Securing user rights in education – reflections from our policy debate.

De eerste schooldag
Both copyright reform and voluntary licensing secure user rights in education

How to secure user rights in education? This was the question we asked during a policy debate organised by Communia and hosted by MEP Michał Boni in the European Parliament on the 17th of November. Panelists, politicians and stakeholders participating in this debate discussed two approaches: the creation and use of Open Educational Resources (OER), and a progressive copyright reform for education.

While these issues are usually presented separately, as Communia we see them as two aspects of a single effort to ensure user rights in education. This two-path approach has been acknowledged at least since 2013, when the Creative Commons community argued that the movement behind open licensing policies needs to be involved in the copyright reform debate as well. Today in Europe, we are facing both developments related to OER policies (related to the Opening Up Education initiative, launched in 2013), and a copyright reform process in which education has been highlighted by the EC to be one of key areas for modernisation of copyright.Continue reading

European People’s Party on copyright reform: or, how to use licenses in 100 creative ways

representation of Last Judgement, with the archangel Michael weighing the souls (or dividing the blessed and the damned)
The EPP group seems to be in favor of preserving the status quo

Copyright reform is one of the most vividly-discussed topics in European Union in last few weeks. After the leak of the European Commission’s communication, the political parties did not wait long to take a stand in the debate. Socialists and Democrats opted to listen instead of presenting their own ideas, and organized a conference on limitations and exceptions, and geoblocking. The event was held in the Parliament on 19th November.  

On the other hand, the European People’s Party (EPP Group), the largest party in the European Parliament, issued a rather uninspiring position paper on copyright. Many wondered whether the document would present a more progressive stance on copyright reform than what we’ve seen so far from the Commission. And the answer is simply: No.

On an ideological level, the document starts with a really promising message and tone. The EPP Group claims that the most important issue is “a balanced approach on copyright” to accommodate needs of creators and consumers alike. We cannot agree more. But after stating this introduction, the EPP focuses only on creators’ rights, and presents their ultimate goal as ensuring the growth of the creative sector, leaving the issue of public domain out. It’s even more alarming that according to the EPP the only way to preserve cultural diversity in Europe is “ensuring a high level of copyright protection”.

In one sentence,  the EPP Group advocates for “a copyright system that promotes investments, the efficient functioning of value chains between authors, creators, performers, producers, publishers, journalists, intermediaries, service providers, consumers and users”. Apart from the obvious fact that culture cannot be reduced to value chains (or value trees for that matter), it is impossible to understand what they mean when they mention the needs of consumers and users, since these stakeholders have not been well represented in considering a balanced copyright reform.

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EU consultation on online platforms – your voice counts!

Vrouw met spreektrompet
Don't mess with the right to link!

As part of its effort to build a digital single market and to modernise the European Copyright rules the European Commision is currently running an online consultation on the ‘Regulatory environment for platforms, online intermediaries, data and cloud computing and the collaborative economy‘. As the name suggests this consultation bundles an enormous amount of issues into a single consultation. This monster consultation consisting of at least 115 questions depending on which type of user you are, hides a number of questions that can have huge impact on the shape of the future EU copyright framework and determine how we share and collaborate online.

These questions relate to the regulatory framework for online platforms, a term that is defined so broadly by the consultation that covers wide swaths of the Internet:

“Online platform” refers to an undertaking operating in two (or multi)-sided markets, which uses the Internet to enable interactions between two or more distinct but interdependent groups of users so as to generate value for at least one of the groups.

In other words, the Commission asks questions about platforms and services like SoundCloud, Wikipedia, YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and many others, that have become central in how European citizens communicate with each other and express themselves. Changing the regulatory framework that applies to these platforms will have far reaching consequences for all of us. In this light it is very disturbing that these questions are hidden in a consultation that appears to be designed to discourage responses from citizens. Continue reading

Leaked copyright communication: A more modern copyright framework for Europe?

Routekaart voor de beroemde plekken in Ise
Copyright quo vadis?

On Tuesday the European Commission published a roadmap outlining the next steps in their effort to modernize the EU copyright rules. The (not entirely unexpected) main takeaway from this roadmap is that the Commission is retreating from its earlier announcement that it will present a comprehensive legislative proposal for copyright modernisation before the end of 2015.

