It is not frequent that a request for a preliminary reference on matters concerning civil and commercial litigation is assigned to the Grand Chamber. It has happened though already several times in relation to Article 7 (2) Brussels I bis Regulation (or the corresponding provisions in the previous instruments). It will happen again in case C-251/20, where the French Cour de Cassation asks for help to determine the place where the damage occurred and, consequently, the competent court to adjudicate on an action for damages due to disparagement.
The opinion of AG Hogan has just been published. Long, but easy to follow in spite of the absence of subheadings, it provides a rich and accurate overview of the case law of the Court in relation to the infringement of rights -privacy, copyrights, intellectual property- on the internet in order to address (see at 42)
“whether, in view of the reasons given by the Court to justify the exclusive jurisdiction of certain courts in relation to the deletion or rectification of disputed content [published on the internet], it would be appropriate also to recognise the exclusive jurisdiction of those same courts in relation to compensation”,
a point which
“implicitly raises the question of whether, in the judgment of 17 October 2017, Bolagsupplysningen and Ilsjan (C‑194/16, EU:C:2017:766), rather than simply distinguishing earlier case-law in this manner, the Court further intended to effect a complete reversal of its case-law and thus abandon the mosaic approach with regard to claims for damages as well” .
Spoiler: he believes it did not; also, that it should not; at most, he would agree to have the mosaic solution combined with the “focalization” criterion that has been used in certain areas (reference is made, among other, to Football Dataco and Others, C‑173/11, EU:C:2012:642).
I see no point in summarizing here the many arguments put forward by AG Hogan, among which the “dialogue” with AG Bobek; an assessment of the mosaic solution in case of SLAPP; the same, in the light of the main objectives of the Brussels I bis Regulation, as dealt with in the case law of the Court on Article 7(2); all this, with support of scholars’ views, English or French. The original is in English, thus easily accessible – easier, in any event, for those not reading French.
It should be born in mind, in addition, that, in fact, according to the AG
“the present case is not the right one for the Court to take a position on whether or not the mosaic approach should be maintained, refined or even abandoned. Indeed, in the case in the main proceedings, the applicant is alleging not that the contents in question would constitute acts of defamation, but that those would instead violate French law relating to acts of dénigrement, which is a form of malicious falsehood”,
rather belonging to the domain of unfair competition rules (under French law). Eventually, the AG addresses the question referred as one related to the materialization of a damage of a strictly economic nature. He elaborates from this perspective in points 98 and ff, to conclude with this proposal to the Court:
“Article 7(2) of Regulation No 1215/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 December 2012 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters must be interpreted as meaning that a claimant who relies on an act of unfair competition consisting in the dissemination of disparaging statements on the internet and who seeks both the rectification of the data and the deletion of certain content and compensation for the non-material and economic damage resulting therefrom, may bring an action or claim before the courts of each Member State in the territory of which content published online is or was accessible, for compensation only for the damage caused in the territory of that Member State. In order, however, for those courts to have the requisite jurisdiction it is necessary that the claimant can demonstrate that it has an appreciable number of consumers in that jurisdiction who are likely to have access to and have understood the publication in question.”
Which of the contents of the opinion will be taken up by the Court is difficult to say. As we know it, the Court tends to remain cautious. In relation to a provision as slippery as Article 7(2) Brussels I bis Regulation, an interpretation focused strictly in the circumstance of the case at hand seems advisable, no matter how frustrating this may be for scholars and practitioners, and how much such approach endangers the consistency of the application of the rule itself. In any event, judging from experience there is little doubt that requests on the same provision will continue to be addressed to Court as long as its text remains unchanged.