One of the most important elements of any implementation of Article 17 will be how platforms can reconcile the use of automated content filtering with the requirement not to prevent the availability of legitimate uploads. While most implementation proposals that we have seen so far are silent on this crucial question, both the German discussion proposal and the Commission’s consultation proposal contain specific mechanisms that are intended to ensure that automated content filters do not block legitimate uploads, and that uploads are subject to human review if they are not obviously/likely infringing.
In order to achieve this objective, the German discussion draft published in June relies on the idea of “pre-flagging”: users would be allowed to flag uploads containing third party works as legitimate. Platforms would then be prevented from automatically blocking pre-flagged uploads unless they determine that the flag is incorrect because the upload is “obviously infringing”.
By contrast, the Commission’s implementation guidance consultation proposes a “match-and-flag” mechanism: if upload filters detect the presence of a third party work in an upload and the use is not deemed to be “likely infringing”, then the uploader is notified and given the ability to state that the use is legitimate. If the user flags the upload as legitimate, the platform will have to initiate a human review of the upload, which remains available from the moment of upload until the review has been concluded. This type of mechanism was first suggested by a group of copyright academics in October of last year. It is also at the core of the proposal that we had presented during the last meeting of the stakeholder dialogue.
Both approaches provide a mechanism that limits the application of fully automated upload filters (while implicitly acknowledging the fact that many platforms will deploy upload filters). In the Commission’s proposal, filters are limited to making a pre-selection (“is the upload likely infringing?”); in the German proposal, they can only operate on unflagged content and to filter out “obviously incorrect” pre-flags.
Convergence on “match-and-flag”?
Both approaches have been criticised by rightholders, who claim that they undermine the “original objective of the directive” without providing alternative proposals on how automated filtering can be reconciled with the requirement not to block legitimate uploads. In addition, the German discussion proposal has also been criticised by platforms such as Google and Facebook. The platforms are arguing that giving users the ability to pre-flag every single upload would be impractical and would likely lead to substantial numbers of unnecessary (where the content in question is already licensed) or unjustified (users making excessive use of the pre-flagging tool) pre-flags, which would make such a system impractical to operate at scale. Continue reading
Back in January of this year, we noted how both the Netherlands and France (at that point the only Member States that had presented proposals to implement Article 17) had proposed selective implementations of Article 17 that ignored crucial user rights safeguards. A lot has happened since January, but yesterday both Member States took further steps in their national implementations. And this time the two Member States are moving in opposite directions:
While the Dutch government has reacted to criticism from civil society and members of Parliament by fixing some of the most obvious shortcomings of its implementation law, the 2nd chamber of the French Parliament has adopted a law that gives the French government the power to implement Article 17 (and the rest of the provisions of the DSM directive) however it sees fit.
Netherlands: a course correction
Back in July of 2019, the Netherlands were the first country to propose an implementation law of the DSM directive. Somewhat surprisingly (the Netherlands had been one of the most vocal opponents of Article 17 in the Council) the proposed implementation law did not make any efforts to protect user rights and omitted most of the user rights safeguards contained in the final version of Article 17. After the proposal was sent to Parliament in June this year, together with Bits of Freedom and others we pointed out these shortcomings to the members of the legal affairs committee. Yesterday, in response to questions from members of the legal affairs committee, the government conceded that its original implementation proposal was incomplete and added the missing user rights safeguards to the proposal for an implementation law. Continue reading
Yesterday Politico published the response submitted by the French Government to the Commission’s stakeholder consultation on the article 17 implementation guidance. For anyone who has followed the French position in the debate about Article 17, the response (see here for an english language “courtesy translation”) will not be very surprising. The French reaction rejects the majority of what the Commission is proposing and questions and accuses the Commission of reversing the progress that (according to the French government) has been made with the adoption of Article 17 in early 2019. This position is largely aligned with the grievances expressed by a coalition of rightholders organisations in their recent letter to Commissioner Breton and it is consistent with the way France is implementing Article 17 in its national law (next week the Assemblée nationale will vote on a law that will authorise the French Government to implement the provisions of the DSM directive by decree).
