Article

Fixing the Three-Step Test

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Abstract

By now, the so-called "three-step test" is at the core of copyright law. Under international copyright law, all exemptions to copyright and the so-called neighboring rights have to comply with this test. Some countries inserted the test in their national copyright acts. In others, judges apply the three-step test when they are in doubt whether an activity may be exempted. As the test is incorporated in the EU Copyright Directive of 2001, the European Court of Justice may use it while considering whether exemptions are in conformity with EU law. However, the three-step test is seriously flawed and not suited for application by the courts. It was not conceived as a threshold for determining whether certain usage should exclusively be controlled by the copyright owner, but rather as an intentionally vague diplomatic compromise. The second step, according to which usage may only be exempted if it "does not conflict with the normal exploitation" of protected subject matter, poses the main problem. This contribution sets out the problem and proposes a possible solution.

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... 22 De traditionele stap-voor-stap analyse zou kunnen worden verlaten ten gunste van een globale afweging, waarin de afzonderlijke stappen slechts factoren zijn die tegen elkaar dienen te worden afgewogen. 23 De driestappentoets kan ook worden toegepast in omgekeerde volgorde, te beginnen met de flexibele test van ongerechtvaardigde schade. De stap van de normale exploitatie zou dan alleen fungeren als een waarborg tegen misbruik van evident te ver gaande beperkingen van het auteursrecht. ...
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... Because they had learned from their previous experiences, the negotiators fell back on the three-step test that had proven to be unspecific enough for anyone to read in it what he wanted and that therefore would not hinder the reaching of consensus." 137 As a standard, the "test" had to be sufficiently imprecise to be uncontroversial and to accommodate the wide range of exceptions in existing national laws. 138 It was conceived as a capacious diplomatic compromise, serving only to preclude the most obviously wholesale destruction of the reproduction right at national level ...
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