Academic statement on safeguarding user freedoms in implementing Article 17

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51 academics say: if in doubt - don't filter
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Yesterday 51 leading European copyright scholars published a statement on “Safeguarding User Freedoms in Implementing Article 17 of the Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive“. The statement is intended as input into the ongoing stakeholder dialogue. It focuses on the interplay between user rights and the filtering obligations established by Article 17. From the Kluwer Copyright blog:

Against this backdrop, a group of European academics (including the author of this post) has drafted a document with recommendations on user freedoms and safeguards included in Article 17 of the DSM Directive – namely in its paragraphs (7) and (9), to be read in the context of the aforementioned stakeholder dialogues. The recommendations are divided into three sections: on promoting licensing and limiting preventive measures; on exceptions and limitations in Article 17 (user freedoms); and on minimizing the risks of broad filtering and over-blocking (user safeguards). Despite the controversial nature of the topic, the recommendation has already been endorsed by around 50 European academics in this area, which is a testament to its balanced approach. Our intention is that these recommendations and interpretative guidelines are taken into consideration by the Commission, stakeholders, and Member States in their discussions on national implementations of Article 17 DSM Directive.

Based on a close reading of paragraphs 17(7) and 17(9), the academics show that Article 17 requires online platforms (OCSSPs in the language of the directive) to prioritise protecting users rights over blocking content. This statement provides strong support for our positions in the stakeholder dialogueContinue reading

Article 17 stakeholder dialogue (day 2): Filters, not licenses!

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On Tuesday this week the participants of the stakeholder dialogue on Article 17 of the EU copyright directive convened in Brussels for the second meeting. After a first meeting that focussed on practices in the music, games and software sectors (see our report here), this week’s meeting focussed on the current situation in the audiovisual (AV) and publishing sectors. 

Hollywood: Article 17 is about filtering after all

The meeting kicked off with a long series of statements from the many different rightholders in the AV sector (see the video recording here). The assembled sector representatives made it clear that from their perspective Article 17 is welcome (as it clarifies that online platforms need to obtain licenses for the works uploaded by their users) but that they are not interested in widely licensing AV works to UGC platforms and would instead focus on the blocking and removing of unlicensed content via the upload filtering mechanisms introduced by Article 17. 

This approach is the logical consequence of the predominant business model in the AV sector which relies on exclusive licensing to selected outlets (Cinema, TV, VOD platforms). It directly contradicts the music industries’ narrative from the first meeting that Article 17 is about licensing and not about blocking access – as in the case of music general availability is crucial. Representatives of the AV industry made it very clear that they would fight any attempts at non-voluntary licensing and that they would also fight against effective protection for user rights under exceptions and licensing (see for example the statement issued by the Motion Picture Association starting at 10:41:44 of the video recording). These initial statements make it clear that the AV industry does indeed look at Article 17 as an instrument to limit freedom of expression and reuse and will likely use the stakeholder dialogue to bend the article further in this direction. Continue reading

Article 17 stakeholder dialogue (day 1): Same old, same old

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Article 17(10) of the Copyright in the Digital Single Market directive requires the Commission to “organise stakeholder dialogues to discuss best practices for cooperation between online content-sharing service providers and rightholders”.  Last week Tuesday we took part in the first meeting of the stakeholder dialogue. The dialogue (which will consist of a series of meetings) is supposed to provide the Commission with input for producing guidelines can “balance fundamental rights and the use of exceptions and limitations” with the upload filtering obligations introduced by Article 17 of the directive.

The meeting, which was attended by 80 stakeholders (plus representatives from the 28 Member States), was supposed to focus on “current practices with regard to the cooperation between rightholders and online content sharing service providers” in the music, software and gaming sectors. The day  was kicked off by a short welcome address by Commissioner Maria Gabriel in which she praised the outcome of the copyright reform as an example of Europe taking the lead in developing rules for the digital environment (translation from the original French): 

The new Copyright Directive in the Digital Single Market demonstrates the ability of the European Union to collectively reflect on today’s challenges and to bring about just, innovative and concerted responses. It is another example of a Europe that opens the way and sets an example to the rest of the world.

[…] The new Directive, and in particular Article 17, opens a new era in the regulation of the relationship between copyright and digital services. And this, without touching the fundamentals. It does not challenge the traditional rules of copyright while introducing a new framework that provides essential guarantees to ensure a proper balance between fundamental rights, in the first place freedom of expression on the Internet.

