Article 13: the house is on fire!

Brand in de lijnbanen op de schans aan de Smallepadsgracht
Lawmakers struggle to contain Article 13
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Last week, the German Council delegation shared a “non-paper” with proposals to mitigate the negative effects of article 13, which screamed “Houston, we have a problem”. On Monday the Romanian Council Presidency shared a working paper on article 13 that makes similar attempts to reduce the negative impact of article 13. And yesterday the representatives of the audiovisual and publishing sectors called for the suspension of the negotiations on article 13. These moves show that (1) upload filters are gaining opponents (or losing supporters) at a fast pace and (2) lawmakers are starting to envision the social and political consequences of this ill-conceived law proposal.

The Romanian proposal attempts to save the sharing culture, but fails spectacularly

Ahead of the Council Copyright Attachés meeting that took place yesterday, the Romanian Council Presidency proposed a possible compromise solution on article 13 that 1) exempts platforms from liability in certain situations (e.g. if they made best efforts to obtain an authorization from the rightsholders) and 2) introduces a mandatory EU-wide user-generated content exception to copyright, which allows users to upload and make available content generated by themselves, but not by others. The Romanian compromise further suggests to continue to discuss if online platforms that are microenterprises and small-sized enterprises shall be exempted or not from the obligations imposed by article 13.

The fact that the compromise solution presented by the Romanian Presidency contains the introduction of a UGC exception shows the intention to make a positive contribution to the negotiations. However, the drafting is far from bringing a meaningful solution for users. To start, the proposed exception only allows the use of parts of works, making it impossible for users to share user-generated content containing an entire artwork (e.g. a meme using a painting in its entirety) or an entire short work (e.g. a meme using a poem in its entirety). Then, it only allows users to share content generated by themselves, and not by others! What is the point of sharing a meme on an online platform, if other users cannot interact with it, by sharing it too? Continue reading

Germany’s non-paper on art. 13 screams “Houston, we have a problem”

Nasa Apollo 13 Mission Control
There's no public support for Article 13
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This week Politico.eu has shared a “non-paper” prepared by the German Council delegation on article 13, ahead of the Council Copyright Attachés meeting that took place on Wednesday. In this paper Germany proposes to mitigate the negative effects of art. 13 by 1) exempting platforms with a turnover of up to 20 Mio. Euros per year from the obligations imposed by art. 13., 2) exempting platforms from liability in certain situations (e.g. if they made best efforts to obtain an authorization from the rightsholders), and 3) introducing a mandatory EU-wide user-generated content exception to copyright, subject to the payment of a fair remuneration to the rightsholders.

A Christmas tale

It is clear that there is a social legitimacy problem with a law proposal when, in every household visited during the Christmas holidays, someone starts talking about it. Children as young as eleven, teenagers and parents all knew about the existence of an infamous law proposal, which they referred to as “Article 13”. The familiarity with which they pronounced the number of the article was such that an undiscerning observer would believe they had been closely following the copyright reform and had actually read the European Commission’s proposal on upload filters.

Sure enough the children and the teenagers had not read the legal provision, neither had their parents. Their knowledge was based on the Youtube videos on art. 13 produced by their favourite Youtubers and/or on the newspaper articles that (finally) had started reporting on the issue, after those videos had become viral (one has now close to 5 million views).

This was the rule for every household, except one, where one of the parents – let’s call him a software and platforms entrepreneur – had not only read the proposal, but could easily point out the flaws on the lawmakers reasoning. Continue reading

To block or not to block? Commission’s vague “non-paper” does not meet our minimal standard

Man met een brief
Commission non-paper would support filtering
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This week, Politico.eu has shared a “non-paper” prepared by the European Commission on article 13, ahead of the next trilogue on 13 December. The Commission has been tasked during the recent trilogue meeting with proposing a compromise solution on the issue of “mitigation of liability in the absence of a license”, in face of diverging views between the European Parliament and the Council.

