Multiple news agencies confirm: Press publishers right will be used to limit freedom to link

Karikatuur van Franse censoren
Article 11 is an attack on the freedom to link
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Within the new industry, news agencies fill the role of the objective gathers of facts. Agencies like DPA, AFP or ANP collect information and make them available to publishing companies who sometimes publish the information as is, but mostly use the information that they get from the agencies as an ingredient for their own reporting. Journalists rely on news agencies to confirm the accuracy of information they use in their reporting.

The heads of 8 major European news agencies have now entered the discussion about the ancillary publishers right for press publishers, via an open letter published in Wednesday’s edition of the French daily Le Monde (paywalled french language version here). They have done so taking the side of those press publishers who advocate for this right. The letter is a frontal attack on online platforms (Facebook and Google in particular) whom they accuse of profiting from hyperlinking to online new publications that are based on information gathered by the news agencies:

[The platforms] offer internet users the work done by others, the news media, by freely publishing hypertext links to their stories.

What is remarkable here is that the news agencies’ letter explicitly singles out hyperlinking as the mechanism that should be the target of the ancillary right for press publishers. While we  and others such as the eponymous Save the Link campaign have argued for a long time that an ancillary copyright would threaten the ability to freely link to online resources, and thus break one of the fundamental building blocks of the internet, the press publishers have gone to great length to pretend that this is not the case.

Publishersright.eu, the lobby platform set up by the EU press and news publishers associations contains a “mythbuster” section that proclaims that the publishers right “is not a link tax”, will “not break the internet”, and will not “be used to block access to publishers] content” (the last one stands in direct contruy7 [adiction to this statement by Prof. Höppner—one of the few academic proponents of the right). In the same vein the European Publishers Council is proclaiming (complete with animated GIF) that “the link is safe” and that the publishers right will lead to “more links”.

Unfortunately for these self appointed “mythbusters” the news agencies seem to have missed the memo and made it clear that the right is indeed an attempt to break the freedom to link. While this could be filed away as a simple communication mistake, the news agencies reveal a much deeper truth: It doesn’t really matter what the proponents of a new right claim with regards to how it will be used. Once a new right exists rights holders are incentivised to make maximum use of the new right. The statements from the news agencies and Prof Höppner make it clear that this will include attempts to charge for linking to and blocking access to content.

As we have argued before, strengthening the position of press publishers (and journalists) does not require a new separate right which would likely be abused to impede the access to information and to break the internet. Instead the position of press publishers vis a vis abusive practices could be achieved by a legal presumption that press publishers are entitled to enforce the rights over the works or other subject matter that are licensed to them. This is the approach that was proposed by former MEP Comodini in the draft report of the European Parliament’s legal affairs committee and is one of the two options currently discussed among the member states in the Council.

This week’s intervention by the news agencies is a powerful reminder that handing out new rights is the wrong approach to the problem.

The copyright reform proposal is a threat to fundamental rights, the economy, education and creativity!

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Time to stop the #CensorshipMachine
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It has been well over a year since the European Commission has presented its proposal for adapting the EU copyright rules to the realities of the digital age. The proposed changes (as flawed as they may be) are part of an agenda to make Europe more competitive and to stimulate economic growth.

The proposal continues to be debated in the European parliament with no real end in sight. In this situation we have taken today’s meeting of the EU Competitiveness Council (which brings together the ministers responsible for trade, economy, industry, research and innovation, and space from the 28 EU member states, as an occasion to write yet another open letter.

Given that at this stage pretty much everything that can be said about the dangers and shortcomings of the Commission’s proposal has been said, our letter which has been signed by an unprecedented coalition of more than 80 civil society and human rights organisations limits itself to pointing out this very fact:

We write to you to share our respectful but serious concerns that discussions in the Council and European Commission on the Copyright Directive are on the verge of causing irreparable damage to our fundamental rights and freedoms, our economy and competitiveness, our education and research, our innovation and competition, our creativity and our culture. We refer you to the numerous letters and analyses sent previously from a broad spectrum of European stakeholders and experts for more details (see attached).

