The Constitutionalization of Intellectual Property Law in the EU and the Funke Medien, Pelham and Spiegel Online Decisions of the CJEU: Progress, But Still Some Way to Go!
30 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2019 Last revised: 9 Dec 2019
Date Written: October 21, 2019
In the first part of the new millennium, the rise of the use of fundamental rights in shaping and using intellectual property norms has led one of the authors of this article to predict that this movement will be “constitutionalizing” intellectual property law. More than a decade and a half later, the influence of fundamental rights on the scope and limitations of intellectual property has never been more important, as illustrated by three seminal copyright decisions (in the Funke Medien, Pelham and Spiegel Online cases) delivered in July 2019 by the Court of Justice of the European Union. These decisions, dealing with the relationship between copyright and freedom of expression (including freedom of the media, information, and freedom of artistic creativity), stand out in the European judicial practice on copyright and fundamental rights for a number of reasons. First, freedom of expression and its balancing factors play a crucial role in shaping the contours of the exclusive rights, starting from the definition of copyright law’s subject-matter and extending to the right of reproduction, as well as, most importantly – to copyright limitations and exceptions. In essence, the CJEU takes a quite liberal position towards the national courts’ interpretation of existing copyright norms in the light of the freedom of expression requirements. The CJEU goes even as far as to term the Article 5 InfoSoc exceptions not as “exceptions” as such but as self-sufficient rights of users of copyright-protected subject-matter. It is also notable that, in applying freedom of expression to EU copyright, the CJEU has largely relied on the case law of yet another supranational European court – the European Court of Human Rights – manifesting eagerness to engage in a “dialogue” with the principal human rights tribunal in Europe in order to establish guiding principles for EU copyright law informed by freedom of expression. Such a liberal, “freedom of expression-driven” approach of the CJEU to the interpretation of EU copyright appears quite analogue in results that could be reached by applying an external and/or open-ended copyright exceptions. Nevertheless, the Luxemburg Court indicates in Funke Medien, Pelham and Spiegel Online that an externally-introduced flexibility (by means of complementing an already existing in EU list of exceptions) could be harmful to copyright harmonisation and legal certainty. Therefore, despite having shown a more favourable position to the possibility of shaping EU copyright by fundamental rights norms, the CJEU does not go all the way, since it considers in quite categorical terms that an external freedom of expression exception beyond an exhaustive list of limitations of Article 5 InfoSoc is clearly inacceptable. According to the Court, copyright’s own internal mechanisms present sufficient safety valves for balancing with freedom of expression. Such position of the CJEU that relies on the fact that the legislator has anticipated all the potential conflicts between copyright and higher ranking norms such as fundamental rights might be incompatible with the EU legal order. Thus, despite a visible progress in flexibilizing copyright norms via their interpretation “in the light of” fundamental rights, some further steps will still need to be taken in the future to make the “constitutionalization” of IP law a complete reality in the EU.
Keywords: fundamental rights,Court of Justice of the European Union,copyright,freedom of expression,European Court of Human Rights, EU copyright
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