Communia supports the WTO TRIPS Waiver for COVID-19

Italian Landscape with Umbrella Pines
Supporting an equitable response to emergencies
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Today, Communia and a group of over 100 organisations and more than 150 academics and experts issued a statement calling for the World Trade Organization (WTO) to temporarily suspend its rules on intellectual property where needed to support the prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19.

This diverse group representing researchers, educators, students, information users, and the institutions that support them, urges all WTO Members to endorse the TRIPS waiver proposal presented by India and South Africa, including provisions that address “the copyright barriers to the prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19”.

All over the world, educational institutions, research organizations and cultural heritage institutions have been forced into closure as a non-pharmaceutical measure to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, the majority of national copyright laws in all the continents have no elasticity to cover educational, research and public interest activities that need to take place remotely during the periods when the physical premises of those institutions are closed due to emergencies that fundamentally disrupt the normal organization of society, like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Furthermore, as pointed out in the statement, “(i)n too many countries, researchers lack the rights they need to use the most advanced research methodologies, such as text and data mining, to help find and develop treatments to COVID-19.”

The fact that copyright laws are not able to support these activities constitutes a barrier to an equitable response to COVID-19, and it shows that these laws cannot be deemed to have properly internalized the fundamental rights to freedom of information, freedom of science and education. 

Therefore, the signatories call for urgent action to clarify that all copyright and related rights treaties, including the copyright provisions of the TRIPS Agreement:

  • Can and should be interpreted and implemented to respect the primacy of human rights obligations during the pandemic and other emergencies, including the rights to seek, receive and impart information, to education, and to freely participate in cultural life and share in scientific advancement and its benefits, while protecting the moral and material interests of authors;
  • Permit governments to protect and promote vital public interests during a health or other emergency; 
  • Permit governments to carry forward and appropriately extend into the digital environment limitations and exceptions that are appropriate in the digital network environment, particularly during a health or other emergency. 

You can read the full statement here

Video Recording of COMMUNIA Salon on the German proposal to implement Article 17

On Thursday we held the second COMMUNIA Salon in 2021. This time we discussed the German governments’ proposal for implementing the controversial Article 17 of the CDSM Directive. Taking place less than three months before the implementation deadline for the directive, this edition zoomed in on one of the most advanced legislative efforts to implement the directive (the Netherlands, which adopted their implementation law at the end of last year is the only Member State that is further along in the legislative process). The discussion was kicked off by a presentation by Dr Thomas Ewert and Dr Martin Bittner from the German Federal Ministry for Justice and Consumer Protection, who have been responsible for drafting the legislation. Their introduction presentation, focusing on the legislative history of the draft and its core mechanism, can be found between 02:30 and 28:50 in the video recording: 

One highlight of the presentation was the revelation that the Ministry has also filed an amendment to its own proposal, that expands the transparency provisions contained in the proposal. The proposed amendment would allow access to “data on the use of procedures for the automated and non-automated recognition and blocking of content to authorised parties” for scientific research purposes. In the light of our repeated calls for more transparency when it comes to the use of automated content recognition, this is a small but significant improvement of the proposal. 

The initial presentation was followed by perspectives from Marco Pancini (YouTube), Xavier Blanc (AEPO-ARTIS) and Julia Reda (GFF) who highlighted different aspects of the legislative proposal. Speaking from the perspective of large pan European platforms Marco Pancini expressed concerns about the variation of legislative approaches in the Member States with Germany marking one end of the spectrum. According to him this will lead to fragmentation of the digital single market and create substantial compliance burdens for all types of platforms.

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COMMUNIA salon on the German proposal to implement Article 17

COMMUNIA Salon: The German proposal to implement Article 17 revisedLicentie

On Wednesday, the 17th of March, we will be organising the next edition of our virtual COMMUNIA Salon. This time we will  take another look at the  German implementation proposal for Article 17 of the DSM directive: On the 3rd of February the German government formally adopted its implementation proposal which is now headed for a first reading in the German parliament (Bundestag) later this month. We will examine how the proposal differs from the original implementation proposal that we discussed in July of last year, and what we can learn from the German approach to implementing Article 17. 