[…] With the adoption of the Copyright Directive, the European Union is leading a global movement to develop a fairer economic model for the production, access and distribution of content in the digital environment. Europe is now a more attractive place to invest in creation and digital.

It should be evident that we do not share this positive assessment of the directive. If the directive was indeed such a balanced piece of legislation as the commissioner claims, then there would not be a need to organize stakeholder dialogue to patch up its worst inconsistencies. Continue reading

The Transposition Bootcamp – we continue working towards better copyright

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We’re happy to have you on board
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Few months have already passed since The Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market was adopted in April this year. We did our best to use this time wisely to evaluate risks and opportunities for users’ rights and public domain created in the new legal framework and one thing is certain for us – we need a strong access to knowledge movement engagement also during transpositions in all member states – there is still a lot to be done.

Alongside with our members (Wikimedia, Creative Commons and Centrum Cyfrowe Foundation) we want to make sure that local communities in as many countries as possible participate in the national legislative process and provide input on how to shape national rules to ensure user rights and access to knowledge are strengthened, not weakened.  

In order to build capacity we have organized a Transportation Bootcamp – an opportunity for activists to meet, share experiences, learn about the challenges related to transposition, think about arguments and tactics. For this 35 people from various communities (Wikimedia, Creative Commons, digital rights activists and GLAM experts) gathered in Warsaw, from October 11 to 13, to share and learn. 

At the Bootcamp we explained the (soon to be published) suite of documents with implementation guidelines prepared by a group of legal experts. We  also invited experts and policy makers that have been active on this reform over the past years to provide insight to activists. We started planning national activities with communities. We got to know each other. And we realized (once again) how many question marks these directive leave for national legislators to decide – and how much is still to be done. 

The Member States have until 7 June 2021 to transpose the Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive into their national laws. This once-in-a-decade change in copyright rules is a reason we have decided to work with activists in Member States on their national transposition (publishing position papers, organising events, contacting lawmakers, coalition building, etc.). If you feel like participating in this process in order to support access to knowledge, feel free to contact us: transposition@communia-association.org – we’re happy to have you on board with our project! 

Article 17 Stakeholder Dialogue: We’ll Continue to Advocate for Safeguarding User Rights

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Yesterday the European Commission invited COMMUNIA to participate in the “Stakeholder dialogue under Article 17 of the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market” that will kick off in Brussels next week. This invitation comes after we had expressed our interest to participate in response to a call issued by the Commission in September. It is our understanding that COMMUNIA will be one of a small number of civil society participants in the dialogue (the Commission has yet to publish a list of participating organisations). 

Stakeholder dialogue to the rescue!

Article 17(10) of the Copyright in the Digital Single Market directive requires the Commission to “organise stakeholder dialogues to discuss best practices for cooperation between online content-sharing service providers and rightholders”. Based on the outcome of these dialogues with “content-sharing service providers, rightholders, users’ organisations and other relevant stakeholders” the Commission is expected to “issue guidance on the application of Article 17” that is supposed to “balance fundamental rights and the use of exceptions and limitations” with the upload filtering obligations introduced by Article 17. 

Given that two and a half years of legislative wrangling have failed to produce a balanced (or at least coherent) outcome, it seems rather unlikely that this stakeholder dialogue will be able to achieve such a balance. Still the stakeholder dialogue provides an opportunity to minimise the harm to the freedom of creative expression and the ability for smaller platforms to strive under Article 17. Such an optimistic view of the stakeholder dialogue has been put forward by the German government, which has stated that it

… therefore assumes that this dialogue is based on a spirit of guaranteeing appropriate remuneration for creatives, preventing ‘upload filters’ wherever possible, ensuring freedom of expression and safeguarding user rights. The German Federal Government assumes that uniform implementation throughout the Union will be agreed on in this dialogue, because fragmentary implementation with 27 national variants would not be compatible with the principles of a European Digital Single Market.

Five measures to minimize the harm caused by upload filters

While we have strongly criticised Article 1, mainly because of the filtering obligations it introduces, there are also positive elements in the article. These include mandatory exceptions for quotation and parody, and a number of procedural safeguards intended to ensure that users can exercise the rights they have under these exceptions and limitations.

