Reminder: making platforms pay creators doesn’t require upload filters

Musicerend gezelschap
Delete Article 13 now
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Days before the final vote of the European Parliament on the copyright directive, the discussion about the directive seems entirely focussed on Article 13. A wide coalition of civil society groups, online creators, academics and citizens is calling for the removal of Article 13 from the directive. On the other side 270 organisations representing rightsholders are calling on MEPs to say “yes to copyright” and pass the directive in its current form (including Article 13).

Behind the facade of these well known (and deeply entrenched) positions, something interesting is going on. If we start un-peeling the arguments brought forward by both sides, it seems that they are closer than it appears. When it comes to Article 13 there seem to be two points that almost everyone seems to agree on:

(1) Nobody really wants to see the widespread use of upload filters and (2) Everybody agrees that there is a need to ensure that creators are fairly rewarded on the basis of licenses obtained by the online platforms.

This agreement is emerging as a result of several recent developments. On the side of the opponents of Article 13 the intense discussion of the previous weeks has resurfaced the fact that underneath the calls for a deletion of Article 13 there is widespread acknowledgement that there is a real need for platforms to pay those creators who want to be paid for uses of their works by the platforms. On the side of the proponents of Article 13 there seems to be an increasing realisation that an Article 13 that does require widespread use of upload filters may lack sufficient support within the EP (and certainly outside of it).

Upload Filters have become toxic

This second development represents a marked shift in the positioning of the supporters of Article 13. The most prominent example of this is a position paper of the German CDU (the same political party that rapporteur Axel Voss belongs to) in which the promise (to an enraged German electorate) that Germany would implement Article 13 in such a way that there will be no need for upload filters (by requiring platforms to obtain blanket licenses). While the substance of this claim is way out of line with the actual text of Article 13 and the requirements of the rest of the EU framework, it does illustrate that even for the CDU, which was instrumental in pushing through the current text, upload filters have become too toxic to be associated with. Continue reading

Dear European Parliament – say #Yes2Copyright, but NO to #Article13

Tuin met parterre met labyrint en op de achtergrond een poort
There is still time to act!
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The final vote on copyright reform in the plenary session of the Parliament is scheduled for March 26. After more than 30 months of work on this topic our overall assessment remains unchanged: The proposed Directive is bad, and will not make the internet work for people. The final “compromise” text has done nothing to accommodate the concerns we and others have raised over the past 2+ years.

As long as Article 13 remains part of the package, the only sensible way forward it to make sure that Directive will be rejected by the European Parliament.

There is still time to act! Read along to find out what you can do in the last days before the vote.

Upload filters don’t (and can’t) respect users’ rights

Through the lens of copyright, Article 13 turns upside down how the web works. Instead of permitting users to upload content to platforms and resolving platforms from liability as long as they act quickly to remove infringing content once notified, Article 13 would require nearly all for-profit platforms that allow UGC to conclude licenses all user uploads. If they don’t obtain the licenses, then the only option will be to install upload filters and censor content in order to ensure that any unsanctioned content remains off their service. If the platforms don’t comply, they could be held liable for significant copyright infringement damages. Continue reading

A final x-ray of Article 13: legislative wishful thinking that will hurt user rights

Article 13 final flowchart
Impossible obligations create legal uncertainty
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Since last year we have tracked the development of Article 13 of the proposed Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market by publishing a series of flowcharts that illustrates its internal logic (or absence thereof). Now that there is a final compromise version of the directive we have taken another look at the inner workings of the article. The final version of Article 13 continues to be so problematic that as long as it remains part of the overall package, the directive as a whole will do more harm than good. This is recognised by an increasing number of MEPs who are pledging that they will vote against Article 13 at the final plenary vote.

The flowchart below illustrates the main operative elements of Article 13. These include the definition of the affected services, the types of services that are explicitly excluded from its scope (the green box in the top right corner) and the reversal of the liability rules for the services covered by Article 13. It further details the obligations imposed on the services. These include an obligation to seek licenses for all copyrighted works uploaded by users (the yellow box) and the requirements to ensure the unavailability of certain works that will force platforms to implement upload filters (the two red boxes). The yellow box at the bottom contains the measures that platforms must take to ensure that the upload filters don’t negatively affect users’ rights.

Article 13 final flowchart

The Scope: Broad yet vague

The problems with Article 13 start with the definition of the services it applies to. While Article 13 is intended to address concerns about value distribution raised by a limited set of industries (primarily the music industry) it applies to all types of copyright protected works. But there is no good reason why an article that is intended to bolster that bargaining power of the music industry should impose expensive obligations on platforms that have nothing to do with hosting musical works. In addition, the limitation to platforms that deal with “large amounts” of works is so vague that it does not provide any legal certainty for smaller platforms and will undoubtedly give raise to court challenges. On the positive side the definition clearly limits the scope to for-profit services. Continue reading

After 30 months, EU legislators agree to sell out users and creators to big platforms and big content.