Instead the Commission will address the modernisation of copyright via a series of interventions, starting in December with a “Communication on copyright which will provide a comprehensive overview of the main issues to be tackled in order to ensure the proper functioning of the copyright marketplace, in particular in the online environment and in a cross-border context”. This communication will come together with two legislative proposals, the first dealing with the (long overdue) implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty, and the other about cross-border portability of content. In a second phase – currently promised for ‘Spring 2016’ – the Commission plans to present additional measures, including legislative updates of the InfoSoc directive.

Announcements about announcements

The rest of the roadmap consists of a fairly unstructured discussion of what might possibly be contained in the December consultation, and an extensive description of the available evidence, including the highly contentious outcomes of the 2013/2014 copyright consultation and the ongoing consultations on online platforms and the SatCab directive. But at its core the roadmap does not constitute much more than an announcement of the December communication, which in turn will be an announcement of legislative and non-legislative interventions.

Fortunately, we can ignore the rather vague roadmap and jump straight to a leaked draft of the actual communication published on Thursday by the IPkat. The draft appears to be fairly recent and is scheduled to be adopted by the Commission on the 9th of December. It is also a much more coherent document that provides us with a relatively clear overview of the Commission’s ideas of how ‘a modern, more European copyright framework’ should look. Continue reading

The Rhetoric of Copyright Extremism

In the end, nothing happened. When the European parliament adopted a compromise version of MEP Julia Reda’s evaluation report of the EU copyright directive, the attempt of MEP Jean-Marie Cavada to restrict the right to publish pictures of buildings and artworks permanently installed in public places (“freedom of panorama”) was voted down by a huge margin. The majority that had supported the Cavada amendment in the legal affairs committee vanished under a storm of protest, spearheaded by Wikipedians fighting for their right to include pictures of buildings and artworks in their free encyclopedia.

However, while the final version of the report did not suggest restricting freedom of panorama, it did not include a specific provision to protect it, either. Instead, member countries would still be free in whether and how to implement such a limitation into their respective national copyright laws. In a way, this outcome is a typical example of the widespread copyright extremism in Europe, which blocks even the most sensible and moderate copyright reform proposals.

The overall spectrum of opinions in current copyright debates ranges from abolitionism, that is, proposals to discard copyright altogether, to copyright extremism on the other side. Copyright abolitionism is a position sparsely mentioned in regulatory conversations. While authors Joost Smiers and Marieke van Schindel, for instance, have managed to create some buzz around their book “No Copyright”, the attention was only short-lived and the discussion left no real lasting mark on the conversation overall. And abolitionist positions brought forward by libertarian researchers such as Michele Boldrin, David K. Levine and their colleagues have only played a very marginal role in scientific discourse, as well.

However, we observe that rhetoric around ratcheting up extreme copyright protections plays a major role in the mainstream of regulatory conversations around copyright, while rarely recognized and called out as extremism. Rather, even the most far reaching positions are considered perfectly legitimate when brought forward in committee hearings, policy papers or campaigns. In a way, current copyright discourse is heavily skewed towards the side of copyright extremism, which makes any moderate and balanced reform of copyright laws difficult, if not impossible. Taking a closer look at the relentless rhetoric of copyright extremism might therefore help to identify and address this problem. Continue reading

Alternative Compensation Systems only work if adopted by all sides

Een violist en een fluitist musicerend
ACS: a viable solution for creators and users?

This post was written by Lisette Kalshoven and Katarzyna Rybicka.

Fifteen years ago, the explosive growth of the file sharing network Napster changed the music industry forever. It was a simple response to the difficulty of finding, downloading and sharing music over the web. Since then, policy makers and stakeholders have been trying to resolve the ongoing challenge of unauthorised copying, without much success. In many instances copyright enforcement turns out to be either ineffective, or is applied in such a way that violates fundamental rights such as the right to information, freedom of expression or privacy and protection of personal data.

Last Saturday in Amsterdam, the renowned institute for research on intellectual property rights, IViR (Institute for Information Law) held a symposium on Alternative Compensation Systems (ACS) for cultural goods. An ACS can be described as a legal mechanism which permits the reproduction, downloading, sharing and sometimes even modification of copyrighted works. This can be done without the need for an opt in from users (mandatory ACS) or with an opt in (voluntary ACS), but with both options giving compensation to the creators and copyright owners of those works.