As part of our contribution to the stakeholder dialogue we will strive to ensure an outcome that minimises the impact and scope of the filtering provisions and that maximises the scope of exceptions and limitations that guarantees meaningful safeguards for users to exercise the rights they have under these exceptions. From our perspective, the following five measures will guide our contribution to the stakeholder dialogue: Continue reading

Finally! The text of Poland’s Legal Challenge of Copyright Directive was published

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Does art. 17 violate the right to freedom of expression?
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Earlier this year, Poland initiated a legal challenge against Article 17 of the Directive on copyright in the Digital Single Market before the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) [C-401/19]. The CJEU has finally published the application for this legal challenge. Our member, Centrum Cyfrowe Foundation, has tried to get access to the complaint before using Freedom of Information requests, without success… 

In our opinion, referring the Directive to the Court of Justice is a good step that can help clear controversies concerning Article 17. An independent court will assess issues that in the policy debate are usually dismissed by representatives of rightsholders as fear-mongering or disinformation.

The Republic of Poland seeks the annulment of Article 17(4)(b) and Article 17(4)(c), in fine of the Directive on copyright in the Digital Single Market. In the alternative, should the Court find that the contested provisions cannot be deleted from Article 17 of Directive without substantively changing the rules contained in the remaining provisions of that article, the Republic of Poland claims that the Court should annul Article 17 of Directive in its entirety.Continue reading

The Netherlands leads way with implementation of the new educational exception

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Simple implementation, without the license override mechanism
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Just one month after the new Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive went into force, the Dutch government has shared their proposal for its implementation, through an amendment of their existing copyright law. The proposal is currently in a public consultation phase.

We would like to provide here an overview of the Dutch proposal to implement locally the new EU educational exception (article 5 in the final version of the Directive). This is the beginning of our effort to track how countries across Europe will implement, over the coming two years, this mandatory exception to copyright for educational purposes.

We are in particular interested in three issues that have been our concern during the legislative debate on this exception:

  • Are Member States introducing the controversial article 5(2), through which they have the option to make the exception no longer applicable and available to educational establishments if “suitable licenses are easily available on the market (what we call the issue of “license priority”);
  • What is the scope of the exception:
    • How are educational institutions and staff defined?
    • Will the educational community be able to rely on email, cloud services and other password-protected environments, or will these not be considered “secured electronic environments” under the exception?
    • Will Member States define a priori the extent to which a work can be used, leading to different quantity limits in different countries, or will they let practice and courts (relying on the three-step test) define what is balanced in a given situation?

Choices made on these issues will determine, how broadly – or narrowly – can the exception be depended on. Taken together, they will also create either a harmonized or fragmented legal landscape for teachers and learners across the Union.

  • Are Member States changing remuneration rules for educational uses? Currently, 17 Member States do not remunerate most or all of the used permitted under their existing education exceptions – will this change with the new exception?

The Dutch proposal is a simple amendment that adds two paragraphs to the existing educational exception (article 16 of the Dutch Copyright Law). In relation to our issues of particular concern, we note that the Dutch government:

  • decided not to use the article 5(2) backdoor to hack the new educational exception and make it partially or fully not applicable in the Netherlands, which we applaud (because we believe – along with the CJUE – that users should have the right to benefit from the copyright exceptions that were created for their benefit at all times, and not only when there are no market options for them to get a license for those minimum uses that are protected by the exception);
  • could do more to provide as broad a scope for the exception as possible, within the boundaries set by the Directive;
  • has proposed not to change its approach to remuneration – use of content under the exception requires fair compensation (art. 16.1.5°).

Additionally, the proposal includes an explicit provision against contractual override (art. 16.6), which implements another important element of the new EU educational exception.

We will be working with our Dutch partners in the consultation phase, both to provide feedback on the government’s proposal, and to monitor other responses to the proposal. The consultations are open until 2 September 2019.

Implementing the Copyright Directive: Protecting the Public Domain with Article 14

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Ending the appropriation of Public Domain works
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Article 14 – Works of visual art in the public domain – is one of the very few unambiguously good provisions of the new EU copyright directive. The article is intended to ensure that (digital) reproductions of public domain works cannot be protected by exclusive rights, and as a result, taken out of the public domain. This legislative intervention comes in response to the relatively widespread practice of museums in claiming exclusive rights of digital reproductions of public domain works that they have in their collections and which they make available to the public. In practice this has already led to Spanish Museums claiming copyright over paintings by Dutch masters who have been dead for 350 years, and German museums suing Wikipedia for hosting reproductions of public domain works as part of Wikimedia Commons

What is in the public domain in analogue form is [not always] in the public domain in digital form

While at first glance it seems counterintuitive that a museum should be able to control the rights for artworks of long dead artists, such claims do have a basis in existing law. In general, for a work to be protected under copyright it needs to show “the author’s own intellectual creation.” However, there is another category of copyright-like rights (also called “related rights”) that exist in a number of EU Member States. These related rights schemes grant exclusive rights to the creators of photographic works that do not meet the originality criterion necessary to receive copyright protection (See this 2015 study by Thomas Margoni for more details). Related rights arise even when a reproduction is nothing more than an exact photographic copy of a work. Where copyright protects original artworks, these related rights protect simple copies. 

