Open letter: More transparency for the Stakeholder dialogue

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Stressing the importance of protecting user rights
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Yesterday COMMUNIA, Liberties, EDRI, IFLA, Save the Internet and 38 other organisations representing users, citizens and creators sent an open letter to the European Commission asking for a more transparent approach to Article 17 stakeholder dialogue that is currently ongoing in Brussels (see our previous posts on the stakeholder dialogue here).

In this letter we are making two demands, one procedural in nature and one on the substance of the discussions. Regarding the procedure we are asking the Commission to commit to publishing a draft of its guidelines for the application of Article 17 of the DSM Directive during the stakeholder dialogue in order to give us (and all other stakeholders) the ability to scrutinise the proposed guidelines and provide the Commission with feedback.

In terms of substance the letter repeats the key demand that users’ organisations (backed by a large number of academics) have been expressing throughout the stakeholder dialogue namely that …

… the guidelines must ensure that the protection of “legitimate uses, such as uses under exceptions or limitations” as required by Article 17(9) of the Directive takes precedence over any measures implemented by online content-sharing service providers (OCSSPs) to comply with their obligations under 17(4) (b) (c). Automated filtering technologies can only be used if OCSSPs can demonstrate that their use does not affect legitimate uses in any negative ways.

The next meeting of the stakeholder dialogue will take place tomorrow and (you will be able to find a web stream here). Follow us on twitter for updates from the meeting (we will also publish a report here later this week).

Article 17: Both French and Dutch implementation proposals lack key user rights safeguards

Allegory of the Alliance with France
Selective implementations sacrifice user rights
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As of January 2020 there are two Member States that have published legislative proposals for the implementation of Article 17 CDSM. In July the Netherlands published a proposal for an implementation law for public consultation that implemented all provisions of the CDSM directive. Then, in early December, France published the proposal for a project for a law on audiovisual communication and cultural sovereignty in the digital era that implements some of the CDSM directive provisions, including Article 17 (see a first analysis of the French proposal by Julia Reda here).

These first implementation proposals are coming from a main proponent of Article 17 (France) and one of the most vocal opponents (Netherlands), and allow us to get a first impression of how Member States across the EU are likely going to deal with this controversial article. Irrespective of the different positions by France and the Netherlands during the directive negotiations, the implementation proposed by both Member States do not diverge much from each other. 

Both the laws stay very close to the text of the directive: The French implementation largely follows the order of the different sections of the directive via two nearly identical articles, one dealing with copyright (L137) and the other dealing with related rights (L219). The Dutch implementation law follows its own structure and introduces 3 articles (29c, 29d and 29e) that deal with copyright and one article (19b) that declares these articles to also apply to neighbouring rights. 

Selective implementations

The general approach chosen by both legislators is to transpose the text of Article 17 (paragraphs 1-6 and 8 and the definition of online content-sharing service providers (OCSSP) from article 2(6)) as closely as possible into their national law.

Neither of the legislators transposes paragraph 17(7) (that introduces crucial safeguards protecting uses under exceptions and limitations) and both only transpose parts of paragraph 17(9) (that imposes an obligation on OCSSPs to operate a complaint and redress mechanisms for users in the event of disputes over the takedown and staydown procedures). None of the legislators provide any further guidance on how platforms are supposed to meet the requirement to make “best efforts to obtain authorisation” from rightholders. Continue reading

Our Guidelines for the Implementation of the DSM Directive

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We are thrilled to release our Guidelines for Implementation of the DSM Directive.

These guidelines explain different provisions of the new Copyright Directive and make suggestions on what to advocate for during the implementation process of those provisions in the EU Member States. They are aimed at local advocates and national policy makers, and have the general objective of expanding and strengthening user rights at a national level beyond what is strictly prescribed by the new Directive. 

Communia partnered with LIBER (Articles 3 and 4), IFLA (Article 6) and Europeana (Articles 8 to 11) for the creation of these guidelines. The guidelines are part of a wider implementation project of COMMUNIA and its members Centrum Cyfrowe and Wikimedia, which includes a range of activities (including our transposition bootcamp) to make sure that local communities in as many Member States as possible participate in their national legislative processes.  

There is room for improvement in the DSM Directive

The two and a half years of public discussions of the new Copyright Directive were largely centred on a small number of problematic clauses (the press publishers right and the upload filters). However, the Directive also includes a number of provisions that improve the existing EU copyright rules (a number of new copyright exceptions and protections for the public domain).

While the national implementations will have to include all the problematic aspects of the new Copyright Directive, there is some room for meaningful improvements, and some measures can be taken to mitigate the worst provisions of the Directive. The EU Member States have until 7 June 2021 to implement the Directive into their national laws. 