In general, any direction on this piece of regulation seems to be lost, with actors participating in the trialogue willing to treat the article like a puzzle, in which puzzles can be rearranged in any way possible – beyond the scope of any previously negotiated and legitimized mandate. The process once again proves to be obscure and lacking with regard to basic rules of participatory policymaking.

The Commission was given several guidelines. These include an assumption that platforms do communicate to the public and need to obtain licenses or that automatic blocking should be “avoided as much as possible”, but is also not forbidden.

Earlier this week, we published four principles, based on which we plan to evaluate the proposed language for article 13. We believe that any version of Article 13 that does not take these four principles into account will need to be rejected in the final vote taken by the European Parliament.

We decided to check the Commission’s proposal, included in the non-paper against our principles. This has been made difficult by the fact that what is proposed in the non-paper is in many ways vague. Once it becomes more substantial, we will be able to make a definitive judgement. But even now, lack of details on some issues – such as protection of content fitting copyright exceptions from overfiltering – is telling. Continue reading

Trilogue: don’t give up on fundamental rights!

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Citizens’ rights matter!
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We have argued again and again that copyright reform is also fundamental rights matter – therefore we co-signed an open letter to the European decision-makers asking them to add human rights safeguards to Article 13 of the proposed Copyright Directive on the Digital Single Market throughout the negotiation process.

The fundamental rights safeguards crucial for ensuring compliance of the new Directive with the Charter of Fundamental Rights are in accordance with our four principles for minimising harm to users, creators and the internet. The letter signed by 27 fundamental and digital rights organizations raises concerns about the current state of play for Article 13 and calls for:

a) Transparency

Platforms control all information available on the internet and they are empowered to rank and take down content at their discretion. These platforms serve “the internet” as we know it now. Internet platforms are able to make decisions about freedom of expression with no transparency or accountability and the proposed Directive does not change that. In cases where content is blocked or taken down, it is critical that they properly justify their decisions; decisions that should be subject to proper redress mechanisms to ensure free speech and freedom of information. Besides providing an alternative dispute resolution, the EU could provide, for free, legal mechanisms across the EU to settle disputes between users, copyright holders and internet platforms.Continue reading

Article 13: Four principles for minimising harm to users, creators and the internet

Vrouw die een stier tracht te bedwingen
4 principles to save article 13 from killing the net
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Later today the negotiators of the Commission, the European Parliament and the Council will meet for the 4th trilogue meeting. After having dealt with less controversial parts of the proposal during the three preceding meetings, tonight, will finally see a discussion about Article 13 of the proposed DSM directive.

Given that all three legislators bring similar versions of article 13 to the table, we can expect that a final compromise text will include some version of the article 13 upload filters. There is still a good chance that the negotiations will be inconclusive or that the eventual outcome of the trilogue negotiations will not be approved by either the Member States or the Parliament (which would mean that the directive will fail and there will be no upload filtering requirement for the foreseeable future). But in the context of the ongoing trilogue, the deletion of article 13 (which has been our position so far) is not an option anymore.

This raises the question of how the damage that article 13 will do to the internet ecosystem and freedom of expression can best be contained. Before we do so let’s take a quick look at the positions that are on the table:

EP position: general blocking of all unlicensed content

The provision adopted by the European parliament can only be described as a total disaster. As the result of a misguided attempt to remove the mention of “measures” from the text of the article the European Parliament adopted a version of article 13 that makes platforms liable for copyright infringements for every single work uploaded by their users. This would include any photo, drawing or text uploaded by a user, regardless if these are old works, works that have been created for the express purpose of being shared widely, or the latest blockbuster movie. As a result of making platforms liable for all works uploaded by their users, they are practically forced to install filters that will block everything that has not been licensed to them. In other words, the EP version of article 13 would turn open platforms into platforms that distribute content licensed by the entertainment industry and nothing else. Continue reading

Letter to the EU Council: Citizens’ rights matter in the copyright negotiations!