For this edition of the COMMUNIA Salon we will be joined by Dr. Martin Bittner und Dr. Thomas Ewert of the German Ministry for Justice and Consumer Protection (BMJV) who will present the implementation proposal. We will have reaction from Julia Reda (Project lead control © at GFF and former MEP), Marco Pancini (Youtube) and (Xavier Blanc (AEPO-ARTIS). The presentations will be followed by an informal question and answer session and concluding remarks by Paul Keller (COMMUNIA/Open Future). The Salon will be moderated by Teresa Nobre. 

The German proposal has been adopted at an interesting time. While the Commission is finalising its implementation guidance, the German proposal shows what the user rights-preserving implementation foreseen by the Commission in its draft guidance could look like in practice. The proposed German implementation of Article 17 contains specific mechanisms designed to ensure that platforms comply with the requirement in Article 17 that legal uploads must not be blocked. While the proposal is not without flaws, it can nevertheless serve as an example for other Member States looking for a way to implement Article 17 in a user rights-preserving way

As always, the COMMUNIA Salon is open for everyone to attend and will be held on Zoom. Join us on Wednesday, the 17th of March, at 1530 CET, by registering here. Registered participants will receive login information ahead of the event.

German government draft on Article 17: Two steps forward, one step back

Rechtvaardigheid (Justitia)
maintaining the balance?
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At the beginning of February, the German Government (the “Bundeskabinett”) adopted the proposal for the implementation of the copyright directive, which opens the path for discussions in Parliament. While the proposal that has been adopted earlier this month has undergone significant changes since the first versions emerged in January 2020 (the provisions dealing the the new neighbouring rights for press publishers and most of the exceptions) and in June 2020 (the provisions dealing with Article 17, Out-of-Commerce Works and the protection of the Public Domain), it still remains one of the most ambitious implementation efforts that we have seen so far.

This post will take a closer look at the provisions implementing Article 17 of the Directive into German law. As we had noted in our analysis of the original discussion draft from June last year, the German legislator is proposing to implement these provisions into a new act that is separate from the copyright act: the “Act on the Copyright Liability of Online Sharing Content Service Providers”. By now the proposal for this act has undergone two public revisions. After the first discussion draft in June, the Ministry of Justice published a revised draft (“Referentenentwurf“) in October of last year. This revised version maintained the core user rights safeguards underpinning the original proposal (a new remunerated exception for minor use and the ability for uploaders to flag uploads as legitimate) while making a few changes to the way the pre-flagging mechanism works

A step back for user rights

Just as the original discussion draft, the Referentenentwurf drew massive criticism from rightsholders that was primarily directed at the user rights safeguards contained in the proposal. Unfortunately the Ministry of Justice has now caved in to some of these demands and as a result  the user rights safeguards have been further cut back in the final proposal adopted by the government (“Regierungsentwurf“).

The most substantial change in the Regierungsentwurf concerns the legal mechanism for ensuring that user rights are protected in line with the requirements of paragraph 17(7). The original proposal relied on a new exception that legalised minor uses of copyrighted works (any use consisting of less than 20 seconds of audio or video, 1000 characters of text or images smaller than 250Kb) and would have prevented platforms from blocking such uses. 

In the updated proposal this exception is gone and has been replaced by a more limited construction of “uses presumably authorised by law” which cannot be blocked automatically. For a use to be “presumably authorised by law” it needs to fulfil the following cumulative criteria:

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France once more fails to demonstrate support for its interpretation of Article 17

Paye qui Tombe
Ex-post redress is still not good enough
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Last week the French Ministry of Culture held a virtual event to present the second report on content recognition tools on digital sharing platforms commissioned by the Conseil Supérieur de la Propriété Littéraire et Artistique (High Council for literary and artistic property – CSPLA). The new CSPLA report, authored by Jean-Philippe Mochon (who had also authored the previous report on content recognition tools), focuses on “proposals for the implementation of Article 17 of the EU copyright directive”. The report consists of three parts: 

The first part contains a “review of existing best practices” of the use of content recognition tools. Here, the authors argue that such tools “must be given their rightful place in the implementation of Article 17 of the Directive”. The second part of the report focuses on the “balance between the fundamental rights set out in Article 17”. The third and concluding part of the report contains a number of recommendations for implementing Article 17 in France (and beyond). 