Expanding and strengthening user rights

Our detailed proposals try to achieve the general objective of expanding and strengthening user rights by suggesting that, during the national implementation process, Member States make use of the following flexibilities: Continue reading

Open Letter: Implementation Guidance on Article 17 Must Include Public Interest Stakeholders

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On Friday the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market was published in the Official Journal of the European Union, formally kicking off the implementation phase in which the Directive will be transposed into the national laws of the EU Member States. EU Member States will have until 7 June 2021 to adopt the provisions laid down in the directive into their respective copyright laws.

Today Communia and over 40 organisations sent an open letter to the European Commission calling for an inclusive stakeholder dialogue that incorporates the views of human rights, digital rights, and access to knowledge organisations. The letter was organised by the Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties). It focuses on Article 17 (formerly Article 13), the sweeping provision that alters the liability regime for online platforms by requiring licenses for all user generated uploads, and would lead to platforms having to install content filters lest they become liable for copyright infringement for works that aren’t able to be licensed. The adoption of Article 17 will put fundamental freedoms at risk and set a dangerous precedent for user rights, so it’s absolutely critical that in the implementation the article is transposed with care to protect freedom of expression. From our open letter:

Broad and inclusive participation is crucial for ensuring that the national implementations of Article 17 and the day-to-day cooperation between online content-sharing service providers and rightholders respects the Charter of Fundamental Rights by safeguarding citizens’ and creators’ freedom of expression and information, whilst also protecting their privacy. These should be the guiding principles for a harmonized implementation of Article 17 throughout the Digital Single Market.

Over the entirety of the 30-month reform process, Communia has been advocating for changes to improve the situation for users rights and produce a more balanced copyright system. Article 17 sets platforms up for failure because it is impossible to meet the obligations they have under the mitigation measures and to safeguard user rights at the same time. That’s why it’s important that the stakeholder dialogue and consultations on implementation listen closely to the input from human rights, digital rights, and knowledge communities in order to protect user rights and freedom of expression.

DSM directive adopted – implementation in Member States can still make a difference

Portret van Johann Lutz
Two year implementation period starts now
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Earlier this week, after almost exactly 30 months of legislative wrangling, the EU Member States approved the final compromise of the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. It’s the same text that was approved by the European Parliament at the end of March. This means that the Directive will become law as soon as it is published in the Official Journal of the European Union. Judged against our own ideas about a modern EU copyright framework that facilitates access to cultural and information, strengthens user rights and reduces unnecessary copyright infringement, the outcome of EU copyright reform process is a big disappointment. The directive expands the scope of copyright and instead of harmonising copyright rules across the EU member states, it contains measures that will further fragment and complicate the EU copyright framework. Instead of strengthening public interest exceptions to copyright, the directive relies on voluntary licensing by rightholders, giving them the ability to block users’ access.

As a result the final directive does not live up to the “Digital Single Market” label that it carries in its title. The adopted text does very little to harmonise an already complex set of rules among the Member States. Instead, the directive creates additional rules to the system that have been designed to further the (perceived) interests for specific classes of rightholders—most notably the music industry and press publishers. Once the directive has been implemented in the Member States, the EU copyright system will likely be more complex, and thus more difficult and costly to navigate for users and European businesses.

In this regard the provisions of Article 17 (formerly Article 13) remain the most problematic in the entire directive. The article is a legislative monstrosity that will most likely achieve the opposite of what it was intended to accomplish. Instead of establishing clear rules that require commercial content sharing platforms to adequately remunerate the creators of the works that they distribute, it will impose substantial regulatory burdens and create legal uncertainties for years to come. The most likely benefactors of this outcome will be large rightholders and the incumbent dominant platforms. The existing intermediaries within the creative value chain will have the means to navigate the uncertainties and conclude complex licensing arrangements, but users and independent creators at the edges of these value chains will suffer the consequences: They will be presented with fewer distribution platforms to choose from, and they will have less freedom of creative expression.

Implementation can make a difference

With the directive formally adopted by both the Parliament and Council, the fight for a better EU copyright enters into a new phase. The EU Member States will soon have two years to implement the rules established by the directive into their national copyright laws. While such implementations will have to include all the problematic aspects of the directive, there is some room for meaningful improvements, and some measures can be taken to mitigate the worst provisions of the directive. Continue reading

The new Copyright Directive is a lost opportunity for Europe

Hercules by Albrecht Dürer
and shows lack of respect for user rights
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Today, after a 30-month long legislative procedure, the European Parliament voted on the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. Members of the Parliament approved the Directive, with 348 voting in favor and 274 voting against, and 36 abstaining.

The Directive is the most important European regulation of the digital sphere in the last several years. It will define the shape of copyright in Europe for years to come — and have spillover effects for regulation around the globe. We believe that the approved directive will not meet the goal of providing a modern framework that balances the interests of rightsholder and users, protects human rights and enables creativity and innovation to flourish. Instead, it is a biased regulation that supports one business sector, at the cost of European citizens.

