European Commission fails to ban geoblocking, does not give up on plans to cripple online platforms

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It's not a Digital Single Market if there is geoblocking!
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Yesterday the European Commission unveiled five more elements of its Digital Single Market Strategy. These consist of new e-commerce rules (including a legislative proposal to address unjustified geoblocking), updates to the EU audiovisual rules and ‘a targeted approach to online platforms‘. From the copyright perspective the geoblocking proposal and the communication on online platforms are most interesting.

Geoblocking for online content is now officially justified

While it is not a surprise it is still disappointing that the Commission has given in to pressure from rightsholders and now considers geo-blocking of online content ‘justified’. At least that is the message it is sending out with the legislative proposal that applies to all electronically supplied services except ‘services the main feature of which is the provision of access to and use of copyright protected works or other protected subject matter‘. It takes a lot of guts to sell such a proposal as an element of a digital single market strategy as it effectively reinforces the territoriality of the digital market place for content in the EU.

This failure of the Commission to deliver on the core of its promise to create a digital single market has caused Julia Reda to launch a new campaign website that aims to stop all forms of geoblocking once and for all (we encourage you to go there and register your disappointment with the path the Commission has taken). Geoblocking of content is one of the most irritating barriers when it comes to access culture online and seriously undermines the legitimacy of the copyright system as a whole.

Intermediary liability regime remains unchanged

The most interesting part of yesterday’s announcements concern the Commission’s plans for regulating online platforms. With regards to that the Commission published both its communication on Online Platforms and the Digital Single Market and its analysis of the earlier consultation on on that matter. In the past we had expressed concerns that the Commission might consider changes to the intermediary liability regime established by the e-commerce directive which could have far reaching negative consequences. Continue reading

The Copyright Joke

Cure of Folly (Extraction of the Stone of Madness)
EUIPO's Q&A on copyright
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How many European lawyers does it take to explain copyright? Start with 28 and add another dozen, because opinions vary. Even a basic project of explaining key copyright issues to EU citizens in 15 Q&As demonstrates that not only is European copyright fragmented into 28 incompatible systems but also that explaining the law is time-consuming and sometimes plainly ridiculous.

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Guestpost: Looking beyond Google for online access to EU culture and knowledge

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Europe needs a fair, legal framework
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Last month the US Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from US authors who attempted to overturn a prior decision that Google’s scanning of millions in copyright books amounted to “fair use”. This refusal marks the end of a decade long legal fight about the Google books project. This means that in the US Google is free to scan and index in copyright protected books, in order to allow internet users to search the contents of the books.

The fact that Google is allowed to do this has received much criticism, not only from authors in the US but also from rights holders and media in Europe. Much of this criticism has been directed to the fact that the ruling allows a commercial entity to provide access to the full corpus of literature published in the US, but misses a much more important point.

As Ellen Euler, the Deputy Managing Director for Finance, Law, Communication of the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek points out in her guest contribution below, this means that internet users in the US have access to a much broader body of knowledge and culture than the internet users in the EU. According to Euler we should not see Google Books as a threat to culture but rather as a reminder that Europe urgently needs to create a legal framework that enables access to the collections of our libraries, archives and museums, preferably by allowing them to make their collections available via their own online platforms.

Looking beyond Google for online access to EU culture and knowledge

by Ellen Euler

In the the digital and networked 21st century, cultural heritage institutions have an extended mandate: they must not only provide local access to culture and knowledge, but are also expected to make their collections available via the internet. As we spend an increasing amount of our time online, expect to be able to view and enjoy the the rich collections of our libraries, museums, and archives. And it’s important to provide online access to enable the discovery and innovative reuse of our shared cultural commons. As Tim Berners-Lee, one of the inventors of the web, sums up: “What’s not on the Net, is not in the world”.

When we digitize content from cultural heritage institutions, we begin the process of opening those materials to the world. As Armand Marie Leroi, a humanist and professor of evolutionary biology once said, “digitisation transforms them from caterpillars into butterflies”. Digitized texts allow us to pose entirely new questions and acquire new knowledge based on full-text searches and via other analytical tools and methods. This type of information mining is no longer restricted only to texts. Image recognition tools, combined with standardised metadata and geographical data, make it possible to interrogate other types of content too. We can use new quantitative research methods to test hypotheses and create linkages between bodies of knowledge. We can create virtual research environments to enable the contextualisation of collections within a broader framework.Continue reading

Freedom of Panorama – can we be satisfied with only non-commercial use?