The central argument that is woven throughout the CSPLA report is that automated content recognition technologies already play an important role in managing copyright on digital sharing platforms, that Article 17 provides for sufficient fundamental rights protection through the complaint and redress mechanism alone, and that temporary restrictions on freedom of expression are considered acceptable to achieve the goal of stronger protection of intellectual property rights. A more detailed critique of some of the core arguments contained in the middle part can be found in this post on the Kluwer Copyright Blog

To mark the occasion of the publication of the CSPLA report, the French permanent representation in Brussels hosted a (virtual) event that was clearly intended to demonstrate additional support for the French position in the discussion about the implementation of Article 17. 

For the presentation of the report the organizers had invited the authors of the report and three external speakers, representing the European co-legislators: MEP Axel Voss (the European Parliament’s rapporteur for the DSM directive), Marco Giorello (the head of the Copyright Unit of the European Commission) and Ricardo Castanheira (representing the Portugese Council Presidency). If the organizers of the event had hoped that these speakers would express support for the French position in the Article 17 implementation discussion, then they must have been quite disappointed: None of the three respondents came forward with unqualified support for French interpretation of Article 17. As expected, Marco Giorello made it clear once more that the Commission does not agree with the French position that there is no need for ex-ante user rights safeguards in national implementations of Article 17:

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Video Recording of COMMUNIA Salon on the role of ex-ante user rights safeguards in implementing Article 17

Yesterday, we held the first 2021 edition of our COMMUNIA Salon. This virtual edition focused on the role of ex-ante user rights safeguards in implementing Article 17. This is certainly the most controversial question that has arisen during the national discussions of the implementation of Article 17, and one that will likely be discussed long after the deadline for implementing the new Copyright Directive is over. During the event we heard the Commission’s views on the topic, recollected the legislative history of Article 17(7), and learned about two implementation proposals that are currently being discussed in Germany and Finland. If you have missed the event you can watch a recording of the presentations and the subsequent discussion here: 

The event was kicked off by Marco Giorello (Head of Copyright Unit, European Commission), who started by recalling that the main objective of Article 17 is to foster the conclusion of licensing agreements between rightholders and online platforms, and not to provide an enforcement tool to rightholders against illegal content. He then summarized the Commission’s views on the practical application of Article 17(7), clarifying that this provision requires online platforms to consider legitimate uses ex-ante and that it is not enough for Member States to give flesh to user rights by simply relying on ex-post redress and complaint mechanisms. He further acknowledged the struggles in finding a solution to implement Article 17 in a balanced way, pointing out that this is probably the first time that the EU lawmakers are trying to find a way to respect fundamental rights in a machine-to-machine environment.

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COMMUNIA salon on the role of ex-ante user rights safeguards in implementing Article 17

the role of ex-ante user rights safeguardsLicentie

On the 26th of January at 1530 (CET) we are hosting the first COMMUNIA salon of 2021. This edition will focus on the most controversial question of the discussions surrounding the implementation of Article 17: the need to introduce ex-ante user rights safeguards in national implementations of the directive, to ensure that legitimate uses of third party works cannot be automatically blocked. 

In the discussions over the past year the need for ex-ante user right protections has become apparent. In its targeted consultation, the Commission has made it clear “that it is not enough […] to only restore legitimate content ex post” and, in the CJEU hearing in Case C-401/19, the Commission and the Council have argued that the requirement not to prevent the availability of legitimate uploads takes precedence over the requirement to make best efforts to prevent the availability of works that rightsholders want to keep off a platform. 