Attached to the letter are 29 different opinions, studies, open letters and reports that have been addressed at the EU legislators since the publication of the reform proposal. These include a recommendation co-signed by over 50 respected academics on measures to safeguard fundamental rights and the open Internet in the framework of the EU copyright reform, which points out that:

Article 13 (…) is disproportionate and irreconcilable with the fundamental rights guarantees in the Charter [of Fundamental Rights of the EU]

An open letter from over 50 NGOs representing human rights and media freedom asking the EU legislators to delete Article 13:

Article 13 appears to provoke such legal uncertainty that online services will have no other option than to monitor, filter and block EU citizens’ communications if they are to have any chance of staying in business. Article 13 contradicts existing rules and the case law of the Court of Justice.

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European Parliament Civil Liberties committee is second EP committee to reject mandatory upload filters

Twee apen maken muziek
Article 13 is a threat to creative expression online
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Yesterday, the members of the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee (LIBE) did the right thing and voted down the Commission’s proposal to impose upload filters on online platforms. The LIBE opinion, which was drafted by Polish EPP MEP Michał Boni and adopted with a clear majority of 36 votes for and just 5 against, dismantles the most problematic aspects of Article 13 of the Commission’s proposal: the members of the LIBE committee voted to remove the obligation for online platforms to use automated content recognition technologies to filter all user uploads in order to prevent users of these platforms from sharing copyrighted materials without permission from rights holders. The opinion also proposes strengthening user’s ability to contest the takedown of works they’ve uploaded.

Members of Parliament are recognizing the dangers upload filters pose to freedom of expresion..

While this approach is not perfect (as we have repeatedly said Article 13 should be deleted from the proposed directive), it shows that the members of the European Parliament are not willing to blindly follow the attempts by the music industry and the Commission to give big rightsholders more control over how we create, share and access content online. It is encouraging to see that the members of Parliament have listened to the arguments against automated upload filters, such as the recent warning by more than 50 prominent professors and scholars of copyright and internet law that automated filtering systems “would deprive users of the room for freedom of expression” and the open letter that we co-signed with 50 human rights and civil liberties organisations, which pointed out that content filters would both “limit the freedom to impart information […], and the freedom to receive information on the other.”

LIBE is now the second committee of the European Parliament that is calling for a halt to the automated content filtering plans proposed by the Commission. Back in July the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee (IMCO) adopted the same amendments that were adopted yesterday by LIBE. While both committees will be at the table when the leading JURI committee discusses these plans, it is far from certain that the Committee on Legal Affairs will follow the line established by them.

…while Member States continue to push for mandatory censorship filters

Outside of the European Parliament the LIBE vote also sends a strong signal to the Member States who are discussing this issue in parallel. The Estonian presidency has proposed a new compromise text on article 13 that will be discussed among the member states later this week. The language proposed by the Estonian proposal significantly overhauls the Commission’s proposal, but that new coat of paint cannot hide the fact that it still tries to force online platforms to implement automated content filtering technologies. Continue reading

Bending over backwards – ALDE wants to ensure online is like the offline

Vergaan van het schip de Vrijheid
Protect online freedom     of expression
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Despite ambitious planning, the JURI Committee vote on the Copyright in the Digital Market directive seems increasingly unlikely to happen in 2017. Meanwhile, following the lead of the EPP, ALDE (The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) published a new position paper on Copyright in the Digital Single Market earlier this month. ALDE seems to be deeply split when it comes to the question of copyright policy. Perhaps this is why the paper offers a very blurred perspective on how the group’s MEPs will vote in the upcoming votes in the Civil Liberties (LIBE) and Legal Affairs (JURI) committees in the European Parliament.

A blurred compromise to keep everyone happy

While many liberal MEPs are traditionally supportive of less restrictive copyright rules and value the protection of individual freedoms, ALDE’s official spokesperson for the copyright file, MEP Cavada is one of the most outspoken proponents of stronger copyright protection in the European Parliament.

Positions of the political groups in JURI with respect to selected elements of the DSM directive proposal [Source].