Unfortunately, it is also based on a flawed understanding of the issue at hand. Since the French authorities note in their reaction that they “will carefully consider stakeholders’ responses and are open to continued discussions so that future guidance may play their concrete technical role with regards to the correct application of article 17”, it is necessary to clear up some of the misunderstandings here.
Misrepresenting Article 17
The constant references, on the side of rightholders and from the French government, to the “original objective”, “goal” or “spirit” of the directive try to mask the fact that the actual text of the directive is not as clear-cut as rightsholders and the French government would like it to be. The fact is that, in between its introduction (as Article 13) in 2016 and its adoption (as Article 17) in 2019, the provisions dealing with the “Use of protected content by online content-sharing service providers” have undergone substantial changes.
What was proposed as a relatively simple intervention to strengthen the position of rightholders vis-à-vis content sharing platforms by changing the liability position of said platforms, has – following intense criticism from academia, civil society and internet users – been transformed into a convoluted legal regime that serves a number of conflicting objectives. Article 17 now includes strong language that establishes new user rights and provides meaningful safeguards for preserving these rights. These additions to the article were essential in securing its adoption by the EU legislator. As a result, in the final version of the article, the original objective of strengthening the position of rightholders is just one of a number of objectives.
By now it seems clear that in their fierce determination to get the new copyright directive adopted, many of the supporters of the original proposal have failed to notice that the final legislative compromise had morphed into an article that is fundamentally different from what was originally proposed. In supporting the final compromise of Article 17, rightholders and the French government have in fact supported provisions that go against their long established positions. Continue reading
This week, the member states of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) postponed a decision on the Wikimedia Foundation’s application to become an official observer of this organization. China raised concerns, at 61st series of meetings of the Assemblies of WIPO Member States, that the Wikimedia Foundation “has been carrying out political activities through its member organizations which could undermine the state’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” The Wikimedia Foundation would need to provide further clarifications about the volunteer-led Wikimedia Taiwan chapter and about Wikimedia’s “Taiwan-related positions.” Discussion will resume at an extraordinary session of the General Assembly in early 2021.
This decision came as a shock to many observers of WIPO, since there has only been one case in recent memory where an observer status application to WIPO has not been accepted. In 2014, the Pirate Party International was rejected due to being a federation of political parties. As highlighted by the United States in its statement in support of Wikimedia Foundation’s application, “allowing the Wikimedia foundation to participate as an observer would be entirely consistent with the established precedent at WIPO of supporting other existing observers and Member States that also have some affiliation with Taiwan.”
According to Amanda Keton, General Counsel of the Wikimedia Foundation,
“(t)he objection by the Chinese delegation limits Wikimedia’s ability to engage with WIPO and interferes with the Foundation’s mission to strengthen access to free knowledge everywhere.”
This week, we have submitted our response to the European Commission’s consultation on the opportunities offered by digital technologies for the cultural heritage sector. We agree, it is high time to revisit the approach defined by the Recommendation on the digitisation and online accessibility of cultural material and digital preservation from 2011. Ten years is a lot of time and a new approach is needed due to three factors: advances in digitisation of heritage, legal reforms that took place in the meantime – especially the new Copyright Directive, and the rapidly changing digital environment.
We believe that cultural policies, to be fit for their purpose both today and in the years ahead, need to be based on an updated vision of the role of digital heritage for Europe’s societies. We need strategies that support the creation of social, cultural, and economic value based on Europe’s heritage. This is especially true in 2020, when during the Covid-19 pandemic the value of digitised cultural heritage for our societies became clearly visible. Yet it was also a time when many of the cultural heritage institutions faced a crisis.
We need an approach to cultural heritage that recognizes its value to the society and ensures the resilience of cultural heritage institutions and the cultural sector.
Below you will find highlights of the issues that we raise in our response. You can also download the full response as a PDF file.
Earlier today 27 (update 17-09-2020: 32) civil society organisations sent a joint letter to Commissioner Breton summarising our responses to the Article 17 guidance consultation that closed last week. In addition to organisations participating in the stakeholder dialogue, the letter has also received support from a broad coalition of digital and human rights organisations from across Europe.