By now three Member States have made implementation proposals that include such ex-ante safeguards. Germany and Austria have put forward draft laws that introduce “minor use” thresholds and allow users to pre-flag legitimate uploads. Finland has proposed a “blocking mechanism” that would require rightsholders to review uploads containing their works before they can issue a blocking request. 

During the upcoming COMMUNIA salon, we will be discussing these proposals with Julia Reda (former MEP and project lead at GFF), Viveca Still (Senior Copyright Advisor, Ministry of Culture, Finland), Marco Giorello (Head of Copyright Unit, European Commission) and Tobias Holzmüller (General Counsel, GEMA). The Salon will be moderated by Alek Tarkowski (COMMUNIA/Open Future). 

The presentations will be followed by an informal question and answer session and concluding remarks by Paul Keller (COMMUNIA/Open Future).

This event is open for everyone to attend and will be held on Zoom. In order to ensure smooth participation we request participants to register beforehand. Registered participants will receive login information ahead of the event.

DSM Directive implementation update: more proposals to protect users’ rights

Gennaro
Five months to go ...
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The implementation deadline for the Copyright in the Digital Single Market is a mere five months ahead of us. On the 7th of June, the EU Member States are expected to have implemented the 2019 update of the EU copyright rules. With less than half a year to go, it is looking increasingly unlikely that more than a small handful of Member States will manage to implement the new provisions by the deadline. In this post, we are taking stock of the implementation process focussing on what has changed since our update from a month ago

While the past month included the holiday break, there have still been some significant developments. This included the first member state to have completed the implementation process (the Netherlands) and the first Member state to throw in the towel and officially announce that the implementation process will only be concluded after the implementation deadline (Denmark). But before we look at these developments in more detail, let’s first have a look at the discussions surrounding the implementation of Article 17.

There has been no further progress on the Commission’s Article 17 implementation guidance. Originally expected to be presented in the second half of 2020, there is no sign of them yet. So far the Commission has not even managed to publish the responses to the consultation that was concluded in September 2020.

More Member States commit to protecting users’ rights.

With no clear timeline for the Commission guidelines, more and more Member States have given up waiting and are presenting their implementation ideas for Article 17. In early December the Austrian Ministry of Justice circulated a first proposal for implementing Article 17 among stakeholders for feedback (see our joint response with epicenter.works and SaveTheInternet Austria here). This proposal takes up a number of key elements of the previous German proposals (direct remuneration right for creators, the ability to pre-flag uploads as legitimate, a threshold that protects minor uses from automated blocking, and the ability for users’ organizations to act against structural overblocking) and fits them into a more traditional approach: Where the German legislator proposes to implement the Article 17 provisions in a separate law, the Austrian proposal would integrate the provisions into the body of the existing copyright act. 

In Germany, the discussion about the implementation proposal is still ongoing: Seemingly in response to pressure from the rightsholders and platforms (channeled via other ministries controlled by the CDU) the Ministry of Justice has retracted one of the most controversial elements of its implementation proposal: A new leaked version of the proposal (dated 22 November) is missing the controversial “de minimis” exception that would have legalized uses of works shorter than 20 seconds of audio or video or 1000 characters of text. However, the same thresholds are now part of a new mechanism that protects “presumably legitimate uses” as long as they do not exceed 50% of an original work and combine the matched work with other material. While much weaker than a standalone exception, this mechanism would still ensure that many forms of user-uploaded creative expression could not be automatically blocked. 

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Finnish Article 17 implementation proposal prohibits the use of automated upload filters

Putti spelen op een wip
No upload filters after all?
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On Monday, the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture held a public hearing on the implementation of Article 17 of the Copyright Directive. As part of this meeting, the Ministry outlined its proposal for a user rights-preserving “blocking procedure” that substantially deviates from all other implementation proposals that we have seen so far. 

The procedure presents a radical departure from the approach that is underpinning other user rights-preserving implementation proposals (such as the Austrian and German proposals) and the Commission’s proposed (and much delayed) Article 17 implementation guidance. Instead of limiting the use of automated filters to a subset of uploads where there is a high likelihood that the use is infringing, the Finnish proposal does away with automated blocking of user uploads entirely, but not with automated detection of potential infringements. 

