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A new era for EU copyright exceptions and limitations?

Judicial flexibility and legislative discretion in the aftermath of the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market and the trio of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Justice


For long neglected, copyright exceptions and limitations have recently been the subject of multiple interventions by the EU legislator and the European Court of Justice, some of these bringing about landmark changes to the approach, nature and interpretation of such provisions. Taking stock of the long road travelled in recent decades, this article systematises the results which have been achieved in the field and highlights the outstanding flaws and inconsistencies which mark the route forward in EU copyright harmonisation. To this end, it offers an overview of the evolution of exceptions and limitations in EU copyright law prior to the entry into force of the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market (§2), analyses the interpretative problems solved, created and left behind by the European Court of Justice (§3), and looks at the policy debates and preparatory works that led to the Directive, highlighting which reform proposals were successfully adopted and which ones were abandoned over the years (§4). It then provides a brief analysis of the innovations introduced by the Directive and their impact on the state of the art of EU copyright exceptions and limitations (§5), linking it to the recent decisions of the Grand Chamber (§6.1) which draw new boundaries in the discretion and flexibility left to national legislators and courts in balancing conflicting rights and interests in copyright law (§6.2), and commenting on the strengths and weaknesses of the new framework.

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  1. 1.

    The literature on the topic is extremely broad. Ex multis, see Geiger [9] p. 178; Guibault [14] p. 53; Hugenholtz-Senftleben [16] p. 9 et seq.; van Eechoud [32] pp. 298 et seq.

  2. 2.

    See Guibault [14] 55-56.

  3. 3.

    Directive 2001/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 May 2001 on the harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and related rights in the information society [2001] OJ L 167/10 [InfoSoc].

  4. 4.

    M.van Eechoud [32] pp. 94 et seq.; Janssen, [19] pp. 331 et seq.

  5. 5.

    For a broader and contextual analysis, see Matthias Leistner [22] pp. 584 et seq.; Sganga [31] pp. 137 et seq.

  6. 6.

    Directive (EU) 2019/790 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 April 2019 on copyright and related rights in the Digital Single Market and amending Directives 96/9/EC and 2001/29/EC [2019] OJ L 130/125 [CDSMD].

  7. 7.

    Case C-469/17 Funke Medien NRW GmbH v Bundesrepublik Deutschland [2019] EU:C:2019:623; case C-476/17 Pelham GmbH and Others v Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider-Esleben [2019] EU:C:2019:624; case C-516/17 Spiegel Online GmbH v Volker Beck [2019] EU:C:2019:625.

  8. 8.

    To mention but one example, the most prominent preparatory document in early EU copyright law, the Commission Communication Green Paper on Copyright and the Challenges of New Technologies (COM (1988) 172, 1.6.1988) devotes its almost 250 pages to piracy, audiovisual home copying exhaustion and rental rights, software and databases.

  9. 9.

    E.g., Council Directive 91/250/EEC on the legal protection of computer programs [1991] OJ L122/42 [Software I].

  10. 10.

    Directive 96/9/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 1996 on the legal protection of databases [1996] OJ L 77/20 [Database].

  11. 11.

    As indicated by Recital 32 InfoSoc (“the list takes due account of the different legal traditions in Member States, while, at the same time, aiming to ensure a functioning internal market”).

  12. 12.

    The principle of strict reading of exceptions, drawn from general EU law, was first reinstated explicitly by Case C-5/08 Infopaq International A/S v Danske Dagblades Forening [2009] EU:C:2009:465, para 59.

  13. 13.

    Council Directive 92/100/EEC of 19 November 1992 on rental right and lending right [1992] OJ L 346/61 [Rental I]; Directive 2006/115/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 December 2006 on rental right and lending right and on certain rights related to copyright in the field of intellectual property [2006] OJ L376/28 [Rental II].

  14. 14.

    Rental II Directive, Article 6(1) and (2).

  15. 15.

    Rental II Directive, Article 10.

  16. 16.

    Directive 2012/28/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2012 on certain permitted uses of orphan works [2012], OJ L299/5 [OWD].

  17. 17.

    Directive (EU) 2017/1564 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 September 2017 on certain permitted uses of certain works and other subject matter protected by copyright and related rights for the benefit of persons who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print-disabled [2017] OJ L 242/6 [Marrakesh Directive].

  18. 18.

    Marrakesh Directive, Article 3(5).

  19. 19.