The new position paper seems to be an attempt to bridge both positions. Following a somewhat rambling introduction that extensively highlights the need to fight online piracy (which technically is not included in the scope of the DSM directive), the position paper states that attempts to protect copyright online should not infringe users’, consumers’ and citizens’ rights:

ALDE wants to protect copyright online because we need to ensure that creators are fairly remunerated for their creations. In taking measures to ensure this, however, ALDE is not ready to go as far as to infringe users’, consumers’ and citizens’ rights to exercise their freedom of expression online. Just as in working against any unlawful behaviour, online or offline, ALDE will do as much as possible, while maintaining a fair balance of fundamental rights, such as the right of information and the right of free expression.

Unfortunately the position paper leaves it unclear what this would mean for ALDEs position towards article 13 of the Commission’s proposal (which require upload filters for online platforms). Continue reading

France, Spain and Portugal: We must adapt the internet to the reality of copyright (not the other way around)

La liberté guidant le peuple
Vive le ©, mort aux plates-formes ouvertes!
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Lately we have written so much about ourselves, human rights organisations, academics (1|2) and member states (1|2) criticising the upload filters proposed in article 13 of the proposed DSM directive that one could almost forget that there are indeed powerful forces who are pushing for these filters to become a reality.

A new set of documents leaked by Statewatch presents an (un)welcome reminder of of the fact that the idea of upload filters has powerful supporters outside of the music industry and that they wield considerable influence on the discussions in the council. The set of documents consists of a document containing “amendments to recitals 37, 38, 39 and Article 13” proposed by the French, Spanish and Portuguese delegations (dating from 2 october) and a document by the Estonian Council Presidency containing the questions raised to the Member States during 17-18 October meeting of the Council Working Party on Intellectual Property, which echoes the tone set by the amendments proposed by the three member states.

The amendments proposed by France, Spain and Portugal offer the clearest view yet on what the proponents of article 13 want to achieve. In their eyes article 13 is not about vague and ill defined “measures to ensure the functioning of agreements concluded” between rightsholders and online platforms but about creating a complete change of the legal status of open online platforms. The amendments proposed make an attempt to (a) re-define the activities of online platforms as communication to the public undertaken by those platforms and to (b) remove online platforms that allow uploads by their users from the protections afforded to them by the e-commerce directive.

Legal uncertainty exists as regards the conditions under which the provision of access by information society service providers allowing users to upload content can be considered as an act of communication to the public. This affects rightholders’ possibilities to determine whether, and under which conditions, their works and other subject-matter are used as well as their possibilities to get an appropriate remuneration for it. The present directive clarifies the conditions under which such information society service providers can be considered to perform an act of communication to the public and therefore do not fall in the scope of Article 14 of the Directive 2000/31/EC. (recital 37, additions by FR/ES/PT in bold)

While the proposed Copyright in the Digital Single Market directive is seen by most stakeholders as an attempt to adapt the copyright rules to the evolving realities of the digital economy, the French (and their Portuguese and Spanish supporters) are clearly of the opinion that it should be the other way around: according to them the realities of the digital world must be adapted to the principles of copyright orthodoxy (i.e to a legal constructs established in the late 19th century). Continue reading

More academics speak out against upload filters for online platforms

Man met een brief
Article 13 is incompatible with fundamental rights
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It seems like it is open letter writing season in Brussels right now. In the absence of any real legislative progress the directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, experts and other stakeholders are seizing the opportunity to make their voices heard. After more than 50 civil society organisations including Human Rights Watch, Reporters sans Frontiers and the Freedom of the Press Foundation issued a statement opposing the online filtering provisions proposed in article 13 of the Commission’s proposal, a group of more than 50 high profile copyright scholars has come forward with yet another statement opposing article 13.

In their paper “The Recommendation on Measures to Safeguard Fundamental Rights and the Open Internet in the Framework of the EU Copyright Reform” published on SSRC statement, the academics led by Professor Martin Senftleben (VU Amsterdam) restates the main problems posed by article 13 and recital 39:

The measures contemplated in Article 13 DSMD can hardly be deemed compatible with the fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed under Articles 8 (protection of personal data), 11 (freedom of expression) and 16 (freedom to conduct a business) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. The application of filtering systems that would result from the adoption of Article 13 DSMD would place a disproportionate burden on platform providers, in particular small and medium-sized operators, and lead to the systematic screening of personal data, even in cases where no infringing content is uploaded. The filtering systems would also deprive users of the room for freedom of expression that follows from statutory copyright exceptions, in particular the quotation right and the right to parody.

