This morning the Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament (JURI) voted on the report on the proposed Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive. You can read a broader analysis here.
JURI gave educators across the EU a gift in the shape of an improved educational exception – with a poison pill inside. The Compromise Amendment (CAM6) proposed by Rapporteur Voss was accepted. We are happy that the Commission’s flawed proposal for an exception that secures digital uses for education purposes has been fixed. Educators are given clarity about uses in digital environments, and the scope of the exception has been increased beyond educational establishments and their premises. There is also improved text that makes a contractual override of the exception impossible.
Yet, the poison pill remains: the Commission’s proposal in article 4(2) to give priority to licenses over the exception was adopted. We managed to secure improvement in the phrasing of this license priority: the licenses have to be tailored to the needs and specificities of the educational establishments. Nevertheless, a Member State can decide to switch off the exception, provided that a licensing scheme is in place in a given country. This means that over the coming years we could benefit from a new exception only to see it disappear – which would leave educators depending on remunerated licensing schemes.
Problems with license priority go beyond education
Licensing priority spells problems, not just for educators. It creates a precedent for overrides to any public interest copyright law exceptions. As such, it is a great victory for rightsholders. This reminds us of the “Licenses of Europe” process, in which the Commission and rightsholders tried to convince everyone that licensing is a much better tool for securing user rights than exceptions to copyright. While they failed to do so then, they seem to have won some ground in the copyright directive.
This dangerous precedent for users’ rights is even more alarming when we consider that it goes against the CJEU ruling on the issue of license priority. The Court of Justice of the European Union knew that giving priority to license offers was indefensible, as it would negate much of the substance and effectiveness of the exception or limitation and it would deny the user the right to benefit from the exception. Thus, the Court decided that the 3-step test did not require them to allow rightsholders to unilaterally force users to stop relying on the copyright exception when those rightsholders offered to conclude a licensing agreement with them. This decision represented a major win for users’ rights, and more so because in the US users may not be able to rely on fair use when reasonable licensing options are available.
If we round up today’s vote for education we are happy about the improvements to the exception but mourn what could have been and fear the consequences of this license priority. The fight is not over yet. There will possibly – likely – be a plenary vote in the Parliament where this article, as well as the other disappointing results on articles 11 & 13, could still be challenged.