The IViR researched the non-commercial use of cultural goods online for two years. The results suggest that consumers are dissatisfied with the existing legal access channels. As a consequence, different forms of ACS were supported by the majority of the Dutch population questioned. Continue reading

European Parliament adopts Reda report, fails to demand real copyright reform

Yesterday the European Parliament approved MEP Julia Reda’s evaluation report of the copyright directive. With the report the European Parliament gives a clear signal that the European Copyright rules need to be modernised. This puts the ball in the court of the Commission, which needs to come up with concrete legislative proposals for a copyright reform – which it promised to deliver before the end of the year. Both Commissioners Oettinger and Ansip have reacted positively to the Report, while its author, Pirate Party MEP has expressed the hope that the Commission’s proposal will be more ambitious than the EPs report, which has been watered down considerably through a large number of amendments.

So while the report is a clear signal that MEPs want to see a modernisation of the EU copyright rules that date back to 2001, it is much less clear what shape these modernised rules should take. Most of the report is based on compromises that MEP Reda has brokered between all major political groups represented in the EP. As a result, the report does not outline a clear plan for reforming copyright. Still, it is possible to distill from it a number of things that MEPs clearly both want and don’t want to see in the reform proposal. It is also clear that pressure from civil society – related to such issues as Freedom of of Panorama, hyperlinking or ancillary copyright, helped avert worst amendments to the report.

MEPs do not want to see further limitations of user rights.

Attempts have  been made to include language that would limit the rights of end users. Fortunately all of these attempts failed. The majority of MEPs is clearly unwilling to further limit the ability of citizens and other users to interact with copyright protected material. Continue reading

BEUC highlights consumer confusion in everyday uses of copyrighted material

BEUC, The European Consumer Organisation, has released an interesting fact sheet pertaining to confusion and uncertainty in consumer use of copyrighted materials. BEUC surveyed relevant stakeholders about the current copyright reform debates in the EU. These stakeholders ranged from collecting societies to academics and government ministries, and the conclusions drawn from their answers are both predictable and problematic: it seems no one can agree on the legality of using copyrighted content.

john from BEUC making a video

BEUC took simple and everyday examples on how consumers interact with copyrighted material (for example, making private copies of DVDs, selling an ebook online, or using a VPN to access your Netflix account while on holiday) and asked the stakeholder whether they believed the act was legal or not.Continue reading

Reda report: the good, the not-so-bad and the ugly compromise amendments

The County Election
Vote for the Public Domain!

Back in April we published our list of the 10 worst and the 5 best amendments to Julia Reda’s draft report on the implementation of the InfoSoc Directive. Tomorrow the Legal Affairs committee (JURI) of the European Parliament will vote on these amendments to the draft report. In light of the upcoming vote and given that Julia Reda has just published the final voting list – including the compromise amendments – it is time for one last round of analysis.

As the name implies, compromise amendments are amendments the different political groups have agreed on as replacements of sets of (often contradictory) amendments related to a specific section of the draft report. Given that they reflect a partial consensus among some of the political groups, they are relatively likely to be adopted. If a compromise amendment (AMC) is adopted, the individual amendments that they replace are automatically rejected. If a CAM is rejected then all original amendments will be voted on individually.

In the following we are taking a quick look at the compromise amendments that deal with the issues we’ve previously highlighted. If you haven’t done so already, you may want to read our initial analysis first. Continue reading

Copywrong website launched: help fix copyright

Today a new website was launched in the amp up to the vote on the Report on the Implementation of the InfoSoc Directive and its amendments on June 16 in the European Parliament’s legal affairs (JURI) Committee. The website aims to mobilise internet users to help save copyright reform at European level, in face of what is described as sabotage. It features a short film that explains in common language why copyright reform needed to make it functional in modern society:

The website,, also lists some of the most important amendements that need extra support during the vote. There is much to like on this list, including some reforms that are among our priorities: safeguarding the public domain, harmonising exceptions across Europe or providing a strong educational exception (which does not exist today). The list also includes ending geoblocking and speaks in favor of the right to quote to include video’s and sound recordings. Continue reading