    Wittem Group, European Copyright Code (2010), available at (accessed 13 May 2020). See Hugenholtz [17] pp. 339-354.

  20. 20.

    As in Griffiths [12] p. 65. See also Geiger [8] p. 371; Husovec [18] p. 262; Mylly [25] p. 119; Hugenholtz-Senftleben [16] p. 13.

  21. 21.

    See Hugenholtz-Senftleben [16] p. 18; Griffiths [11] p. 277; Geiger-Hilty-Griffiths-Suthersanen [5] p. 119; Geiger-Gervais-Senfleben [4] p. 581; Lucas [23] p. 281.

  22. 22.

    As in Geiger-Schoherr [7] p. 136; Janssen [19] p. 327; Guibault [13] p. 115.

  23. 23.

    For a systematic analysis, see Leistner [22] pp. 584 et seq. The harmonisation goals of the European Court of Justice are particularly emphasised by Griffiths [12] p. 65.

  24. 24.

    Infopaq, paras 55, 61.

  25. 25.

    Case C-360/13 Public Relations Consultants Association Ltd v Newspaper Licensing Agency Ltd and Others [2014] EU:C:2014:1195.

  26. 26.

    Case C-467/08 Padawan v SGAE [2010] ECR I-10055, §33.

  27. 27.

    \(Id\)., paras 35-36.

  28. 28.

    \(Id\)., paras 40-41.

  29. 29.

    \(Id\)., paras 46-49.

  30. 30.

    Case C-463/12 Copydan Båndkopi v Nokia Danmark [2012] OJ C399/13-14, para26.

  31. 31.

    Case C-470/14 EGEDA and Others v AMETIC [2016] EU:C:2016:418, para 41.

  32. 32.

    Case C-435/12 ACI Adam and Others v Stichting de Thuiskopie [2014] EU:C:2014:254, paras 29 et seq.

  33. 33.

    Joined cases C-457-458-459-460/11 VG Wort v Kyocera and Others [2013] EU:C:2013:426, para 78 (but should not be different from the amount obtained if a single device was involved).

  34. 34.

    \(Id\)., para 40.

  35. 35.

    Case C-462/09 v Austro-Mechana [2013] EU:C:2013:515, para 49.

  36. 36.

    \(Id\)., para 34.

  37. 37.

    Copydan Båndkopi, paras 27-28.

  38. 38.

    \(Id\)., para 33.

  39. 39., paras 35-37; along the same lines see Copydan Båndkopi, para 55.

  40. 40.

    Infopaq, paras 56-57.

  41. 41.

    Joined Cases C-403/08 Football Association Premier League Ltd and Others v QC Leisure and Others and C-429/08 Karen Murphy v Media Protection Services Ltd (FAPL) [2011] ECR I-09083, para 163.

  42. 42.

    Case C-117/13 Technische Universität Darmstadt v Eugen Ulmer KG [2014] EU:C:2014:2196.

  43. 43.

    \(Id\)., para §57, provided that digitisation did not make it possible to print or store on USB devices works so digitised, in order to strike a correct balance between the fulfillment of the scope of the exception and the need to provide a high level of protection of rightholders’ exclusive rights.

  44. 44.

    \(Id\)., paras 27-28.

  45. 45.

    Case C-174/15, Vereniging Openbare Bibliotheken v Stichting Leenrecht [2016] EU:C:2016:856.

  46. 46.

    The Court cited Recital 4 of the Rental Directive in support, which requires that copyright law is interpreted so to adapt to new economic developments (\(Id\)., para 45).

  47. 47.

    \(Id\)., paras 50-53. The European Court of Justice supported this teleological conclusion with a careful consideration of literal arguments. In fact, the limitation to tangible copies operated by Article 7 of the WIPO Copyright Treaty and its Agreed Statement with regard to rental and distribution rights is deemed not applicable to lending, and is not explicitly mentioned in the WIPO (id., paras 33-34).

  48. 48.

    Case C-275/06 Promusicae v Telefonica de Espana [2008] ECR I-271, para 68.

  49. 49.

    Case C-145/10 Eva-Maria Painer v Standard Verlags GmbH and Others [2011] ECR I-12533, para 116.

  50. 50.

    Case C-201/13 Johan Deckmyn and Vrijheidsfonds VZW v Helena Vandersteen and Others [2014] EU:C:2014:2132.

  51. 51.

    \(Id\)., para 15.

  52. 52.

    \(Id\)., para 25.

