By Florence Guthfreund-Roland & Mathilde Hallé
On April 10, 2014, the Court of First Instance of Paris found that VIAGOGO, a Swiss company operating a website selling sports tickets on the Internet, had no right to sell tickets for a French soccer game organized by the French Professional Soccer League. On that basis, the Swiss company was ordered to take appropriate steps to prevent French Internet users from accessing the content of its online communication service on several of its websites.
The French Professional Soccer League (the “LFP”) is the French entity in charge of the organization of professional soccer competitions, including the French national soccer cup.
In February 2014, the LFP sent a cease and desist letter to the Swiss company VIAGOGO asking the latter to cease the commercialisation of game tickets for the French national soccer cup final, on the grounds that VIAGOGO was in breach of the LFP’s monopoly as it was not authorised by the LFP to sell such tickets online. The LFP also claimed that the tickets were sold by VIAGOGO at a price much higher than the one set by the LFP when they brought an action against VIAGOGO before the interim relief judge of the Court of First Instance of Paris in March 2014. The LFP asked the Court to order VIAGOGO to withdraw from its websites, and especially from the website www.viagogo.fr, any offer for sale of tickets for the French national soccer cup final.
In defence, VIAGOGO contended the following:
- the French Courts had no jurisdiction over the disputed matter since the LFP had not demonstrated that the websites www.viagogo.lu and www.viagogo.com targeted the French public, nor that there was a substantial and significant link with the French public;
- the fact that part of the content posted on the disputed websites was in French was not sufficient to grant the French Courts jurisdiction over the disputed matter;
- the website www.viagogo.com did not target the French public since prices were displayed in dollars on the website;
- VIAGOGO was not responsible for the offer of the website viagogo.fr; and
- the Paris professional soccer team had entered into an agreement with VIAGOGO in relation to the website www.viagogo.fr.
However, the Court found that it had jurisdiction over the disputed matter considering that: (i) the three disputed websites could be accessed from France and target the French public. Moreover, online transactions could be made in Euros; and (ii) the fact that the company operating the website was not located in France was not relevant, nor was the fact that the hosting providers involved were not incorporated in France.
In line with previous case law on the monopoly of sports organizations, the Court further held that the offering for sale of the tickets by VIAGOGO consisted in an obviously illicit disorder since VIAGOGO does not have the right to commercialise such tickets and does not abide by the conditions of sale set forth by the LFP. In other words, and even if not innovative from a legal standpoint, the Court confirmed that the sale of tickets for any soccer game organised by the LFP falls within LFP’s monopoly, and therefore remains subject to the LFP’s prior authorisation and to its general conditions of sale.
On that basis, the Court ordered VIAGOGO to take any measures to prevent French Internet users from accessing the content of its online communication service accessible from the websites www.viagogo.fr, www.viagogo.lu and www.viagogo.com, without distinguishing between soccer tickets submitted to the LFP’s monopoly and other sports tickets. It can be noted that such measures may put a disproportionate burden on VIAGOGO as, under French law, the interim relief judge is in theory only allowed to grant measures which are strictly necessary to put an end to the acknowledged disorder and prevent any damage.