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Citizens’ rights matter in the © negotiations!
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On 19 November 2018, 54 NGOs (including COMMUNIA) representing human rights and media freedom sent a letter to the Council of the European Union. The letter raises ongoing concerns regarding the proposal of the Directive on copyright in the Digital Single Market. The signatories underline that the current proposal risks creating severe impediments to the functioning of the internet and the freedom of expression of all, and urge the Council to take citizens’ rights into consideration during the trilogue negotiations:

For the ongoing trilogue negotiations, we urge you to reject obligatory or “voluntary” coerced filters and to keep the current liability regime intact. Enforcement of copyright must not become a pre-emptive, arbitrary and privately-enforced censorship of legal content.

Moreover, we ask you to hear the voice of academic research that a press publishers’ right will not have the intended effect and will instead lead to a less informed European society.

The letter is not only another call for a productive re-shaping of the future European copyright framework. It is also a strong voice against the predominant market-only narrative around the ongoing reform. NGOs continue to raise concerns related not just to the economic impact of the new Directive, but its deep influence on society, openness, fundamental rights and access to knowledge.

You can read the letter here (pdf).

Not surprisingly, the letter focuses on the most disputed provisions–Article 13 upload filters and Article 11 ancillary copyright for press publishers. Since the beginning of the legislative process COMMUNIA has worked on nearly all parts of the Directive comments (including the new educational exception, TDM provisions and others), and we regret that there seems to be little attention paid to these other important aspects as policymakers focus only on the most controversial parts of the plan.

Reminder: Article 13 will help dominant platforms, not hurt them

A dragon devouring the companions of Cadmus
Regulatory burden will hurt smaller platforms
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Two weeks ahead of the second trilogue meeting on the 26th of November where the most controversial parts of the Copyright Directive will be discussed for the first time, various stakeholders are starting to position themselves for the final stages of the reform process. Yesterday Politico.eu leaked the compromise suggestions prepared by the Austrian Presidency for articles 11 and 13. Unsurprisingly the suggested texts maintain the general approach that was cemented by both the Council and the Parliament over the summer (see analysis by MEP Julia Reda here). By now it is clear that regardless of how much we argue that Article 13 should be deleted and that Article 11 should be limited to a presumption of representations neither of these two things will happen.

Limiting the damage by clearly identifying the services targeted

Under these conditions it seems that the most promising approach to minimize the harm that will be caused by these articles will be to limit what type of services they apply to.

Article 11 should be modified in such a way that it only applies to search engines and news aggregators. These are the type of services that press publishers are claiming to cause them harm (which we continue to doubt). This would prevent a lot of legal uncertainty (and thus damage) for everyone else on the internet.

The same approach makes sense for article 13. The music industry and other rightsholders have consistently argued that they are harmed by large online platforms that allow users to share audiovisual (AV) works. Given that the stated objective of the proponents of article 13 is to create a better bargaining position for rightsholders vis a vis YouTube, Facebook, Google and other commercial platforms, it seems reasonable to limit the types of services that would need to comply with article 13 to for-profit audio visual platforms that compete with licensed services only. Such a measure would prevent a lot of legal uncertainty for platforms that do not deal with AV works or do not operate on a for profit basis. Continue reading

Act now: Tell your MEPs that copyright reform must facilitate access to knowledge!

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It is less than a week before the decisive vote on the proposed Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. In the past few weeks MEPs have tried and failed to come up with a compromise position on the most controversial element of the directive proposal, the upload filters for online platforms that would be mandated by Article 13. As a result all options ranging from filtering obligations that would cripple online platforms to the deletion of Article 13 remain on the table for next week’s vote. On a positive note, MEP Dutch Marietje Schaake has tabled positive amendments to Article 3, which bring the exception as close as possible to the rule “The right to read is the right to mine”.

Article 13 still spells trouble for the knowledge community

We have been univocal in our conviction that the upload filters mandated by Article 13 are a terrible idea. They would limit the freedom of expression of European internet users and creators, and allow big corporate rightsholders to establish themselves as gatekeepers of cultural expression that would limit cultural diversity online. We are also concerned about the effects that filtering requirements would have on access to knowledge.

