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ISSUE 56 page 6

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Giant US Internet companies still in trouble with European courts

The seemingly unstoppable progress of the corporations enabling  individuals to search, buy and communicate with their friends on the Internet has sometimes faced obstacles in the European courts. Following Microsoft’s reverse at the hands of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in 2007, Google, Facebook and Ebay have been under scrutiny in both EU and national jurisdictions

The online marketplace Ebay faces the potentially most serious blow to its operations after the ECJ ruled that they must remove advertisements for fake brands from their site. They will also have to be careful about the assistance that they give individuals who turn out to be infringing trademarks. The judgement is the final act in a long-running saga of litigation originally brought by French perfume company L’Oréal. Luxury brand owners have long been concerned that sub-standard products were being sold under their names on Ebay, undermining their reputations. Although the court confirmed  that the display of trademark signs by Ebay customers did not in itself breach trademark legislation, if the company either promoted or knew of the sale of counterfeit goods it would lose exemption from these laws.
Meanwhile in Germany a data protection officer has questioned the legality of Facebook’s face recognition facility. Available in Europe since June the feature matches newly uploaded photos with names using biometric technology. Germany has very strict privacy laws but Hamburg commissioner Johannes Caspar has contacted the EU authorities as he believes that Facebook may also be in breach of EU law. This is because the company only offers the user an opt-out rather than waiting for express consent to use their facial information.
Following its lost appeal in a case before the Belgian courts (see our last issue) Google was obliged to remove French and German-language newspapers from its Google News service because the publshers had not given permission for their content to be used. In complying with the ruling, however, the company further enraged the complainants by blocking them from the normal web search facility as well. According to Le Soir ‘The newspapers never rejected Google's search engine, which just shows the title and a few lines of an article’. Google pleaded innocence claiming that it was merely satisfying the court order but relented after receiving explicit permission from the publishers.


Whistleblowers should not be sacked even if their court action fails
Greek temps gain the right to be made permanent
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled in favour of an employee at a German health care company who was sacked for publicising failings in patient care due to understaffing. Brigitte Heinisch had drawn the attention of management at Vivantes in Berlin to the problem before falling ill due to overwork. After the firm brushed off her concerns Ms. Heinisch brought a criminal complaint of fraud against them on the grounds that they were not delivering the ‘high-quality care’ promised in advertisements. When the public prosecutor dropped the case, a leaflet produced by her trade union Ver.di led to Ms. Heinisch being summarily dismissed. The ECHR found that her right to freedom of expression (Article 10) outweighed the damage done to the company’s reputation and ordered payments of €15,000 to be made to the former employee.
One of the few pieces of good news for workers in Greece in recent years has emerged from the country’s Supreme Court. Some cleaners working for the state betting agency OPAP had been working for twenty years on a temporary basis and were seeking the right to be considered for permanent contracts. As the day of the judgement approached there was a 24-hour strike by ‘temporary’ civil servants and local council employees as well as a month-long occupation of Athens City Hall. The strikers hoped that a favourable result would serve as a template for all public sector workers. When the court ruled that cleaners recruited before 2001 should have been given permanent jobs champagne bottles were opened as thousands of temps spilled on to the street outside.

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