  53. 53.

    As underlined by the European Copyright Society [2] p. 130.

  54. 54.

    Similarly see Griffiths [10] pp. 154-155.

  55. 55.

    ACI Adam, para 26.

  56. 56.

    \(Id\)., para 27.

  57. 57.

    See, e.g., among the most recent contributions, Senftleben [29], 1 et seq.

  58. 58.

    The most relevant ones being Ulmer and VOB. On the point see Rosati [28] p. 511.

  59. 59.

    As in Geiger-Izyumenko [6] pp. 1 et seq.

  60. 60.

    Id., p. 44.s.

  61. 61.

    VOB, para 36.

  62. 62.

    I analyse the matter in more details in Sganga [30] p. 683.

  63. 63.

    More generally, see Kosta [21] pp. 61 et seq.

  64. 64.

    For further references see Sganga [30], 694.

  65. 65.


  66. 66.

    The debate on the role of the notion of essence in the fundamental right balance under the CFREU has become particularly intense in recent years. On the point see Brkan [1] p. 337. The Court suggested that a fair balance is excluded if such a core is violated, as in other fields of EU law. See also Ojanen [26] p. 318.

  67. 67.

    Precedents from other fields have indicated the need to avoid taking as metrics the maximum potential remuneration possible. See clearly in FAPL at §94; Case C-62/79, SA Compagnie générale pour la diffusion de la télévision, Coditel, and others v Ciné Vog Films and others [1980] ECR 881, paras 15-16; Joined Cases 55/80 and 57/80 Musik-Vertrieb Membran and K-tel International v GEMA [1981] ECR 147, paras 9, 12; Joined Cases C-92/92 and C-326/92, Phil Collins v Imtrat Handelsgesellschaft mbH e Patricia Im-und Export Verwaltungsgesellschaft mbH e Leif Emanuel Kraul v EMI Electrola GmbH [1993] ECR I-05145, para 20; Case C-115/02 Rioglass and Transremar [2003] ECR I-12705, para 23; Case C-222/07 UTECA [2009] ECR I-1407, para 25.

  68. 68.

    As in Case C-601/15, \(N\). [2016] EU:C:2016:84, §§45-46 and Joined Cases C-217/15 and C-350/15 Orsi and Baldetti [2017] EU:C:2017:264, para 15.

  69. 69.

    See, e.g., Case C-44/79 Hauer v. Land Rheinland-Pfalz [1979] ECR 3727; Case C-4/73 Nold v. Commission [1974] ECR 491.

  70. 70.

    Green Paper Copyright in the Knowledge Economy COM (2008) 466 final, 16 July 2008.

  71. 71.

    Communication A Single Market for 21st Century Europe”, COM (2007) 724 final, 20 November 2007.

  72. 72.

    Green Paper Copyright in the Knowledge Economy (n 70) p. 2.

  73. 73.

    \(Id\)., pp. 5-6.

  74. 74.

    \(Id\)., pp. 7-11.

  75. 75.

    \(Id\)., pp.13-15.

  76. 76.

    \(Id\)., pp.16-18.

  77. 77.

    \(Id\)., pp.19-20.

  78. 78.

    Commission, Public Consultation on the Review of the EU Copyright Rules, not accessible online (removed).

  79. 79.

    Questions 21-23 (current legal framework), questions 24-25 (flexibility) and questions 26-27 (territoriality).

  80. 80.

    Questions 28-31 (preservation an archiving), questions 32-35 (off-premises access to library collections), questions 36-39 (e-lending), questions 40-41 (mass digitisation), questions 42-46 (distant learning), questions 47-49 (research), questions 50-52 (disabilities), questions 53-57 (text and data mining), questions 58-63 (user-generated content), questions 64-71 (scope of private copying and reprography exception).

  81. 81.

    Commission, ‘Report on the responses to the Public Consultation on the Review of the EU Copyright Rules’, not accessible online (removed).

  82. 82.

    Id., p. 22.

  83. 83.

    COM (2015) 192 final, 6 May 2015.

  84. 84.

    Id., p. 6.

  85. 85.

    Id., p. 7.

  86. 86.

    COM (2015) 626 final, 9 December 2015.

  87. 87.

    Id., p. 6.

  88. 88.

    Id., pp. 7-8.

  89. 89.

    COM (2016) 592 final, 14 September 2016.

  90. 90.

    Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on copyright in the Digital Single Market, COM (2016) 593, 14 September 2016.