Spotprent op de uitgever Jobard te Brussel
Public spaces are part of the commons
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The current European Commission public consultation is about ancillary copyright as well as the ‘panorama exception’ (nobody seems to understand why these two were combined in a single consultation process). Freedom of panorama refers to the legal right to take and share photos, video, and images of architecture, sculptures and other works which are located in a public place. We think that the freedom of panorama should be mandatory across the EU for both noncommercial and commercial purposes. Since the issue is now on the table, it’s important that any outcome supports the commonsense right to take and share images of objects in public places.

Everyday activities should not be limited

The sharing of photos taken in public places is a commonplace activity that should not be regulated by copyright. The issue of freedom of panorama was also discussed in the Reda report. An amendment was introduced by Jean-Marie Cavada to restrict freedom of panorama to only non-commercial uses, but a huge protest from citizens, photographers, and civil society organisations—including a Change.org petition that received over 500,000 signatures—helped remove the amendment from consideration.

But this didn’t stop the Commission from reopening the issue in its most recent consultation when it  asks, “What would be the impact on your activity of introducing an exception at the EU level covering non-commercial uses of works, such as works of architecture or sculpture, made to be located permanently in public places?”. Implementing a distinction between commercial and non-commercial use of images covered under the panorama exception will muddy any legal certainty for citizens engaged in taking and sharing images. What does “commercial use” mean? Is it related only to payments for direct use of a photograph? Would images that appear on a website that also contains online advertising automatically considered to be a commercial use? Would Wikipedia be considered a commercial project because it also asks for individual donations on its site? Could a user publish a photo on a for-profit social media platform? Continue reading

Ancillary Copyright: bad for both end-users and creators

Spotprent op de uitgever Jobard te Brussel
No additional copyrights for publishers!
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The Commission’s public consultation on whether to grant additional rights to press publishers is aimed at audiences beyond the publishers themselves, to include a wide range of stakeholders – including end users, consumers, and citizens. In this third post of our series on the consultation, we highlight what the introduction of an additional right for publishers would mean for end-users of news and online information, as well as content creators. We encourage everyone to make their views known to the Commission by answering the consultation questionnaire by 15 June.

[If you have not read our introductory post that deals with the more general problems of granting additional rights to publishers, you may want to read that first.]

Bad for end-users

We’ve already argued that granting new rights to press publishers is a fool’s errand. The adoption of an EU-wide ancillary copyright would have significant negative consequences for end-users of online news and information.  And users would encounter additional hurdles in finding the news and content they were looking for. In addition, these users would potentially face more constraints in quoting, linking to, aggregating, or otherwise finding and using works. Many users that rely on curated news aggregators like Google News or even RSS readers or other apps that reproduce snippets of content from news articles. If an additional right for press publishers is enacted, users would find that these existing news products and services will likely be disrupted, their prices increased, or even discontinued altogether (as we’ve seen in Spain with Google News).

The creation of an ancillary copyright for press publishers can have far reaching effects with regard to access to information beyond the traditional new aggregation services. For example, popular social networking apps and websites used by hundreds of millions of people could be affected too. Think about sites like Facebook and Twitter that permit anyone to post links and short pieces of text. Under a system where publishers are granted an additional right to such snippets, those publishers would be able to extract fees from social networking sites (who of course would likely pass on that cost to their users) in order to allow for open linking to content.

Bad for creators

The adoption of an ancillary copyright for press publishers would also harm content creators.  The data show that granting additional rights for press publishers does not lead to higher compensation for creators. Instead, it frustrates end-users and results in big content aggregators like Google News threatening to discontinue operations if they would be required to pay royalties to publishers for linking to content or providing short snippets to publishers’ content. Even if a system could be arranged where publishers would be compensated for the reproduction of short snippets or links, it’s not clear how (or if) that money would flow back to the authors of the original content.

In addition, an ancillary copyright for press publishers would run afoul of the intentions of creators who wish to share without additional strings attached because the right could be interpreted as unwaivable. For example, the Spanish ancillary right did not treat openly-licensed content differently from content under all rights reserved copyright. Content publishers sharing under Creative Commons licenses, which is increasingly popular, would still be subject to the ancillary copyright, as we wrote then: “By making the right unwaivable aggregators are required to pay fair remuneration to a collective rights management organisations even if a creator has chosen to apply a Creative Commons license that allows the free reuse of her creation.”

Make your voice heard

If you are are content creator, or end-user, we encourage you to make your voice heard and let the Commission know why introducing new rights for publishers is a terrible idea that will damage the European news landscape, social media platforms and more. You can respond directly to the consultation on the Commission’s site, or through an easy tool on youcan.fixcopyright.eu.

