In a landmark ruling, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has said that internet users cannot simply republish a photograph just because it is freely accessible online – you need to get the photographer’s permission first.  This decision is likely to have wide implications for disputes that arise in the future relating to online copyright. 

In the case of Land Nordrhein-Westfalen v Dirk Renckhoff, the ECJ has said that a German secondary school infringed a photographer’s copyright after it re-published one of his pictures.  This was despite the fact the photographer had already given permission for the photo to appear online

The photographer Dirk Renckhoff had authorised the operators of a travel website to publish one of his photographs on their website. A pupil at a school in North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany then downloaded that photograph from the travel website (which was freely accessible) in order to illustrate a school presentation.  The school then published the photo on its website. 

The ECJ said that the school’s act of copying the photo onto its private server and then posting the photo on its website constituted an “act of communication to the public” and therefore amounted to a breach of copyright under Article 3(1) of the Copyright Directive because it gave members of the public the opportunity to access the photograph on the school’s website.

At Myerson, our expert Dispute Resolution team can advise on claims such as copyright infringement and other types of intellectual property claims such as breach of trademarks, design rights and patents.  Our expert Corporate Commercial team can advise on non-contentious aspects of intellectual property, so you can consider how best to protect your rights.  If you would like to speak to one of our specialist IP solicitors, please contact us on 0161 941 4000 or email us at

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