The Finnish proposal relies on mandatory use of content recognition technology by platforms and the rapid notification of rightsholders of uploads that match works for which rightsholders have provided them with reference information. However, platforms are only required to disable access to uploaded content after rightsholders have provided them with a properly justified request to block a particular upload:

While this approach bans automated filtering of user uploads, it still heavily relies on automated content recognition technology. The proposed “blocking procedure” requires that all platforms covered by Article 17 would need to have technology in place that can match uploads to reference information provided by rightsholders so that rightsholders can be directly notified when matching content is uploaded. Notifications sent to rightsholders also include the justifications that uploaders have provided at the time of upload as to why they consider a use of third-party content to be legitimate. 

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Austrian Article 17 proposal: The high road towards implementation?

Berglandschap met mensen op een weg
Reconciling the internal contradictions of Art. 17
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So far there we have seen two different approaches to implementing Article 17 into national copyright legislation. On the one hand, we have countries like France, the Netherlands, or Croatia who have presented implementation proposals that stick as closely as possible to the language and the structure of Article 17 while implementing its provisions within the structure of their existing copyright acts. In doing so these implementations essentially kick the can down the road with regards to figuring out how the conflicting requirements to filter (17(4)) and requirements to ensure that legal uploads are not filtered out (17(7)) can be reconciled. In the end, none of these implementation proposals offer a convincing mechanism for ensuring that creators get remunerated and that users’ rights are not violated.

On the other hand, we have the German approach that proposes to implement Article 17 via a separate “copyright-service-provider law” (“Urgeberrechts Diensteanbieter Gesetz”) that substantially departs from the language in an attempt to capture the structure and effet utile of the directive.

The German implementation proposal focuses on using the room for legislative discretion left by the directive to give practical meaning to the abstract requirements to protect user rights contained in the directive. It also adds measures aimed at ensuring that individual creators directly benefit from the new rules. As a result, the German implementation proposal is much closer to the legislative compromise struck by Article 17 than any of the more literal implementation proposals that have emerged so far.

Over the past few months, the German implementation proposal has come under intense pressure from exclusive rightsholders and some platforms who argue that the proposed approach does not adequately reflect the provisions of Article 17. Besides, rightsholders have also claimed that it violates national and international copyright law in multiple ways. A central argument of the opponents of the German implementation proposal is the claim that it strays too far from the text of the directive.

Given this background, it is interesting to see the first Austrian implementation proposal (that was circulated to stakeholders for feedback earlier this week) take a middle road between the two existing approaches. The Austrian implementation proposal does integrate the provisions from Article 17 directly into the text of the existing Austrian copyright act, thus deviating from the structure of Article 17, but mostly stays very close to the text of the directive. At the same time, it takes up key elements first introduced in the German approach: The non-waivable direct remuneration right for authors and performers, the protection of minor uses from automated filters, the ability for users to flag uploads as legitimate, and the ability for users’ organizations to act against platforms that engage in structural over-blocking. The result is a proposal that (similar to the German one) focuses on strengthening the position of creators and users, instead of leaving it up to platforms and large corporate rightsholders to set their own rules.

The Austrian proposal in more detail.

So let’s look at the Austrian proposal in more detail: Similar to the German proposal it introduces a direct remuneration right for authors and performers that will ensure that independent of existing contractual arrangements with publishers and other intermediaries, creators will be remunerated for the use of their works on platforms. As in the German proposal, this direct remuneration right can only be exercised via collective management organizations, which means that it will primarily benefit creators in sectors with existing collective management structures. In the German discussion this direct remuneration right has been strongly criticized by both platforms, who would prefer not to pay for obvious reasons) and by intermediary rightsholders, who prefer to control how much (or rather little) of their licensing revenue should go to the actual creators. Given that the need to make sure that creators benefit from the use of their works on platforms was the main argument for getting Article 17 in the first place, the fact that rightsholders are now trying to undermine the proposed direct remuneration right is more than a little bit hypocritical. Continue reading