In the last two and a half years, and especially since last June, we faced an extremely heated debate and intense legislative process. During this time, together with a broad coalition of activists, experts and organisations, we attempted to remove (or improve) its most controversial parts. In the last weeks, we supported an effort to amend the directive during the plenary, in a last attempt to remove the most detrimental provision — Article 13. Unfortunately, the European Parliament rejected a motion to vote on amendments to the Directive, with 312 MEPs voting in favor, and 317 voting against. This motion would have opened the door to remove Article 13 but keep the rest of the directive intact. It failed.

The Directive was therefore approved, with all the controversial elements that we have been criticising: content filters introduced by Article 13, new rights for publishers introduced by Article 11, and a mechanism for overriding copyright exceptions for education by private agreements introduced by Article 4/2.

European parliamentarians, together with the Commission and the governments of the Member States have given a strong signal of support to the entertainment industries and their incumbent players — at a dire cost to internet users and freedom of expression. We believe that it is an unbalanced approach that will have severe repercussions. These legal provisions will not only cost millions to small and medium sized European platforms, but most importantly put fundamental freedoms at risk and set dangerous precedents for user rights.

Say YES to copyright and NO to Article 13

Say YES to copyright and NO to Article 13Licentie

Earlier today, on the eve of tomorrow’s vote, we distributed 750 copies a journal titled “Say YES to copyright and NO to Article 13” to the offices of the MEPs in Strasbourg. This is part of a last ditch effort by civil society organisations to prevent MEPs from approving a new copyright directive that includes the disastrous Article 13. You can download our journal here (pdf) and we are re-publishing the text of the editorial below.

Say YES to copyright and NO to Article 13

Article 13 of the proposed Copyright Directive will put even more control over European culture and knowledge into the hands of online monopolies. As organisations representing digital creators and knowledge workers, we urge you to reject this provision that will replace the rule of law with proprietary algorithms controlled by big tech companies.

It is high time that Europe adapts its copyright framework to meet the needs of the digital age. The proposed directive contains many measures that take steps in the right direction, such as improving the negotiation position of authors and performers, better safeguarding the public domain, and by allowing researchers and cultural heritage institutions to make better use the opportunities created by the digital environment.

In spite of widespread opposition from academics, internet users and millions of concerned citizens, the directive still contains provisions that will force most internet platforms to filter all content uploaded by their users to remove any copyrighted works flagged by rightsholders. This will cost European companies and new startups millions, and what’s worse, it won’t work. The idea that technology can reliably differentiate between legitimate and unauthorised uses of copyrighted material has been credibly disputed by experts across the spectrum. Putting the regulation of speech and creative expression in the hands of private corporations lacks public support.

  • Instead of taking the right step toward a Digital Single Market that works for all, a directive that includes Article 13 would sow even more legal uncertainties.
  • Instead of empowering European creators, it will entrench the position of dominant platforms.
  • Instead of balancing fundamental rights, it will weaken the law by shifting power towards algorithms and away from crucial users’ rights upholding freedom of expression.

We support the objective to ensure that creators are rewarded adequately for their creativity. Upload filters themselves will not achieve this objective. This directive needs to take the interests of all stakeholders into account, not only “big tech” and “big content”. Copyright should be a matter of social contract that upholds the public interest, not of secret algorithms controlled by private actors. We therefore ask you to reject the text of the directive as long as it includes Article 13.

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

A “compromise” that fails to deliver – our overall assessment of the directive remains negative

Overall DSM directive assessment: bad for the peopleLicentie

On Wednesday the Council formally approved the trilogue compromise text of the DSM directive with only 5 Member States voting against the compromise. In a joint statement the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Finland, Italy and Poland sharply criticised the compromise:

We believe that the Directive in its current form is a step back for the Digital Single Market rather than a step forward.

Most notably we regret that the Directive does not strike the right balance between the protection of right holders and the interests of EU citizens and companies. It therefore risks to hinder innovation rather than promote it and to have a negative impact the competitiveness of the European Digital Single Market.

Furthermore, we feel that the Directive lacks legal clarity, will lead to legal uncertainty for many stakeholders concerned and may encroach upon EU citizens’ rights.

These criticisms are very much in line with our own assessment of the directive and it is unfortunate that the rest of the Member States have chosen to ignore them. After this week’s approval by the Member States it is now up to the European Parliament to prevent the directive (or its most harmful element, Article 13) from being passed into law. There is no date for the final plenary vote yet, but the final showdown is widely expected to take place anytime between mid-March and mid-April.

Internet is should be for the people

In the light of this we have now updated our overall analysis of the directive (which we had first published in January) to reflect the final compromise text. The final trilogue negotiations have resulted in changes to the text related to the Text and Data mining exception, the publishers right, the fair remuneration right and — most notably — Article 13. By and large the changes to the text have been minor and in line with our expectations, and as a result our overall assessment of the directive as a whole remains negative. The finals text will do a lot of harm to internet users and needs to be blocked from becoming law. 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