How to #fixcopyright with a great copyright limitation? A recipe for lawmakers

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With the Best Case Scenarios for Copyright series we have proved that copyright has a brighter side for users. For satire and critique, in teaching, research and journalism, even while preserving memories of beautiful spaces – copyright exceptions help artists, audiences, students, and tourists alike benefit from access to culture and education.

What is important, the copyright exceptions do not break creative markets and don’t put creators out of business. On the contrary – which poet wouldn’t want her poems to be translated in class? Which architect wouldn’t want his building to become a landmark everybody recognizes? Such a massive spread of cultural tropes is possible through the exceptions we have presented: freedom of panorama in Portugal, parody in France, education in Estonia and quotation in Finland.

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So what are the mechanisms and tricks that make exceptions great? Any copyright exception needs to balance legitimate interests of both the users and the rights holders. When that balance is achieved we can have more than 4 best case scenarios for copyright.

We have identified 6 magic ingredients that make copyright exceptions and limitations great. Here is how to mix them to #fixcopyright:

1. Balance copyright with the public interest

All copyright exceptions we featured have one crucial thing in common – they always negotiate the exclusive rights against an important public interest. Literally each use can strike that balance differently and no regulation can envision all life situations.

Freedom of expression includes quoting, documenting or criticizing somebody else’s work. Securing access to modern education is so important for societies that it is fundamental to use all sorts of copyrighted materials in class instruction, lectures, tests, research, etc. Public interest justifies the limitation of rights holders’ prerogatives. A good exception is grounded in a right that is a fundament of a free, democratic society.

2. Open up to all sorts of use

In our fast-changing world, devising regulation that works only for a certain type of use is pointless. We see that with copyright everyday: provisions that had worked when music was distributed on CDs are dysfunctional in the age of internet.

So if you want an exception to work, do not write it for today’s technology – use broad terms that let people reproduce, distribute, communicate and make works available to the public, as well as  transform or adapt in any way they see fit and by any means technology allows them to.

3. Include all kinds of users

In today’s culture it is hard to say who is a creator and who isn’t. The teaching process takes place in a classroom but it also includes online instruction, non-formal settings and peer-to-peer learning. These conditions are constantly evolving and new settings for creation and teaching become widely recognized.

So if you want your copyright limitation to be truly great, consider that the circle of users who can benefit from it is not limited to labels such as “photographer”, “teacher”, “blogger” or “educational institution”. Do not limit access to specific groups of people.

4. If you have to limit, focus on the purpose

Some exceptions are limited in their purpose, just like the Estonian educational exception. It is broad and includes virtually everybody so if there was no limitation on it, it would effectively erase the use of copyright.

If there’s a must, the clever way to calibrate an exception is to focus on its purpose – in Estonia the broad educational use is only possible if it illustrates teaching and the process of learning in general. Any use that cannot be justified by the purpose is not considered to be exempted.

5. Consider benefits of commercial use

Users can benefit commercially from a parody in France or from a movie shot in a public space in Portugal. Consider that today it is very hard to determine if the use is commercial or not. If people post their pictures or memes on social media, would it be recognized as a commercial use? After all, Facebook is a commercial entity that monetizes the activity of its users.

An excellent regulation is a result of a cost and feasibility analysis. Would it be at all possible to enforce the non-commercial prohibition? Or would the cost and futility of it prevail over the benefits? If the answer to the latter is yes, allow use with a commercial benefit.

6. Make the use free of charge

The point of a copyright limitation is to make it simple, if not intuitive, for users to benefit from its existence. This would not be the case if a user had to pay for quoting a book or taking a picture of beautiful surroundings. In fact, if you have to pay, you can hardly call it an exception.

Copyright should enable rights holders to profit from creations. A copyright limitation is an exceptional case, where both the significance of public interest and the intuitiveness of use limit the copyright. Society benefits from it and the culture is richer. Make the use free.

You’ve now mixed all the ingredients, so make exceptions mandatory across EU!

The more flexibility EU allows in transposing its regulation, the more the legal systems in member states vary. Harmonizing the copyright in general and the exceptions in particular is crucial if we want to turn the Digital Single Market into something more substantial than a catchy phrase.

In Europe we have no internal borders anymore, but there are borders in the European internet and between member states’ copyright systems. These should be brought down, and the EU is in a unique position to do it.

Exceptions are a right and not a favour!

The good news is that we have many great copyright exceptions ready in the InfoSoc directive and waiting to be marked as mandatory across Europe. The hard work is done, EU, you can #fixcopyright with one simple provision and make Europe a better place!

Best Case Scenarios for Copyright is an initiative by COMMUNIA, presenting best examples of copyright exceptions and limitations found in national laws of member states of the European Union. We believe that, by harmonizing copyright exceptions and limitations across Europe, using as a model these best examples that are permitted within the EU law, the EU would reinforce users’ rights in access to culture and education.

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