The letter expresses concerns that the proposed Article 17 guidance endorses the use of automated content blocking by online services even though it is clear that this will lead to the violation of fundamental rights. It also warns that implementations of Article 17 based on the proposed guidance will violate established principles of EU law.
In this context the letter highlights the need for meaningful safeguards for legitimate uses of content uploaded to online platforms, and stresses the need for a robust redress mechanism for users. Summarising the consultation responses submitted by the various signatories, the letter highlights the importance of ensuring that uploads that are not manifestly infringing must remain online until a human review has taken place. The letter further stresses the importance of involving users’ organisations when setting technical parameters that are used to determine if an upload is manifestly infringing or not.
The letter further highlights the need for full transparency of (automated) content removals and the ability for users (and user organisations on their behalf) to take actions against the abuse of the measures introduced by Article 17 of the DSM directive.
Finally, the letter also expresses support for the Commission’s clarification that Article 17 constitutes a “lex specialis” to the provisions of the InfoSoc Directive which provides Member States with maximum flexibility to include user rights preserving authorisation mechanisms in their national legislation.
You can read the full letter including the list of signatories here.
Yesterday we submitted our response to the European Commission’s targeted consultation on the Article 17 guidance. As we have explained previously, with this consultation the Commission was seeking feedback on its initial ideas for the Article 17 implementation guidance, which the Commission intends to publish before the end of the Year. The document is intended to provide Member States with guidance on how to balance the conflicting requirements of Article 17 (preventing copyright infringements while ensuring that legal uses are not affected) when implementing it in their national legislations.
As we said in our initial analysis, we were very happy to note a clear commitment of the Commission to maintain the delicate legislative balance of Article 17 that reflected many of the constructive contributions that have been made by stakeholders across the spectrum during the dialogues. In general, we consider the Commission’s proposal a step in the right direction and this is reflected in our response to the consultation. Unsurprisingly, organisations representing rightholders have a completely different reaction to the proposal and have already started a campaign to convince the Commission into abandoning its approach. Continue reading
On Thursday, the 17th of September, we will be organising the fourth Communia Salon this year. During the online event, organised in cooperation with the #NoWorries project, we want to discuss policies that concern digital cultural heritage. Our meeting will take place right after the European Commission will close its consultation on opportunities offered by digital technologies for the culture heritage sector. We also want to discuss the ongoing implementation of the Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive, and the rules that it will set for cultural heritage institutions.
In the consultations, the European Commission is referring to the “Recommendation on the digitisation and online accessibility of cultural material and digital preservation”, from 2011. Almost a decade has passed since then, and large amounts of heritage have been digitised. The term “digitisation” has been replaced with the idea of digital transformation. At the same time, barriers and challenges to access and reuse still remain – heritage in digitised form is a potentially underused resource.
During the salon, we want to ask representatives of key stakeholders from the heritage sector: what are the effects of digital technologies on the cultural heritage sector, and how should we shape them with appropriate policies? With regard to copyright regulations, we want to discuss wheter the reform went far enough, and whether it struck the the right balance? We also want to consider whether any other policies are needed for Europe to fully benefit from digital heritage?
Join us for a debate moderated by Alek Tarkowski (Communia / Centrum Cyfrowe), with the participation of Paul Keller (Communia / IViR), Ariadna Matas (Europeana), Hessel van Oorschot (Open Nederland / Tribe of Noise) and Brigitte Vézina (Creative Commons).
The Salon is open for everyone to attend and will be held on Zoom. Join us on Thursday, the 17th of September, at 1530 CET, by registering here. Registered participants will receive login information ahead of the event.
At the end of July the Commission published a long awaited “targeted consultation addressed to the participants to the stakeholder dialogue on Article 17 of the CDSM Directive“. With this consultation the Commission makes good on its (pre-covid) promise to “share initial views on the content of the Article 17 guidance” with the participants of the stakeholder dialogue. Nestled in-between 18 questions, the consultation document provides a detailed outline of what the Commission’s guidance could look like once it is finalised.