As museums have started to make works in their collections available online, the practice of relying on related rights to restrict the re-use of non-original reproductions of public domain works has become controversial. Both the Public Domain Manifesto and the Europeana Public Domain Charter demanded that what is in the public domain in analogue form must stay in the public domain in digital form (as does our own policy recommendation #5). While the overall majority of museums have always acted in the spirit of expanding the public domain, and have made reproductions of public domain works available without any restrictions on re-use, a small number of museums from Member States that allow the protection of non-original reproductions of public domain works continue to claim rights over such reproductions. Continue reading

Canadian copyright report: Let’s wait and see how upload filters and press publishers rights will fail.

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A sceptical take on the EU copyright reform
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Last week the Canadian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology (INDU) released a report with 36 recommendations to reform Canadian copyright law. Under Canadian law the committee is required to review the Canadian copyright statutes every five years and the report presented now is the outcome of such a review. While this means that it is relatively unlikely that many of the recommendations contained in the report will result in immediate legislative actions (the government is not required to act on them) the report is nevertheless interesting as it contains a number of recommendations that go in the opposite direction of the changes that the DSM directive will bring to copyright in the European Union (for a full overview of the recommendations see Michael Geist’s summary).

After a year-long study that includes a public consultation and a number of committee hearings on a wide variety of issues, the INDU committee has come to the conclusion that there is a lack of evidence for both a DSM-style press publishers right and for changes to the liability position of platform intermediaries as foreseen in Article 17 of the DSM directive. While Canadian rightsholders argued for the necessity of such interventions, they failed to convince the committee of the merits for these provisions.

On the press publishers right the report essentially takes a wait and see approach (i.e. to see just how badly the EU will fail on these points) that conveys a healthy amount of scepticism with regard to the effectiveness of the EU approach.

The production and dissemination of news content is essential to democratic societies. While the Committee supports the notion that OSPs who profit from the dissemination of copyrighted content they do not own should fairly remunerate its rights-holders, legislators around the world are only starting to develop and implement legislative frameworks to compel OSPs to do so. Canada should learn from the failures and successes of these initiatives to determine whether they serve the interests of Canadians. (page 53)

The report goes on to discuss potential changes to the “Safe Harbour Provisions” that apply to online service providers. Unsurprisingly this discussion is based on the “value gap” rhetoric that provided the germ of the upload filtering provisions contained in Article 17 of the DSM directive. The section on “Safe Harbour Provisions” (pages 74-83) is well worth reading as it makes it clear that there is no such thing as a single “value gap” that can be filled via a legislative intervention, and that changing the liability rules for online service providers will have damaging effects well beyond the music sector: Continue reading

The Copyright Directive challenged in the CJEU by Polish government

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An independent court will assess the Directive
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Copyright not only regulates the interests of creators and intermediaries, but also applies to users’ rights. This was one of our main arguments in the discussion on Article 17 of the new copyright directive, which was often disregarded by our opponents. In our opinion Article 17 is not well-balanced and creates threats to freedom of expression. Such an assessment is shared by others: the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, non-governmental organizations dealing with digital rights, and a significant part of the academy. Now the very same objections will be evaluated by Court of Justice of the European Union.

Last week, the Government of the Republic of Poland filed a challenge to the new Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, specifically Articles 17(4b) and 17(4c). The Minister of Culture and National Heritage explained:

“in our opinion this mechanism introduces solutions with preventive censorship features. Such censorship is forbidden by both the Polish Constitution and EU law – the Charter of Fundamental Rights guarantees freedom of expression.”

Interestingly, by filing the charge, the Polish government fulfilled a political promise made during the recent electoral campaign. At that time, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki tweeted that the new law is “a disproportionate measure that fuels censorship and threatens freedom of expression.”Continue reading