it is the proprietor.

46 In those circumstances, the operations mentioned in paragraph 44 above, examined as a whole, involve the transfer of the right of ownership of the copy of the computer program in question.

47 It makes no difference, in a situation such as that at issue in the main proceedings, whether the copy of the computer program was made available to the customer by the rightholder concerned by means of a download from the rightholder’s website or by means of a material medium such as a CD-ROM or DVD. Even if, in the latter case too, the rightholder formally separates the customer’s right to use the copy of the program supplied from the operation of transferring the copy of the program to the customer on a material medium, the operation of downloading from that medium a copy of the computer program and that of concluding a licence agreement remain inseparable from the point of view of the acquirer, for the reasons set out in paragraph 44 above. Since an acquirer who downloads a copy of the program concerned by means of a material medium such as a CD-ROM or DVD and concludes a licence agreement for that copy receives the right to use the copy for an unlimited period in return for payment of a fee, it must be considered that those two operations likewise involve, in the case of the making available of a copy of the computer program concerned by means of a material medium such as a CD-ROM or DVD, the transfer of the right of ownership of that copy.


See ROGNSTAD O.-A., Legally Flawed but Politically Sound? Digital Exhaustion of Copyright in Europe after UsedSoft, Oslo Law Review, V. 1, i. 1, 2014 .