In its communication on the copyright framework, the European Commission has promised to clarify the scope of the existing exception for illustration of teaching, and its application for digital uses. The overarching goal was to have a mandatory exception that is relevant and effective in the digital age.
Having read the leaked draft of the proposed Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive, it is clear to us that these goals will not be met. The proposed educational exception, despite having some good elements, will overall worsen the legal environment for educators. And it likely will introduce major costs for public educational systems around Europe.
The licensing narrative
The worst part of the proposed exception is a rule that gives member states the right not to apply the exception, if adequate licenses are provided by the rights holders. This is a rule that in practice makes the exception powerless as a tool for supporting education through legal means at the European level, as member states ultimately will decide whether to provide an exception. And it’s hard to imagine that they will be willing to avoid the rule “no exception can exist if licensing options are available”.
Around Europe, educators depend on the exception to conduct innovative, modern education. Yet they often fall into a grey zone of legal uncertainty – in the most typical scenario, a teacher sets up a school film club, only to find out that viewing films might not be covered by an exception. At that point, a commercial intermediary usually presents itself, and offers a licensing option. There is nothing wrong with that – other than that public school systems are not able to cover these costs. According to our analysis of the situation in Poland, if every school had to purchase one of the available licenses, the public budget would have to invest half the amount it pays every year for financial support to poor students. These are large amounts that could be invested otherwise in generally underfunded educational systems. The proposal does not seem to draw conclusions from this scenario, and seems happy to force educational institutions to adopt licenses – as there won’t be any exception available, to provide a safe, free space for educational uses.
The Commission argues, in the leaked Impact Assessment, that data from member states where licensing options proliferate show that “costs are rather limited if compared to establishments’ overall costs”. This comparison is misleading and unhelpful. Surely, licensing would cost less than upkeep of thousands of school and academic buildings, or that which is allocated for educators’ wages. But licensing fees can still be large sums—which most of the time do not fit into tight budgets. And we need to remember that the ECL scheme, demonstrated by the Commission as a best case scenario, functions well only in rich, Scandinavian countries. Continue reading