We will continue this series next week by highlighting the importance of securing a broad freedom of panorama across the EU.

How additional rights for publishers will hurt education and access to culture

Spotprent op de uitgever Jobard te Brussel
No additional copyrights for publishers!
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The Commission’s public consultation on the role of publishers in the copyright value chain and on the ‘panorama exception’ is addressed at a broad range of stakeholders, which includes both ‘Libraries/Cultural heritage institutions’ and ‘Educational or research institutions’. In this second post of our series on the consultation, we highlight what the introduction of an additional right for publishers would mean for the education and cultural heritage sectors. We encourage organisations and professionals from these sectors to make their views known to the Commission. [If you have not read our introductory post that deals with the more general problems of granting additional rights to publishers you may want to read that first.]

What additional rights for publishers mean for cultural heritage institutions…

Cultural Heritage Institutions struggle with making their collections available online. While large parts of their collections are not commercially available anymore, or were never in commercial circulation to  begin with, most materials from the 20th and 21st century are still covered by copyright and neighbouring rights. In order to make their collections available online institutions have to obtain permission from rightsholders to do so (they need to ‘clear the rights’). For out of commerce works this is an extremely time consuming and expensive process. Most institutions cannot afford large scale rights clearance and as a result there are very few works from the 20th century available via the websites of cultural heritage institutions (‘the 20th century black hole‘). Continue reading

Ancillary Copyright, Publishers’ Right, Link Tax: a bad idea under any name

Spotprent op de uitgever Jobard te Brussel
No to additional copyrights for publishers!
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The Commission is currently holding a public consultation on the role of publishers in the copyright value chain and on the ‘panorama exception’. Today we’re kicking off a short series of blog posts that will highlight the problematic nature of granting new copyrights for publishers, and why full freedom of panorama should be ensured for everyone in the EU. This post explores why new copyrights for publishers are a bad idea.

A brief history of ancillary copyright in Europe

For a long time, COMMUNIA has been critical of attempts to introduce additional rights for (press) publishers (see here for a collection of previous posts). The adoption of these ancillary rights would permit publishers to monetize the use of small snippets of text by news aggregators, search engines, and possibly others who collect and share links to publishers’ articles (hence the term: link tax). It first showed up in Germany and subsequently found its way into Spanish copyright law. It is well documented that in both cases the introduction of these new rights has failed to achieve the objectives of their proponents.

These failures have not prevented publishers from trying to get such a right created on a European scale. While the idea was not present in the Commission’s Digital Single Market strategy, Commissioner Oettinger made no secret of his sympathy for the idea, and made it clear that it could surface at any moment. Continue reading

Short videos explaining ancillary copyright and freedom of panorama

Gdynia, the Polish winter sea
Complex legal concepts explained
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The European Commission recently decided to consult stakeholders on their views about two hot topics in the copyright reform discussions in Brussels: ancillary copyright and freedom of panorama. Copyright for Creativity (C4C), has released two short videos to explain what Ancillary Copyright (AC) and Freedom of Panorama (FoP) are about, and why they are important. We found these videos useful in explaining these complex legal concepts to general public. We encourage you to watch and share them.

Ancillary Copyright:

Freedom of Panorama:

The discussion around copyright reform is summarised in the third movie “#FixCopyright: Copy (aka copyright) – Draw My Life”.

Answers to the Commission’s consultation on FoP and AC must be received by 15 June. You can find a answering guide to help you navigate these issues here: http://youcan.fixcopyright.eu/.

European Commission wants feedback on ancillary copyright and freedom of panorama

Vrouw met spreektrompet
Make your voice count
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We just got done submitting our response to the Commission’s public consultation on the enforcement of intellectual property rights. But there’s no rest for the weary. Next up is the consultation on the role of publishers in the copyright value chain and on the ‘panorama exception’.

COMMUNIA will be responding to this public consultation, and you can too! Answers to the Commission’s survey must be received by 15 June. You can find a helpful answering guide at http://youcan.fixcopyright.eu/ which covers both topics adressed by the consultation. The guide was created by Copyright 4 Creativity in order to mobilize the voice of creators, internet users, and the public in the EU copyright reform process.