The adoption of Recital 38 DSMD would moreover lead to a remarkable restriction of eligibility for the liability privilege following from Article 14 of the E-Commerce Directive. Recital 38 DSMD does not adequately reflect the current status quo in the area of the safe harbour for hosting laid down by Article 14 E-Commerce Directive. […] The general requirement of “knowledge of, or control over” infringing user-generated content is missing. In the absence of any reference to this central requirement, Recital 38 DSMD is incomplete and fails to draw an accurate picture of the current conceptual contours of the safe harbour for hosting. […] Because of the ambiguous wording of Recital 38 DSMD, there is a real risk of modifying the notion of “communication to the public” considerably.

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Germany to Commission: Article 13 endangers the competitiveness of European enterprises

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Germany says upload filters may be illegal
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Two weeks ago we highlighted the fact that six EU member states had asked questions to the Council legal service about the legality of Article 13 of the proposed Digital Single Market directive. Yesterday it emerged that the government of Germany also has serious concerns about Article 13 and asked its own set of questions to the Council legal service. As our friends at copybuzz.com point out, this move by Germany adds a lot of weight to the questions raised by Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Ireland and the Netherlands before the summer. While the questions asked by the German document more or less mirror the concerns of the other six member states, there are also some important differences.

A lot of the concerns raised by the six member states centered on the relationship between the Commission’s proposed Article 13, user rights granted under exceptions and limitations, and the rights enshrined in the EU fundamental rights charter. In contrast the intervention by the German government seems to be motivated by a different set of concerns. In the introductory paragraph of the document they write (emphasis ours):

We welcome the fact that the Commission has addressed the matter of how to fairly distribute the value created by internet platforms. We must ensure that creative individuals receive fair pay, also if their work is available on the internet. Concurrently, platforms must not be jeopardised in their function as a societal medium of communication. Moreover, it must be ensured that the competitiveness of European enterprises and the freedom of scientific communication are not impaired.

Based on this is seems clear that the German government is primarily worried about the potential negative impacts that Article 13 would have outside the narrow confines of the music industry. The German government is concerned that the Commission, driven by the the music industry’s desire to cripple the liability exceptions of the E-Commerce directive, will undermine the economic basis for much of Europe’s digital economy.

A threat to the digital economy and academic research

Similar to the six member states before it, the German government is not at all convinced that the Commission’s proposal will leave the legal principles established by the E-Commerce directive intact. From the German point of view this is especially worrisome as the liability exceptions apply to many platforms other than the video sharing and social media services targeted by the music industry. And while the music industry is without a doubt an important contributor to the EU economy, so are other sectors that rely on online platforms and the protections granted by the E-Commerce directive (see for example this excellent report by the Open Forum Europe and the Free Software Foundation Europe that highlights how Article 13 would create substantial burdens for collaborative software development in the EU). Continue reading

Leading Academics: Article 13 is incompatible with EU law and must be deleted

Anatomische les van professor Paaw
There is no place for upload filters in EU law!
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Last week (the same day that we published an updated version of our position paper on article 13) our friends at copybuzz pointed to a paper by The Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition on article 13, published in response to a set of questions raised by six EU member states over the summer. As we have reported here, the questions related to the relationship between the measures proposed in article 13 and recital 38 of the Commission’s proposal and the existing EU legal framework (the E-Commerce Directive, the InfoSoc Directive and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU).

The questions posed by the member states already implied that article 13 and recital 38 would violate a number of legal concepts established by existing legislation. The answers provided by the Max Planck Institute confirm this. As the paper, authored by Prof. Dr. Reto Hilty and Dr. Valentina Moscon points out, there are serious problems with all 4 aspects of the proposal that have given rise to the member state’s queries. Based on their analysis the Hilty and Moscon come to the same conclusion as we did in our own position paper:

Therefore, it is inadvisable to adopt Article 13 of the proposed Directive and its respective Recitals, 38 and 39. (page 2)

This opinion is based on an analysis that finds that the Commission’s proposal would create legal uncertainty, would risk conflicting with the user rights (exceptions and limitations) granted by the InfoSoc Directive, would be inconsistent with the E-Commerce Directive, and could enable abusive behaviour that threatens fundamental human rights, such as the freedom of expression and information.

