Oscar Bronner v Mediaprint (Judgment): ECJ 26 Nov 1998

A major newspaper proprietor had refused to allow a small competitor access to its efficient distribution service.
Held: That amounted to an abuse of a dominant position: ‘First, it is apparent that the right to choose one’s trading partners and freely to dispose of one’s property are generally recognised principles in the laws of the Member States, in some cases with constitutional status. Incursions on those rights require careful justification. Secondly, the justification in terms of competition policy for interfering with a dominant undertaking’s freedom to contract often requires a careful balancing of conflicting considerations. Thirdly, in assessing this issue it is important not to lose sight of the fact that the primary purpose of Article 86 is to prevent distortion of competition – and in particular to safeguard the interests of consumers – rather than to protect the position of particular competitors. In assessing such conflicting interests particular care is required where the goods or services or facilities to which access is demanded represent the fruit of substantial investment. That may be true in particular in relation to refusal to license intellectual property rights. Where such exclusive rights are granted for a limited period, that in itself involves a balancing of the interest in free competition with that of providing an incentive for research and development and for creativity. It is therefore with good reason that the Court has held that the refusal to license does not of itself, in the absence of other factors, constitute an abuse. To accept Bronner’s contention would be to lead the Community and national authorities and courts into detailed regulation of the Community markets, entailing the fixing of prices and conditions for supply in large sectors of the economy. Intervention on that scale would not only be unworkable but would also be anti-competitive in the longer term and indeed would scarcely be compatible with a free market economy.’
Jacobs AG: ‘ . . it is important not to lose sight of the fact that the principal purpose of Article [82] is to prevent distortion of competition -and in particular to safeguard the interests of consumers – rather than to protect the position of particular competitors. It may therefore, for example, be unsatisfactory, in a case in which a competitor demands access to a raw material in order to be able to compete with the dominant undertaking on a downstream market in a final product, to focus solely on the latter’s upstream market power and conclude its conduct in reserving to itself the downstream market is automatically an abuse. Such conduct will not have an adverse impact on customers unless the dominant undertaking’s final product is sufficiently insulated from competition to give it market power.’
Jacobs AG
C-7/97, [1998] ECR 1-7791, [1998] EUECJ C-7/97
Cited by:
CitedJobserve Limited v Network Multimedia Television Limited CA 21-Dec-2001
The claimants sought to re-instate an injunction, claiming Jobserve were acting to abuse their dominant market position. The claimants asserted that European case law had decided the point in their favour. Both parties operated web-sites advertising . .
CitedBHB Enterprises Plc v Victor Chandler (International) Ltd ChD 27-May-2005
The claimant created a very substantial computerised database about horses and the racing industry. It licensed the database to users, including some who were able to grant sub-licenses. It sought to rely on the Database Directive to support its . .
CitedAttheraces Ltd and Another v The British Horseracing Board Ltd and Another CA 2-Feb-2007
The defendant appealed a finding that it had abused its dominant market position in refusing to supply to the claimant a copyright licence for its information on horse racing at a proper or acceptable price. The defendant was said to have a monopoly . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Updated: 21 August 2021; Ref: scu.162027