Tuesday 17 April 2012

EU copyright at Fordham: a report (part II)

Having highlighted the position of the Commission as to EU copyright harmonisation (here), an assessment of the last twenty years of harmonisation was provided - inter alia - by Prof Bernt Hugenholtz of the University of Amsterdam.

First, he divided the harmonisation process into three phases, these being (1) 1991-2000, when core copyright directives were issued; (2) 2002-2008, when Member States transposed such directives into national laws; (3) 2009-, in which the CJEU has been playing a pivotal role in interpreting such directives. 

Bernt Hugenholtz
Overall, copyright harmonisation has had positive effects, in that approximating the laws of EU Member States has enhanced legal certainty, favoured the emergence of common principles, as well as the establishment of EU external competence in this field. The negative effects of copyright harmonisation can be held to be the following: (1) slow response to technological development; (2) harmonisation has always moved upwards (see databases); and (3) the overall process has been fairly intransparent, thus favoring lobbying (see the case of term extension(s)).

As to the future of EU copyright, Prof Hugenholtz indicated that lawmaking at the EU level has the potential to become increasingly difficult, due to the following aspects: (1) ever growing number of Member States; (2) increasingly central role of the European Parliament; (3) ongoing discussions as to social legitimacy of copyright; (4) lack of normative constitutional mandate in primary EU law to legislate in the area of copyright. 

This said, the alternatives on the table are substantially two: do nothing or unify copyright at the EU level.

Trevor Cook
Speaking of copyright reforms, Trevor Cook of Bird&Bird LLP offered an enlightening insight into copyright's exceptions and limitations and dealt with the heated topic concerning whether something like US fair use should be pursued in Europe too. This, claimed Trevor, would be inconsistent with the InfoSoc Directive and it is not sure that it would be desirable to introduce in the first place. This is beacuse of the unpredictable outcome of fair use defences in the US. In any case, exceptions and limitations may be extended and updated at the EU level, even lacking an initiative of EU legislative. Reliance on fundamental rights has increased, both before national courts and the CJEU. The latter is because of the new status of the Charter of Fundamental Rights following the Lisbon Reform Treaty (as very recent examples, see the decisions in Scarlet and Netlog). This view was upheld also by Mr Justice Peter Charleton of the High Court of Ireland, Dublin.

Graham Smith
An analysis of recent CJEU decisions was offered in the presentations by Graham Smith of Bird&Bird LLP and Professor Lionel Bently of the University of Cambridge.

Graham has offered a thoughtful overview of aggregating and related cases in the EU.

Lionel Bently
Prof Bently, who has called the harmonising effects of CJEU case law 'harmonisation by stealth' (see earlier 1709 Blog post here), has highlighted how CJEU activism is likely to cast ambiguities on the scope and meaning of EU copyright. This may result in Member States asking the Commission to be more active in the future, so to prevent contradictory and ambigous outcomes. Despite this, harmonisation via CJEU case law has had positive effects too, as it has touched upon aspects which could have not been harmonised with legislation alone. Above all, the outcomes of CJEU decisions are legitimate, though it is doubtful in the first place whether the Court was legitimated to act in lieu of EU legislative. In addition to this, doubts persist as to whether the harmonising effects of CJEU judgments are consistent with national legislation. Finally, the effects of these decisions have contributed to transitional uncertainty in the laws of some Member Stares, notably the UK.

In conclusion, from the presentations offered at Fordham, EU copyright is in need of amelioration. At the moment, there are no ambitious EU legislative initiatives. In any case, these are regarded cautiously and are deemed to require careful consideration before being undertaken. So, at the end of the day, it is not clear whether CJEU activism is the result of unavoidable gaps in legislative instruments or whether, instead, harmonisation via CJEU case law has been made necessary to supply lack of legislative initiative tout court. The best guideline for future action at the EU level? Directly from the LEGO store at the Rockfeller Center:

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