A scathing takedown of the Commission’s Proposal

All in all, the responses to the questions posed by the six member states read as a scathing takedown of the Commission’s Proposal. Continue reading

Updated position paper: Article 13 remains a terrible idea and needs to be deleted

Zeeslag voor Gibraltar
Article 13 is an attack on the open internet
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Today we are publishing an updated version of our position paper on Article 13 of the European Commission’s proposal for a directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. Since we have published our original position paper in January of this year, Article 13 has generated an enormous amount of discussion and has emerged as the most contested part of the Commission’s proposal. The discussions within the parliament and among the Member States are still ongoing and so far there is no clear indication where these talks will end.

In the updated policy paper we re-iterate our concerns (a few of them have recently been taken up by a group of Member States in a set of questions to the legal services of the Council), analyse proposals for amending the Commission’s proposal that have been adopted in the European Parliament, and provide a set of recommendations. Our key recommendation remains to delete article 13 from the proposal as it addresses a problem that lacks empirical evidence confirming its existence. Article 13, as drafted by the Commission, would limit the freedom of expression of online users and create legal uncertainty that has the potential to undermine the entire EU online economy. As such it is unworthy of being included in a Directive proposal that is intended to modernize the aging EU copyright framework.

Read the updated position paper below. If you are familiar with the issues at hand and/or the previous version you may want to jump straight to the updated part.

Position paper: EU copyright should protect users’ rights and prevent content filtering

Article 13 of the European Commission’s proposal for a Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market attempts to address the alleged disparity in revenues generated by rightsholders and platforms from online uses of protected content (the so called “value gap”). The proposed article attempts to do this by introducing an obligation for “Information society service providers that store and provide to the public access to large amounts of works” to filter user uploads. It would also require these providers to set up licensing agreements with rightsholders.

These proposed measures are highly problematic as they violate fundamental rights of users, contradict the rules established by the E-Commerce Directive, and go against CJEU case law. The measures proposed in the Commission’s proposal stem from an unbalanced vision of copyright as an issue between rightsholders and infringers. The proposal chooses to ignore limitations and exceptions to copyright, fundamental freedoms, and existing users’ practices. In addition, the proposal fails to establish clear rules with regard to how citizens can use protected works in transformative ways—such as remixes and other forms of so-called “user-generated content” (UGC). As a result, a system of this kind would greatly restrict the way Europeans create, share, and communicate online. Continue reading

Member States to Commission: We don’t trust your claims that censorship filters are in line with EU law

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Are upload filters even legal?
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Hot on the heels of last week’s leak of a (rather depressing) Estonian council compromise proposal that contained two bad proposals for the upload filter comes another leak of a council document. Apparently not all EU Member States are convinced that the Commission’s plans to require online platforms to filter all user uploads is such a good idea! Statewatch has just published a document containing written questions from the governments of Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Ireland and the Netherlands to the council legal service regarding article 13 and recital 38.

These questions clearly show that these Member States have serious doubts about the Commission’s repeated assurances that the proposed censorship filters would not affect users’ fundamental rights, do not change the liability exemption of the e-commerce directive, do not constitute a general monitoring obligation and do not change the definition of what it means to make copyrighted works available online.

All of these questions may sound like technical details but they are not. Instead they are at the heart of the discussion about article 13 of the commission’s proposal. Since the commission presented the proposal, a broad coalition of civil society, technology companies and academics has pointed out the problematic relationship between the commission’s proposal and fundamental rights and the principles established by the e-commerce directive.

Member States have serious doubts about legality of upload filters

The music industry organisations are the driving force behind the attempt to censor user uploads and regain control over the ability of millions of online creators to express themselves online. Together with the Commission they have flat out denied that the proposed in article 13 and recital 38 would change existing EU law. The fact that the six member states have formally asked the legal service of the Council (which is independent of the Commission) shows that they are not buying into this narrative. Continue reading