Toward Supranational Copyright Law? The WTO Panel Decision and the 'Three-Step Test' for Copyright Exceptions

Toward Supranational Copyright Law? The WTO Panel Decision and the 'Three-Step Test' for Copyright Exceptions

Ginsburg, Jane C., "Toward Supranational Copyright Law? The WTO Panel Decision and the 'Three-Step Test' for Copyright Exceptions" . Revue Internationale du Droit d'Auteur, January 2001

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    A dispute resolution panel of the World Trade Organization in June 2000 held the United States in contravention of its obligation under art. 13 of the TRIPs accord to "confine limitations or exceptions to exclusive rights to certain special cases which do not conflict with a normal exploitation of the work and do not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the right holder." In the dispute resolution proceeding, initiated by the European Union at the behest of the Irish performing rights organization, the contested exception, enacted in the 1998 "Digital Millennium Copyright Act," exempted a broad range of retail and restaurant establishments from liability for the public performance of musical works by means of communication of radio and television transmissions.

    The WTO panel decision marks the first time an international adjudicative body has interpreted either art. 13 of TRIPs, or art. 9.2 of the Berne Convention, the text TRIPs incorporates, and generalizes from the Berne Convention reproduction right to all TRIPs and Berne rights under copyright. Berne art. 9.2/TRIPs art. 13 impose the "three-step test" to evaluate the legitimacy of exceptions and limitations on copyright; the panel's decision extensively analyzes each of the steps. As other multilateral instruments, such as the 1996 WIPO Copyright Treaty (art. 10) and WIPO Performers and Phonograms Treaty (art. 16.2), as well as the pending European Union Information Society Directive (art. 5.4), increasingly adopt the "three-step test," the WTO Panel decision may significantly advance the development of a truly supra national law of copyright.

    This article will analyze the Panel's interpretation of the test's three steps, and their application to the U.S.-law exemption. The article will also compare the Panel's treatment of the three-step test with the prior analyses proposed by several Berne Convention commentators, in order to reflect on what the Panel's analysis might mean for copyright exceptions more broadly. It is important to recognize, however, that the decision's actual impact on international copyright law will also depend on other considerations that will not be addressed here, including: Member State compliance with Panel decisions; the precedential effect of one Panel decision on later dispute resolution panels; and the willingness of national courts to look to WTO Panel decisions for guidance in evaluating local exceptions.

Facts on copyright

  • Two major developments in the 14th and 15th centuries seem to have provoked the development of modern copyright. First, the expansion of mercantilist trade in major European cities and the appearance of the secular university helped produce an educated bourgeois class interested in the information of the day. This helped spur the emergence of a "public sphere," which was increasingly served by entrepreneurial "stationers" who would produce copies of books on demand. Second, Gutenberg's development of movable type and the development and spread of the printing press made mass reproduction of printed works quick and cheap. Before these two developments, the process of copying a work could be nearly as labor intensive and expensive as creating the original, and was largely relegated to monastic scribes.
  • Copyright (international symbol: ) is a set of exclusive rights granted by governments to regulate the use of a particular expression of an idea or information. At its most general, it is literally "the right to copy" an original creation. In most cases, these rights are of limited duration.
  • First-sale doctrine Copyright law does not restrict anyone from reselling legitimately obtained copies of copyrighted works, provided that those copies were originally produced by or with the permission of the copyright holder. It is therefore legal, for example, to resell a copyrighted book or CD. In the United States this is known as the first-sale doctrine, and was established by the courts to clarify the legality of reselling books in second-hand bookstores.

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