Ancillary copyright

Regarding the role of publishers, the Commission wants to “gather views…on the impact that granting an EU neighbouring right to publishers could have on the publishing sector, on citizens and creative industries and as to whether the need (or not) for intervention is different in the press as compared to other publishing sectors.” This “neighbouring right” is also known as “publishers right” or “ancillary copyright”. It’s also been referred to as a “link tax” because it is intended to permit content publishers to charge search engines and other content aggregators for incorporating short snippets or even linking to news articles.

As we’ve written before, ancillary copyright is good for no one. Everyday internet users and consumers of news and articles would then have a harder time finding the news and information they were looking for, and would potentially face more constraints in quoting, linking to, aggregating, or otherwise using works protected by a new ancillary right for press publishers.

There is no decent business case for ancillary copyright either. Spain and Germany experimented with ancillary copyrights for press publishers, and both seem to have failed miserably. The Spanish law ended in Google News shuttering its operation there because it did not make (economic) sense  to have to pay license fees to news publishers for the for the use of snippets as part of a service which primary function is to drive traffic to them. By now the publishers have figured this out themselves as the amount of traffic they receive from Google News and other aggregators has dropped significantly. After the implementation of the new law, traffic to the publishers’ content decreased 6 to 14 percent. The same thing happened in Germany, except the German publishers saw what had happened in Spain and literally gave Google a free license to their content. And it’s not just the big news aggregators that are affected. In Spain, some smaller aggregators shut down entirely. Recently, a small business which curated links and news about Alzheimer’s disease that had to remodel their entire business because of the ancillary copyright law in Spain.

Last year the European Parliament rejected the introduction of an ancillary copyright amendment into the Reda  report, and earlier this year over 80 MEPs wrote a letter to the Commission opposing it.

Freedom of Panorama

The current consultation also asks for input to inform the Commission’s analysis regarding the ‘panorama exception’. Freedom of panorama refers to the legal right to take and share photos, video, and images of architecture, sculptures and other works which are permanently located in a public place. We think that the freedom of panorama should be mandatory across the EU. The sharing of photos taken in public places is an example of an everyday activity that should not be regulated by copyright. This issue was also brought up in the discussion around the Reda report. An amendment was introduced to restrict freedom of panorama to only non-commercial uses, but a huge protest from citizens, photographers, and civil society organisations—including a Change.org petition that received over 500,000 signatures—helped remove the amendment from consideration.

It’s important that the Commission hear from the public about both of these topics. In the coming weeks, we will publish a series of blog posts about questions posed by this consultation. We hope that these posts will highlight what is at stake. Communia will also be responding to the public consultation process, and you can provide your feedback too. Again, responses to the Commission’s survey must be received by 15 June, and you can check out how to answer the questions with the guide at http://youcan.fixcopyright.eu/.

Online platforms: Commission wants to make the internet more like traditional media

Fight with Cudgels
Reform copyright, don't break the internet!
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Last week Politico published a leaked draft of the Commission’s forthcoming communication on Online Platforms in the Digital Single Market. As the the title suggests, this is another piece of the puzzle in the Commission’s attempt to create a European Digital Single Market. While it does not directly deal with copyright issues, the document discusses important implications for the future of copyright in the EU (and beyond).

According to the Commission, the communication takes into account the input the Commission already received in response to last year’s consultation on the ‘Regulatory environment for platforms, online intermediaries, data and cloud computing and the collaborative economy’. Back in November—when we urged our readers to reply to that consultation—we pointed out that the Commission was:

… considering measures including the introduction of an ancillary copyright for press publishers (link tax), limitations of the right to link and modifications of the liability limitation for hosting providers.

The leaked draft confirms these expectations—at least in part. It contains language that seems to be intended to undermine the existing liability limitations for hosting providers. In addition, it makes thinly-veiled references to an introduction of an ancillary copyright (which of course fits right in with the recently released consultation on such a right).

An attack on intermediary liability is an attack on the open internet.

With regard to copyright, the most interesting part of the communication is the section titled ‘Ensuring that online platforms react responsibly’. In this section, the Commission seems to praise the existing intermediary liability regime:

Although the present Intermediary liability regime, as set out in the e-Commerce directive, was designed at a time when online platforms did not have the scale they have today, it created a regulatory environment that has considerably facilitated their scaling up. This is in part due to the harmonisation of the exemption of all types of online platforms from liability for illegal content and activities that they do not control. The public consultation showed strong support for the existing principles of the e-Commerce directive, but also the need to clarify certain concepts, including the scope of the safe harbour for intermediary liability, including for online platforms. Given this background the commission intends to preserve the existing liability regime.

Unfortunately, the Commission wants to say one thing and do another. About half a page later the the Commission observes that… Continue reading