In mid-January, Julia Reda (Pirate Party MEP) communicated a draft of her report on the implementation of the Information Society Directive (‘InfoSoc Directive) 2001/29/EC (it’s lengthy, but a summary can be found here). Described as ‘the most progressive official EU document on copyright since the first cat picture was published on the web’, but also as being ‘surprisingly extreme’ and even being ‘inacceptable’, this report attracted widespread interest and statements of support from different digital rights organisations.
While the report rightly urges for an ever-increasing ‘internet-friendly copyright law’, the report might have gone too far in relation to parodies. Article 5.3(k) of the InfoSoc Directive currently provides the possibility for EU Member States to introduce a parody exception for the purposes of parody, pastiche and caricature to the exclusive right of reproduction in their national copyright laws (this opportunity was seized by the UK which now includes a parody exception in section 30A CDPA). This provision was interpreted by the Court of Justice of the European Union in the Deckmyn case, guiding national courts in their application of the exception to particular facts (for comments on this decision see here and the AG’s opinion see here).
At 17 on page 6 of the report, Julia Reda suggests ‘that the exception for caricature, parody and pastiche should apply regardless of the purpose of the parodic use’. Without further explanations, such a broad exception raises concerns.
The parody exception is an exception to the right-holder’s exclusive right of reproduction. As such, international treaties subject it to the application of the three-step test (Berne Convention art. 9(2), TRIPS Agreement arts. 9(1) and 13; and, WCT arts. 1(4) and 10). This test requires any exceptions in national legislation to be limited to ‘certain special cases, provided that such reproduction does not conflict with a normal exploitation of the work and does not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the author’. The French authorities’ response appropriately expresses concerns that a parody exception applicable outside any purpose of parody is unlikely to meet the first step of ‘certain special cases’. As this requirement means that a shapeless provision exempting broad series of uses should not be tolerable and reflects the need for legislators to reconcile opposing interests.
The exception for the purpose of parody, caricature or pastiche aims to provide the possibility for parodists to copy copyrighted works in limited circumstances. The current parody exception is the result of a compromise in light of the objectives underlying the exception. The issue opposes the interests of right-holders (who are entitled to be rewarded for their creation) against the interest of the users (who need to reproduce prior works to create the new work). Removing its purpose is likely to amount to a shapeless exception rebuffed by international obligations.
Yet, La Quadrature du Net interprets Julia Reda’s proposal as: ‘to admit the parody exception for non-humorous creations’. If this is her aim, this could be achieved through the current wording of the exception for the purpose of parody.
The Court of Justice of the European Union has defined ‘parody’ through its requirements in Deckmyn. At para 20, the Court notes that a parody needs: ‘to evoke an existing work while being noticeably different from it, and, secondly, to constitute an expression of humour or mockery’.
The expression of humour or mockery does not exclude the expression of criticisms. By requiring the parodist to have a humorous intent, it is suggested that a broad interpretation should prevail as to include playful, homage or serious expressions (a glimpse at French case law which knows a long history of the application of the parody exception shows evidence of serious expressions and the inclusion of satire). The limit being that the expression should refrain from being prejudicial to the person of the author or his work(s). The failure to meet this requirement enables the right-holder to enforce his or her moral rights (especially the integrity right). Additionally, where an individual is defamed, this person can bring an action under defamation law.
Also, the primary justification to the introduction of a parody exception is to facilitate the exercise of one’s freedom of expression. While freedom of expression is already considered in the current InfoSoc Directive (Recital 3 reads: ‘The proposed harmonisation will help to implement the four freedoms of the internal market and relates to compliance with the fundamental principles of law and especially of property, including intellectual property, and freedom of expression and the public interest.’) and the interpretation of the parody exception in Deckmyn (at para 25), the report (recitals C and D) confirms the importance of the relationship between copyright and related rights and freedom of expression both protected under the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (respectively enshrined in article 17(2) and 11).
Yet, the concerns expressed by Julia Reda concerning the likelihood of achieving harmonisation of the exceptions throughout the EU territory under the current InfoSoc Directive (at 10) are shared. Additionally, her wish to make copyright exceptions mandatory is welcomed (at 11) and would certainly contribute to the objective of harmonisation desired.
To conclude, it must be reminded that this report is merely a draft. This one will now be handed over to the Legal Affairs Committee and to the Internal Market and Culture committees. Overall, the report makes important proposals but there is still room for improvement. Against this backdrop, care must be taken regarding the details of each provision such as for the parody exception to ensure that the impact of the exception applicable outside parody uses does not disrupt the balance desired between the interests of right-holders and parodists.