Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Online Defamation, centre of interests, and place of harmful event

Since the e-Date ruling of the CJEU a new connecting factor has been added to the discussion on the proper forum for the infringement of personality rights online. The judgment of the Thessaloniki court offers food for thought, however not for what has been rendered, but mostly for what has not been elaborated in its ruling.

Thessaloniki First Instance Court (chamber) 15188/2015, published in: Armenopoulos 2016, pp. 833 et seq.


The claimant is a famous person in Greece. He holds both the Russian and the Greek nationality. He’s today the president of a Premier League football club in the country, which is located in Thessaloniki. When the file was claimed he was not legally the president, but it was common knowledge that he was the de facto president, a fact he has also underlined in his claim. In particular, he was pulling the strings of a Cypriot company, which was the majority shareholder of the club’s shares. This company was represented by his sons, who were receiving instructions from him for all matters related to the football club. The claimant states Thessaloniki as his place of residence. The respondents are a football club of the Greek Premier League (A), located in Piraeus, and the CEO of the club (B), a resident of the same city.

The claimant portrays himself as a highly successful entrepreneur, owner of a large group of companies, with its seat in Rostov, Russia; an ex-politician and deputy in both the Rostov district and the Duma, and an ex-president of two Russian football clubs. He filed an action for damages in the altitude of 1 million Euros, caused by a post uploaded both in Greek and Russian on the official web site of (A), which presumably violated his personality rights. Actually it was a press statement of (A), approved by the Board, and then reproduced by a significant number of sports magazines and newspapers in Greece.  

The defendants did not challenge the venue of the court, and focused on the substantive aspects of the subject matter.


The court granted the claim partially, awarding the sum of 30.000 Euros. It based its jurisdiction in Article 35 Code of Civil Procedure (forum delicti commissi). The court stated that the place where the tort was committed was virtually everywhere, i.e. wherever there was access to the web post, whereas the place where the harmful event occurred was mainly the place of the claimant’s habitual residence. Hence, the forum of the defendants (Article 22 Code of Civil Procedure) was surpassed by reference to the claimant’s habitual residence in Thessaloniki.  


The ruling of the court was undoubtedly correct: The defendants did not challenge the venue, hence a tacit approval of the court’s jurisdiction was evident. At the same time, the cross-border elements of the case were undervalued as a result of the above. 

However, the facts demonstrate the intricacies of the matter, in light of the e-Date ruling of the CJEU. As it is well known, the European Court placed the centre of main interests on top of all other connecting factors, concluding that: ‘the person who considers that his rights have been infringed has the option of bringing an action for liability, in respect of all the damage caused, either before the courts of the Member State in which the publisher of that content is established or before the courts of the Member State in which the centre of his interests is based. That person may also, instead of an action for liability in respect of all the damage caused, bring his action before the courts of each Member State in the territory of which content placed online is or has been accessible. Those courts have jurisdiction only in respect of the damage caused in the territory of the Member State of the court seised’.

Therefore, we may conclude that the Thessaloniki court had international jurisdiction to try the case, given that Greece was the Member State in which the publisher of that content is established. Still, was Thessaloniki the proper venue?

It is accepted that the rule of Art. 7.2 Brussels I bis / Art. 5.3 Brussels I Regulation covers both international jurisdiction and territorial competence of the court seized. Therefore, for establishing the venue of the court, one needs to examine the findings of the CJEU, as stated in the e-Date case, which brings us to the question: Was Thessaloniki the centre of the claimant’s interests? 

The court did not consider the e-date ruling; as a result, it did not examine the matter in accordance with its findings. Admittedly, the court had no reason to do it, since its jurisdiction was not challenged. The case demonstrates however the potential difficulties in defining the centre of main interests in similar cases: According to his Wikipedia web page, the claimant and his wife are now formally the majority shareholders of the largest Russian tobacco company. He also owns a group of companies located in Rostov, Russia. The shares of the football club, of which he’s the President, are owned by a Cypriot company. At the same time, he’s the manager of an old and well known hotel in Thessaloniki, he owns 82 % of the shares of the biggest Greek tobacco company, located in Xanthi (a city in the region of Thrace), and he is the owner of land and hotel resorts in the district of Chalkidiki. His personal web site is available in three languages (Russian, Greek and English), however he chose to register a domain name under the country code .ru. 

To sum up:
·         The court applied domestic law, unaware of the e-Date findings.
·         It obviously opted for an extensive interpretation, thus opening the door to forum actoris for all cases involving online defamation in the future.
·         There’s no reason to comment on possible actions for damages before courts of other Member States, because the claimant’s activities within the EU are limited to Greece.
·         A possible second action before Russian courts (e.g. Rostov) would not have to take into account the ruling of the CJEU.

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