While most of the proposals on the table explicitly exclude open knowledge repositories like Wikipedia, open access publication platforms and free software repositories from the filtering obligations (and liability risks) established by Article 13, this does not guarantee that the directive will not limit access to knowledge and culture and damage the public domain. Exempting these service may protect them from the immediate negative effects of the Directive, but but it would not take away legal uncertainties for innovators in this space.. This is why projects from Wikipedia to GitHub to the library and research community still oppose Article 13. Just yesterday, Jimmy Wales, a Wikipedia co-founder, warned again that “foolish, detrimental changes to the law could make it really hard for future platforms to allow people the freedom to create.”

Jimmy Wales listening to MEP Voss

Jimmy Wales in discussion with MEP Axel Voss in the European Parliament (Sebastiaan ter BurgCC-BY)

The decentralised nature of the internet has enabled a radical opening up of knowledge and a culture of sharing that has reduced the ability of commercial intermediaries to control and limit access to knowledge for profit making purposes. Continue reading

Latest Article 13 compromise by MEP Voss is the worst one yet

De verzoeking van Adam en Eva in het paradijs,
Yet another poisoned "compromise" proposal
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In less than two weeks the European Parliament will vote on its position on the Copyright in the Digital Single Market directive. After the resounding rejection of the JURI mandate on the 5th of July, MEPs are searching for compromises that will allow the European Parliament to enter into negotiations with the Commission and the Member States. A key to finding such a compromise will be a new version of Article 13 that reflects the broad opposition against the upload filters that led to the rejection of the JURI mandate in July.

Last week Friday MEP Axel Voss presented his proposal for a new compromise on Article 13. According to Voss the new version answers to the demands voiced by critics of the original JURI text (and he expects those critics to support his new version):

Unfortunately this does not mean that MEP Voss has suddenly taken the concerns raised by users, academics, civil liberties organisations and many others into account. Instead he is proposing a version of Article 13 that would be even worse than everything that has been on the table so far. His newest “compromise” proposal consist of a simplified version of Article 13 that would make all online platforms that allow users to upload content (other than a select few) directly liable for copyright infringements committed by their users:

(1) Without prejudice to Article 3(1) and (2) of Directive 2001/29/EC, online content sharing service providers perform an act of communication to the public.

As a result open platforms would need to obtain licenses for all copyrighted content that could possibly be uploaded to such platforms, which is of course impossible since not all copyrighted content is available for licensing. In practice this will mean that platforms need to filter out all copyrighted works for which they do not have a license. Contrary to what Axel Voss wants us to believe, his latest proposal would mandate upload filtering on an unprecedented scale (see the flowchart below for a more detailed analysis). Continue reading

Here is an alternative version of Article 13 that the European Parliament should support

Aanval van de Giganten op de godenwereld
Parliament must defend internet users' rights
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Last week we pointed out that when it comes to Article 13 both the version discussed (and since adopted) by the Member States in the Council and the compromise proposals discussed in the European Parliament’s JURI Committee are pretty terrible. In light of the negotiation mandate adopted by the Member States last week the only real option preventing mandatory censorship filters from becoming a reality for internet users in the EU is the European Parliament’s adoption of a position that renounces such filters, or (at the very least) ensures that any efforts to filter respect the fundamental rights of EU internet users.  

Unfortunately, the direction of the discussions in the JURI Committee clearly point toward an EP position that would support mandatory upload filters. In this situation, it is important to remember that for almost a year, the European Parliament has been sitting on an opinion from the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) Committee that would limit the negative effects of Article 13. Since then, the text of the IMCO opinion, adopted on the 8th of June 2017 (!), has also been adopted by the Civil Liberties (LIBE) Committee.

Persuant to the European Parliament’s procedural rules, both LIBE and IMCO are associated committees. This means that their versions should form the basis of the discussions in the Legal Affairs Committee. Yet the difference between the current compromise proposed by MEP Voss and the IMCO/LIBE text could not be greater. This becomes evident when comparing the internal logic of the JURI/LIBE version (flowchart below) with a flowchart depicting the internal logic of the JURI version (see here):  

Continue reading