While we have been rather sceptical after the end of the six meetings of the stakeholder dialogue meetings, we are pleased to see that the initial views shared by the Commission express a genuine attempt to find a balance between the protection of user rights and the interests of creators and other rightholders, which reflects the complex balance of the provisions introduced by Article 17 after a long legislative fight.
In the remainder of this post we will take a first, high level, look at the Commission’s proposal for the Article 17 guidance, what it would mean for national implementations and how it would affect user rights.
Two welcome clarifications
With the consultation document the Commission takes a clear position on two issues that were central to the discussions in the stakeholder dialogue and that have important implications for national implementation of Article 17.
The first one concerns the nature of the right at the core of Article 17. Is Article 17 a mere clarification of the existing right of communication to the public, as rightholders have argued, or is it a special or sui generis right, as academics and civil society groups have argued? In the consultation document the Commission makes it clear that it considers Article 17 to be a special right (“lex specialis”) to the right of communication to the public, as defined in Article 3 of the 2001 InfoSoc Directive, and the limited liability regime for hosting providers of the E-commerce Directive.
What sounds like a fairly technical discussion has wide ranging consequences for Member States implementing the Directive. As explained by João Quintais and Martin Husovec, now that it is clear that Article 17 is not a mere clarification of existing law, Member States have considerably more freedom in deciding how online platforms can obtain authorisation for making available the works uploaded by their users. This should mean that they are not constrained by the InfoSoc Directive. Therefore, mechanisms like the remunerated “de-minimis” exception proposed by the German Ministry of Justice that would legalise the use of short snippets of existing works are permitted and covered by the concept of “authorisation” introduced by Article 17. Continue reading
Last month, we held the first edition of our Copyright Directive Webinars, aimed at explaining the different provisions of the new Copyright Directive and making suggestions on what to advocate for during the implementation process of those provisions at a national level, to expand and strengthen user rights. We’ve now released the presentations and video recordings of the webinars.
As you know, many countries are now speeding up with the process of implementation of the Directive – you can find below a short summary of what’s going on.
EU implementation – country updates from last weeks
Germany’s Ministry of Justice unveiled its proposal to implement Article 17 of the new Copyright Directive. The discussion draft sets an example for the other Member States on how to make the user rights safeguards in Article 17 operative, and we strongly suggest that you look into the detailed analysis that we published in our blog. This is what is being proposed, in sum:
- Making it easier for platforms to comply with the “best efforts” obligation to obtain authorization to publish their users’ uploads;
- Introducing a new exception covering minor uses of copyrighted content, which works as a fallback mechanism in the absence of authorization;
- Allowing users to override blocking/removal actions, by pre-flagging lawful uses;
- Allowing lawful content to stay up until human review and pausing the liability of platforms until a decision has been made;
- Sanctioning abusive behavior by platforms, rightholders, and users.
We have organized a webinar on this topic, which you can watch here.
Former MEP Julia Reda has published a two-part comment on this on the Kluwer Copyright Blog, including a discussion of the strengths and fragilities of this proposal, which is the first one to actually attempt to avoid over-blocking of content. (Part 1, Part 2)
At the beginning of July we heard that the French Government would try to pass the implementation of Article 17 via an administrative decree as part of a law that implements various EU directives (Ddadue law), to speed up its adoption (and sidestepping substantial discussion in Parliament). On July 8th the first reading of the Ddadue law took place in the French Senate, and the proposed amendment to grant the Government the power to implement the provisions of the Copyright Directive by way of ordonnance (Amendment 23) was unanimously supported (in the adopted text article 24bs is the one authorizing the French Government to implement the Copyright Directive). The executive orders to transpose Articles 2 to 6 and 17 to 23 of the Copyright Directive will have to be issued within six months of the adoption of the law, and the executive orders for the remaining provision have to be issued within 12 months. The National Assembly still needs to approve the Ddadue law. The law was forwarded to the Assemblee Nationale for adoption. Continue reading