French Tribunal des conflits, arbitrating whether a case must be heard before judicial or administrative courts, has just ruled that judicial courts have exclusive jurisdiction over cases involving the liability of public entities as long as intellectual property law or intellectual property rights are concerned.
A French photographer had filed a complaint against a French administrative regional body for it had supposedly violated his copyright. According to his statement, (i) the region had used a few of his photographs without his prior authorization and (ii), whereas a copyright assignment had been signed in connection with other pictures, the region had breached its undertakings and omitted to mention the photographer’s name when publishing and reproducing them.
First instance administrative court of Nancy decided the photographer’s copyright had indeed been violated in the first case but rejected his complaint in the second case. At the next level however, the jurisdiction of the Conseil d’Etat, French highest administrative court, was challenged by the parties.
According to the Tribunal des conflits (1), the liability of the state or the liability of other public entities is by principle a matter of public law that must be heard before the administrative courts. However the Court acknowledges that there can be exceptions to the principle especially when there are specific provisions of the law.
Eventually, the Court found that French Intellectual Property Code clearly awards the judiciary system exclusive jurisdiction over copyright matters. The fact that the liability of public entities would be sought for violation of copyright or for breach of a copyright assignment contract is irrelevant.
The solution is not only very clear but most welcome and in full conformity with the will of the French legislative body to entrust the entire litigation of intellectual property law to specialized courts of the judiciary system (2).
As a matter of fact, the decision would have been the same as regards any other intellectual or industrial property right such as designs, patents or trademarks…
(1) Tribunal des conflits, 7 July 2014, cases No.3954 and 3955, M. A. v. Maison départementale des personnes handicapées de Meurthe-et-Moselle.
(2) As regards copyright, designs, trademarks and geographical indications, only ten first instance courts may have jurisdiction in France: Bordeaux, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nanterre, Nancy, Paris, Rennes, Strasbourg and Fort-de-France. As far as patents are concerned however, only the First instance court of Paris has jurisdiction.