EU harmonisation of the copyright originality criterion
Less than two years ago, the Swedish Supreme Court rendered its judgment in the Mini Maglite case (NJA 2009 s 159) and ruled that the Mini Maglite flashlight was copyright protected. The Mini Maglite case concerned the pre-requisites under which a work of applied art meets the threshold of originality.
The Supreme Court’s view on the threshold of originality concept vis-à-vis “the author’s own intellectual creation”
One of the legal issues in the Mini Maglite case was whether the judgment should be based on a Swedish originality requirement or on the EU originality criterion enshrined in the EU copyright directives. The Supreme Court found that the EU harmonisation of copyright law was limited to computer programs, photography and database directives, and was not applicable to industrial designs;
“Under two EC directives, computer programs and photographs could be covered by copyright protection, inter alia, on the condition that the work is original in the sense that it is the author’s own intellectual creation; it is added that no other tests shall be applied as regards the right to protection (Directive 91/250/EEC and Directive 93/98/EEC). A directive regarding legal protection for databases has been drafted in a similar way in this respect (96/9/EC).
The partial harmonisation which follows from the directives is thus restricted to certain specified works and must be deemed as being justified by the special nature of these works. There is no reason, in this case, to discuss what the pre-requisite of originality set forth in the directives entails. However, it can be concluded that there is no support, under applicable law in the area of applied art, to deviate, under the influence of the EU Directive, from the requirements for copyright hitherto applied. […]” (my underlining)
CJEU rulings on EU originality criterion
A few months after the Mini Maglite case, the CJEU delivered a preliminary ruling in the Infopaq case (case C-5/08), a case which concerned the interpretation of the concepts “reproduction in part” and ”transient” in Articles 2 and 5, respectively in the Infosoc Directive (2001/29/EC) which harmonises certain aspects of copyright and related rights in the information society. One of the questions which the Danish Højesterett posed to the CJEU was whether the concept “reproduction in part” in the Infosoc Directive should be interpreted as encompassing storage in data systems and print-out on paper of an extract of eleven words. This meant that the CJEU first had to assess what is deemed a work under the Infosoc Directive. The CJEU concluded, based on the originality criterioin the Copyright Term Directive and the Software and Database directives, respectively, that a work which is original in the sense that it is the author’s own intellectual creation, is protected as work in the meaning of the Directive (recital 37). This originality requirement was then applied to article texts in newspapers. The Austrian government claimed that it was incumbent upon the Member States themselves, and not the CJEU, to define the concepts in the Infosoc Directive. However, the CJEU was of the opinion, with reference to case C-245/00 Sena, that it followed from both the requirement of a uniform application of community law and the principle of equal treatment, that community provisions which do not contain any express reference to the Member States’ legal systems regarding the test of their significance and scope, shall normally be given an independent and uniform interpretation throughout the entire community. The same applies to all expressions where the directives do not expressly refer to national law (cf. inter alia C 306/05 SGAE concerning the expression communication to the public in Article 3(1) and C-510/10 TV2 Danmark, respectively concerning the expression “means of their own facilities” in Article 5(2) (d) of the Infosoc Directive). Thus, following Infopaq, the issue of whether a work meets the requirements to be protected by copyright is not subject to a national test but an EU concept. Starting with Infopaq, the CJEU’s introduction of an EU originality criterion has been criticised by Schulze in GRUR 2009, 1019, among others, as being a covert harmonisation measure.
The CJEU has, in later judgments, returned to the EU originality criterion; “author’s own intellectual creation”. In BSA (case C-393/09), the Court concluded that a computer program’s user interface can be protected by copyright (however not the program) if it is the author’s own intellectual creation. Whether the originality requirement was fulfilled in the actual case was left to the national court to decide. In Murphy (joined cases C-403/08 and C-429/08), the CJEU made a concrete assessment of whether a sporting event can constitute an intellectual creation which qualifies as a work under the Infosoc Directive. The Court was of the opinion that sporting events, as such, could not constitute works as they are governed by rules of play leaving no scope for creative freedom as intended under copyright law.
In Painer (case C-145/10), the CJEU tried whether a portrait photograph constitutes a work in the sense of, inter alia, the Copyright Term Directive (98/93/EEC). In Painer, the CJEU provided (sections 88-93) the harmonized originality criterion with more precise content and stated that (i) an intellectual creation is deemed to be the author’s own if it reflects his or her personality (ii) the creation is the author’s own when the author in conjunction with the creation of his/her work has been able to express his/her creative ability by making free and creative choices. In this respect, the CJEU referred to an e contrario interpretation of the reasoning in the Murphy case, in which the CJEU concluded that a football game, as such, could not acquire copyright protection. Regarding portrait photographs per se, the CJEU was of the opinion that the author in many ways and in various instances can make free and creative choices in conjunction with the creation. The author (the photographer) may in conjunction with his/her preparation, choose the setting, pose of the person being photographed and the lighting. When the photograph is taken, he/she can choose focus, angle and the atmosphere created, and in developing the film, he/she can choose between different techniques or use a computer program. In this way, the author can stamp his/her personal touch on the work created (section 91).
A few months ago, the CJEU rendered its ruling in Dataco (case C-604/10) concerning the issue of what is meant, under the Database Directive, by a database which, due to the content selection or compilation, constitutes an intellectual work. The CJEU concluded in section 38, with reference to Infopaq, BSA and Painer, that the originality criterion was satisfied when, through the selection or arrangement of the data which it contains, the author expresses his/her creative ability in an original manner by making free and creative choices and thus stamps his ‘personal touch’ on the work.
However, according to the CJEU, the criterion is not satisfied when construction of the database is dictated by technical considerations, rules or constraints which leave no room for creative freedom. The CJEU also made it clear that, in assessing originality, the Anglo-Saxon “sweat of the brow” criterion, i.e. that the intellectual effort and skill required to create data, must not be given any relevance in the test of whether a database acquires copyright protection, if the work and skill do not express any originality in the selection or arrangement of that data. Finally, the CJEU concluded that the Database Directive constitutes an impediment for national provisions which, under Article 1(2) of the Directive, provide copyright protection on terms other than the ones set out in Article 3(1).
1. the creation is the author’s own original creation;
2. the creation reflects his or her personality;
3. the author, in conjunction with the creation of his/her work, has been able to express his/her creative ability by making free and creative choices and thus stamping his/her personal touch on the work.
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