  91. 91.

    Commission, Impact Assessment on the modernisation of EU copyright rules, SWD(2016) 301 final, 82.

  92. 92.

    Communication Promoting a fair, efficient and competitive European copyright-based economy in the Digital Single Market, pp. 6-7. The decision was backed by the results of the public consultation on the role of publishers in the copyright value chain and on the ‘panorama exception’, held by the Commission from March to September 2016, the responses to which are available at (last accessed 13 May 2020).

  93. 93.

    Addressed by the Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice in case C-263/18 Nederlands Uitgeversverbond and Groep Algemene Uitgevers v Tom Kabinet Internet BV and Others [2019] EU:C:2019:1111.

  94. 94.

    CDSM Directive, Recital 5. The existing exceptions and limitations in Union law should continue to apply, including to text and data mining, education, and preservation activities, as long as they do not limit the scope of the mandatory exceptions or limitations provided for in this Directive, which need to be implemented by Member States in their national law. Directives 96/9/EC and 2001/29/EC should, therefore, be amended.

  95. 95.

    CDSM Directive, Recital 6.

  96. 96.

    CDSM Directive, Recital 7.

  97. 97.

    CDSM Directive, Recital 10.

  98. 98.

    CDSM Directive, Recital 9, which refers to TDM techniques that do not require making copies beyond the scope of the exception.

  99. 99.

    CDSM, Directive, Recital 12.

  100. 100.

    Ibid., referring to universities, other higher education institutions and their libraries, and other entities such as research institutes and hospitals that carry out research. The list is deemed exemplificative, but the different entities must share their not-for-profit nature and public-interest mission, the latter one being reflected, e.g., through public funding or recognition in laws and public contracts. The definition does not cover entities where commercial undertakings exercise decisive influence or control. Recital 13 covers publicly accessible libraries, museums, archives, audiovisual heritage institutions, and similar facilities of educational establishments, research organisations and public sector broadcasting organisations.

  101. 101.

    CDSM Directive, Recital 15. Uses for peer review, joint research and the like remain covered by the exception of Article 5(3)(a) InfoSoc.

  102. 102.

    CDSM Directive, Recital 17.

  103. 103.

    See, e.g., Geiger-Frosio-Bulayenko [3] p. 814; Hilty-Sutterer [15]; Margoni-Kretschmer [24].

  104. 104.

    Similarly, see Rosati [27] p. 429.

  105. 105.

    CDSM Directive, Article 5(2), and Recital 23 (licences) and 24 (fair compensation).

  106. 106.

    To avoid tilting the fair balance, however, Recital 24 CDSMD requires Member States to set the level of fair compensation by taking into due account national educational objectives and the harm to rightholders, and encourage the use of systems that do not create an administrative burden for educational establishments.

  107. 107.

    In fact, Recital 23 of the CDSM Directive specifies only that these goals can be reached by basing such schemes on collective licensing or extended collective licensing and that, in order to guarantee legal certainty, Member States should specify under which conditions an educational establishment can enjoy the exception or should obtain a license.

  108. 108.

    Directive 2012/28/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2012 on certain permitted uses of orphan works [2012] OJ L299/5 [OWD].

  109. 109.

    InfoSoc Directive, Article 5(3)(d) (quotation for criticism or review); Article 5(3)(k) (parody, caricature, pastiche).

  110. 110.

    Supra, note 7.

  111. 111.

    Funke Medien, para 15; Pelham, para 25; Spiegel Online, para 15.

  112. 112.

    Along with the questions in common with Funke Medien and Spiegel Online, specific points in Pelham were whether the reproduction right under Article 2(c) InfoSoc and Article 9(1)(b) of the Rental II Directive covered also very short audio snatches of another phonogram; whether §24 UrhG on free uses, not included in the list of exceptions of Article 5 InfoSoc, could be considered compatible with EU law; and whether the quotation exception under Article 5(3)(d) could be applied in cases where it was not evident that another person’s work or subject matter was being used.

  113. 113.

    Aside from the points raised also in Funke Medien and Pelham, in Spiegel Online the BGH requested clarification (i) on the applicability of the quotation exception (Article 5(3)(d) InfoSoc) in case of hyperlinking to an independent file, with no integration of the quoted text into the new text; (ii) on whether the notion of “lawfully made available to the public” under the same provision requires the author’s consent; and (iii) on whether the fact that it was possible and reasonable for Spiegel Online to obtain Beck’s consent hindered the application of the exception on reporting of current events under Article 5(3)(c).

