The European Harmonisation of Intermediairy Civil Liability for Online Copyright Infringement

With the adoption and subsequent national implementation of the E-Commerce Directive’s safe harbour regime, the architecture set up for intermediary liability in Europe has become two-tiered: at a first stage, it is necessary to examine whether a given intermediary attracts, in its pursuit of a certain activity, civil liability according to the standards ensconced in the Member States’ legislation and only then, in the second instance, must the inapplicability of any immunity be established. As a result, although it provides a veneer of approximation by immunising intermediaries under certain circumscribed conditions, the Directive does not harmonise the underlying substantive liability norms which determine whether the safe harbours will be necessary or redundant. This leaves ample room for national divergences, particularly as concerns new types of intermediaries whose eligibility for the existing safe harbours is uncertain.

This PhD research seeks to explore the liability in Europe of online intermediaries for secondary or indirect copyright infringement, i.e. where the material act of infringement is committed by a third party, regardless of the applicability of the safe harbour regime. It will therefore begin with an investigation of the current law relating to intermediary liability for copyright infringement in the legal jurisdictions of England, France and Germany, these three jurisdictions representing each of the three major European extra-contractual liability traditions. The relationship between these rules and national substantive tort principles in the selected countries will subsequently be examined. This shall be done with a view to uncovering common European tort principles that can potentially lead the way to a harmonised, clear and comprehensive European liability regime of intermediaries for copyright infringement.