Caïn venant de tuer son frère Abel, by Henry Vidal
European users and creators deserve better
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After yesterday’s agreement between the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission on a compromise text, the EU copyright reform process has entered into its final phase. The good news is that after yesterday’s compromise the text cannot get any worse: it will either be adopted or it will be rejected. The bad news is that the text that was agreed on yesterday is **the worst version that we have seen yet**. After three days of negotiations, the negotiators have agreed on a text that would benefit big corporate rightsholders, Google and other dominant platforms at the expense of users, creators and the rest of the European internet economy.

To understand what has happened during the negotiations, it is illustrative to look at the differences between the final compromise and the text that had been agreed among the EU member states last week (which was the result of horse trading between the French and German governments).

A win for dominant platforms…

Yesterday’s compromise text is largely in line with the French-German deal. This includes a terrible version of Article 13 that will severely limit users ability to express themselves online. It will also further consolidate the power of dominant platforms, as smaller platforms will struggle with implementing expensive filtering technology and supporting the increased costs for dealing with increased liability.

It also introduces a EU-wide neighbouring right for press publishers that will have very similar effects. It benefits dominant platforms who can afford compliance while creating additional costs and risks for smaller players. As a result, users will likely end up with less access to information and the diversity of information available online will likely suffer. Under these conditions it remains to be seen if rightsholders will indeed manage to extract more value from the large intermediaries.    

…at the expense of users and creators

As if this would not be bad enough, the negotiators have introduced last minute changes to the text that further weaken provisions that were intended to protect the rights of users and individual creators. The French/German deal did not (at least not clearly) include a UGC exception for users of every online platform, but it used language that at least applied to  user-generated content uploaded to the platforms covered by Article 13. The final compromise has adopted questionable language that may or may not  provide a meaningful protection for users of platforms covered by Article 13, depending on whether Member States are obliged to fully implement the existing quotation and parody exceptions provided in the InfoSoc Directive, and make them applicable to user-generated content, which is not evident from the text. Continue reading

Final countdown on Article 13: here is how bad it really is

Article 13 flowchart (detail)
Article 13: death by filters
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Today will see the third of the “final” trilogue meetings this week. Soon we will either have a final text of the copyright directive (and we are assuming it will be either bad or very bad), or it’ll be dead in the water. At this moment the fate of the directive largely hinges on the ability of the negotiations to find a compromise on Article 13. The negotiations this week rely on the mandate obtained by the Romanian presidency last Friday. This text, based on a compromise hashed out between France and Germany, has been widely characterized as the worst version of Article 13 yet.

While negotiators have been working on finding a final compromise this week, we have analysed the current text proposed by the presidency and created a flowchart of what’s in play. In its current version Article 13 now has nine operative provisions — now exceeding the number of articles the 2001 InfoSoc directive required to describe both the rights granted under copyright and the exceptions and limitations to those rights!

Article 13 flowchart (full) Continue reading

Time to stop hijacking copyright to bolster the economic interests of specific sectors

A dragon devouring the companions of Cadmus
Support for Article 13 is disintegrating
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Ahead of today’s discussion of a new copyright mandate in the Council, which would pave the way for a final trilogue at the beginning next week, the situation is becoming increasingly messy. Over the last 24 hours various groups of rightsholders ( Europe’s biggest entertainment company , a number of smaller associations from the Audiovisual sector and an unprecedented coalition of big AV holders and half of the music industry ) have come out against the proposed directive as a whole and Article 13 in particular. With the defection of major music industry organisations from the pro-article 13 movement, the once-united front of rightsholders in favour of Article 13 seems to have completely disintegrated.  This makes it clear that the EU copyright reform process has been hijacked by the legacy entertainment industry in an ill-conceived attempt to re-establish their control over the distribution of cultural goods. Under these conditions it starts looking increasingly unlikely that the copyright directive will be adopted before the EU elections later this year.

In part these last minute statements are tactical interventions intended to maximise pressure on the negotiators to adopt rightsholders friendly positions, but they also point to a much more fundamental problem: Copyright is simply not suitable as a tool to support the specific business models of one part of the creative sector without causing massive problems in other sectors. In an environment where pretty much every online transaction somehow triggers copyright, messing with the contours of copyright (especially when it comes to liability for infringement) will have lots of unintended consequences that manifest themselves as collateral damage in other sectors of the digital economy. Continue reading

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!

lillies
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