What were the biggest developments in tech law in 2015?

11 Jan 2016

MHC Lawyers reveals what the most talked about subjects in the area of tech law were in 2015.

2015 was a year of significant developments in tech law. The EU’s highest court – the CJEU – published a number of landmark judgments throughout the year. Privacy law was a particularly hot topic in 2015, not least in terms of US data transfers and the EU’s planned overhaul of its data protection laws. The ever-growing ecosystem of apps and smart devices also remained in the tech law spotlight.

The much talked about Schrems case, as well as topics such as data protection and intellectual property rights were of particular interest to readers of the MHC blog.

1. Safe Harbour submerged: What next?

As has been well reported, in October 2015 the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) handed down its long-awaited judgment in Schrems v Data Protection Commissioner.

The Court found that the Safe Harbour system facilitating the export of personal data from the EU to the USA was ‘invalid’. But what does this mean for international business, and what are the next steps? Read our piece on the case.

2. The multi-million dollar copyright battle over Happy Birthday to You

Despite common belief, a US music publisher claimed that copyright in one of the most performed songs in the world, Happy Birthday to You was still in effect and, as the rights holder, it was entitled to a royalty payment for every public performance of the song. However, the lawyers of a New York documentary filmmaker claimed to have uncovered new ‘smoking gun’ evidence that the Happy Birthday to You song is not under copyright – and hasn’t been since 1922. They claimed that this evidence clearly proves the song is in the public domain and no permission was needed to use it.

3. Court rules for Ryanair in ‘screen scraping’ dispute

Ryanair, the Irish airline, has been involved in multiple cases concerning alleged ‘screen scraping’ of its site – the manner in which price-comparison websites automatically collect and compare flight cost data from various air carriers. Europe’s highest court, the CJEU, finally ruled on this issue last year. It considered whether a business can use its website terms to restrict others from using databases on its site in certain ways. Of particular relevance here was the fact that the databases in question were not protected by copyright or database rights. Despite this fact, Ryanair successfully argued that it can restrict screen-scrapers’ use of the Ryanair site by way of the website terms. Read more about this case here.

4. Who ‘owns’ an employer’s contacts? New judgment provides clarification

Contacts and connections are a key asset for many businesses, particularly those in the B2B space. However, disputes often arise as to whether or not the connections are ‘owned’ by the employee or the employer. This issue often comes to the fore in cases where a senior (and often well-connected) employee moves jobs and seeks to leverage their existing rolodex to compete with their former employer. Despite the importance of this issue, there is not much case law addressing this point. Consequently, a decision of the Jersey Courts last year, though not binding in Ireland, is worth some attention.

5. The Trend of BYOD: Personal devices in the workplace (Part 1)

Bring-your-own-device (BYOD) – where companies allow employees to use their own mobile phones, tablets, and/or laptops for work – is a practice that is quietly growing year-by-year. In fact, in a study conducted by Tech Pro Research in 2014, 74pc of respondents said that their organisation either already allows BYOD or is planning to do so within 12 months. Further, numerous studies have shown that employees of organisations which do not allow BYOD are increasingly using unauthorised personal devices at work. And yet, this widespread practice often receives little more than a passing consideration at many companies. Given some of the exposures outlined, every organisation should consider the legal implications of this trend and decide what measures are needed to mitigate the risks.

The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice.

Tech Law is a weekly series brought to you by Irish law firm Mason Hayes & Curran, whose legal tech team advises the world’s top social media organisations and emerging start-ups. Check out www.mhc.ie for more.

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