  114. 114.

    Opinion in Funke Medien, para 29.

  115. 115.

    Id., para 31.

  116. 116.

    \(Id\)., para 30.

  117. 117.

    Id., para 37.

  118. 118.

    Id., para 40.

  119. 119.

    Id., para 41.

  120. 120.

    Ibid. AG Szpunar underlined how this was also the opinion of the ECtHR in Ashby Donald and Others v. France (2013) ECHR 287, and in Fredrik Neij and Peter Sunde Kolmisoppi v. Sweden IHRL 2038 (ECHR 2013).

  121. 121.

    Id., para 71. This sentence seems to lay the foundations for the position that AG Szpunar would adopt in the following two Opinions in Pelham and Spiegel Online, balancing the opening towards a broader use of fundamental rights in EU copyright law which some authoritative scholars have read behind the words of the Opinion in Funke Medien (Geiger- Izyumenko [6] p. 46).

  122. 122.

    Opinion in Pelham, paras 67, 70 on quotation and caricature, parody of pastiche.

  123. 123.

    \(Id\)., para 54.

  124. 124.

    Case C-399/11 Stefano Melloni v Ministerio Fiscal [2013] EU:C:2013:107.

  125. 125.

    \(Id\)., para 63. The question raised by the Bundesgerichtshof built on the BVerfG doctrine that requests assessing the constitutional legitimacy of national measures implementing EU Directives under the CFREU only if the legislator did not have any discretion, and under the German Constitution when a margin of appreciation was instead present. \(Id\)., para 72.

  126. 126.

    \(Id\)., paras 76-77.

  127. 127.

    \(Id\)., para 78.

  128. 128.

    \(Id\)., paras 81-82, 89. For a critique see Jutte-Quintais [20] p. 654.

  129. 129.

    See particularly at paras 94-95, where the AG refers to the ECtHR’s doctrine in Ashby Donald (n 122).

  130. 130.

    \(Id\)., para 94.

  131. 131.

    \(Id\)., para 98 (emphasis added).

  132. 132.

    See the Advocate General’s Opinion in Spiegel Online, para 23, which rejects also the argument according to which the importance attributed to freedom of expression constituted a German cultural specificity.

  133. 133.

    Most recently Geiger-Izyumenko [6] p. 1 et seq.

  134. 134.

    See the Advocate General’s Opinion in Spiegel Online, para 63.

  135. 135.

    \(Id\)., para 70.

  136. 136.

    Funke Medien, paras 29-38; Pelham, paras 78-85.

  137. 137.

    Funke Medien, paras 39-44; Spiegel Online, paras 23-38.

  138. 138.

    Funke Medien, paras 45-53; Spiegel Online, paras 31-38.

  139. 139.

    Funke Medien, paras 30, 32; Pelham, paras 78, 80; Spiegel Online, paras 19, 21.

  140. 140.

    Funke Medien, paras 56-63; Pelham, paras 58-64; Spiegel Online, paras 41-48.

  141. 141.

    Funke Medien, para 58; Pelham, para 59; Spiegel Online, para 43.

  142. 142.

    Funke Medien, para 68; Spiegel Online, para 52.

  143. 143.

    Funke Medien, para 72; Pelham, para 33; Spiegel Online, para 56.

  144. 144.

    Funke Medien, para 71; Spiegel Online, para 55.

  145. 145.

    Spiegel Online, paras 71-73.

  146. 146.

    Pelham, para 33.

  147. 147.

    \(Id\)., para 35.

  148. 148.

    \(Id\)., para 37. The same reference to the functions of the right features the definition of the scope of Article 9 Rental, based on Recitals 2 and 5, which justifies the attribution of a distribution right to phonogram producers with the need to fight piracy and grant them the possibility to recoup their risky investment (paras 44-46).

  149. 149.

    \(Id\)., para 38.

  150. 150.

    Funke Medien, paras 45-53; Spiegel Online, para 31-38.


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Sganga, C. A new era for EU copyright exceptions and limitations?. ERA Forum 21, 311–339 (2020).

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  • EU copyright
  • Exceptions
  • Limitations
  • Fundamental rights
  • Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive
  • CJEU
  • Harmonisation
  • Funke Medien
  • Pelham
  • Spiegel Online
  • Text and data mining
  • Digital preservation
  • Cross-border teaching