From Flexible Balancing Tool to Quasi-Constitutional Straitjacket – How the EU Cultivates the Constraining Function of the Three-Step Test
T. Mylly/J. Griffiths (eds.), The Transformation of Global Intellectual Property Protection, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020 Forthcoming
23 Pages Posted: 8 May 2020
Date Written: March 7, 2020
In the international intellectual property (IP) arena, the so-called “three-step test” regulates the room for the adoption of limitations and exceptions (L&Es) to exclusive rights across different fields of IP. Given the openness of the individual test criteria, it is tempting for proponents of strong IP protection to strive for the fixation of the meaning of the three-step test at the constraining end of the spectrum of possible interpretations. As the three-step test lies at the core of legislative initiatives to balance exclusive rights and user freedoms, the cultivation of the test’s constraining function and the suppression of the test’s enabling function has the potential to transform the three-step test into a bulwark against limitations of IP protection.
The EU is at the forefront of a constraining use and interpretation of the three-step test in the field of copyright law. The configuration of the legal framework in the EU is worrisome because it obliges judges to apply the three-step test as an additional control instrument. It is not sufficient that an individual use falls within the scope of a statutory copyright limitation that explicitly permits this type of use without prior authorization. In addition, judges applying the three-step test also examine whether the specific form of use at issue complies with each individual criterion of the three-step test. Hence, the test serves as an instrument to further restrict L&Es that have already been defined precisely in statutory law. Not surprisingly, decisions from courts in the EU have a tendency of shedding light on the constraining aspect of the three-step test and, therefore, reinforcing the hegemony of copyright holders in the IP arena.
The hypothesis underlying the following examination, therefore, is that the EU approach to the three-step test is one-sided in the sense that it only demonstrates the potential of the test to set additional limits to L&Es. The analysis focuses on this transformation of a flexible international balancing tool into a powerful confirmation and fortification of IP protection. For this purpose, the two facets of the international three-step test – its enabling and constraining function – are explored before embarking on a discussion of case law that evolved under the one-sided EU approach. Analyzing repercussions on international lawmaking, it will become apparent that the EU approach already impacted the further development of international L&Es. Certain features of the Marrakesh Treaty clearly reflect the restrictive EU approach.
Keywords: copyright, EU law, Marrakesh Treaty, human rights, limitations and exceptions, access to knowledge, transformative use, rights of disabled persons, Berne Convention, TRIPS Agreement
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