Article 17 Stakeholder Dialogue: We’ll Continue to Advocate for Safeguarding User Rights

A woman shouting into a man's ear-trumpetLicentie

Yesterday the European Commission invited COMMUNIA to participate in the “Stakeholder dialogue under Article 17 of the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market” that will kick off in Brussels next week. This invitation comes after we had expressed our interest to participate in response to a call issued by the Commission in September. It is our understanding that COMMUNIA will be one of a small number of civil society participants in the dialogue (the Commission has yet to publish a list of participating organisations). 

Stakeholder dialogue to the rescue!

Article 17(10) of the Copyright in the Digital Single Market directive requires the Commission to “organise stakeholder dialogues to discuss best practices for cooperation between online content-sharing service providers and rightholders”. Based on the outcome of these dialogues with “content-sharing service providers, rightholders, users’ organisations and other relevant stakeholders” the Commission is expected to “issue guidance on the application of Article 17” that is supposed to “balance fundamental rights and the use of exceptions and limitations” with the upload filtering obligations introduced by Article 17. 

Given that two and a half years of legislative wrangling have failed to produce a balanced (or at least coherent) outcome, it seems rather unlikely that this stakeholder dialogue will be able to achieve such a balance. Still the stakeholder dialogue provides an opportunity to minimise the harm to the freedom of creative expression and the ability for smaller platforms to strive under Article 17. Such an optimistic view of the stakeholder dialogue has been put forward by the German government, which has stated that it

… therefore assumes that this dialogue is based on a spirit of guaranteeing appropriate remuneration for creatives, preventing ‘upload filters’ wherever possible, ensuring freedom of expression and safeguarding user rights. The German Federal Government assumes that uniform implementation throughout the Union will be agreed on in this dialogue, because fragmentary implementation with 27 national variants would not be compatible with the principles of a European Digital Single Market.

Five measures to minimize the harm caused by upload filters

While we have strongly criticised Article 1, mainly because of the filtering obligations it introduces, there are also positive elements in the article. These include mandatory exceptions for quotation and parody, and a number of procedural safeguards intended to ensure that users can exercise the rights they have under these exceptions and limitations.

As part of our contribution to the stakeholder dialogue we will strive to ensure an outcome that minimises the impact and scope of the filtering provisions and that maximises the scope of exceptions and limitations that guarantees meaningful safeguards for users to exercise the rights they have under these exceptions. From our perspective, the following five measures will guide our contribution to the stakeholder dialogue: Continue reading

Implementing the Copyright Directive: Protecting the Public Domain with Article 14

The Doctor's Dream
Ending the appropriation of Public Domain works
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Article 14 – Works of visual art in the public domain – is one of the very few unambiguously good provisions of the new EU copyright directive. The article is intended to ensure that (digital) reproductions of public domain works cannot be protected by exclusive rights, and as a result, taken out of the public domain. This legislative intervention comes in response to the relatively widespread practice of museums in claiming exclusive rights of digital reproductions of public domain works that they have in their collections and which they make available to the public. In practice this has already led to Spanish Museums claiming copyright over paintings by Dutch masters who have been dead for 350 years, and German museums suing Wikipedia for hosting reproductions of public domain works as part of Wikimedia Commons

What is in the public domain in analogue form is [not always] in the public domain in digital form

While at first glance it seems counterintuitive that a museum should be able to control the rights for artworks of long dead artists, such claims do have a basis in existing law. In general, for a work to be protected under copyright it needs to show “the author’s own intellectual creation.” However, there is another category of copyright-like rights (also called “related rights”) that exist in a number of EU Member States. These related rights schemes grant exclusive rights to the creators of photographic works that do not meet the originality criterion necessary to receive copyright protection (See this 2015 study by Thomas Margoni for more details). Related rights arise even when a reproduction is nothing more than an exact photographic copy of a work. Where copyright protects original artworks, these related rights protect simple copies. 

As museums have started to make works in their collections available online, the practice of relying on related rights to restrict the re-use of non-original reproductions of public domain works has become controversial. Both the Public Domain Manifesto and the Europeana Public Domain Charter demanded that what is in the public domain in analogue form must stay in the public domain in digital form (as does our own policy recommendation #5). While the overall majority of museums have always acted in the spirit of expanding the public domain, and have made reproductions of public domain works available without any restrictions on re-use, a small number of museums from Member States that allow the protection of non-original reproductions of public domain works continue to claim rights over such reproductions. Continue reading

Canadian copyright report: Let’s wait and see how upload filters and press publishers rights will fail.

Waiting for the ferry
A sceptical take on the EU copyright reform
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Last week the Canadian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology (INDU) released a report with 36 recommendations to reform Canadian copyright law. Under Canadian law the committee is required to review the Canadian copyright statutes every five years and the report presented now is the outcome of such a review. While this means that it is relatively unlikely that many of the recommendations contained in the report will result in immediate legislative actions (the government is not required to act on them) the report is nevertheless interesting as it contains a number of recommendations that go in the opposite direction of the changes that the DSM directive will bring to copyright in the European Union (for a full overview of the recommendations see Michael Geist’s summary).

After a year-long study that includes a public consultation and a number of committee hearings on a wide variety of issues, the INDU committee has come to the conclusion that there is a lack of evidence for both a DSM-style press publishers right and for changes to the liability position of platform intermediaries as foreseen in Article 17 of the DSM directive. While Canadian rightsholders argued for the necessity of such interventions, they failed to convince the committee of the merits for these provisions.

On the press publishers right the report essentially takes a wait and see approach (i.e. to see just how badly the EU will fail on these points) that conveys a healthy amount of scepticism with regard to the effectiveness of the EU approach.

The production and dissemination of news content is essential to democratic societies. While the Committee supports the notion that OSPs who profit from the dissemination of copyrighted content they do not own should fairly remunerate its rights-holders, legislators around the world are only starting to develop and implement legislative frameworks to compel OSPs to do so. Canada should learn from the failures and successes of these initiatives to determine whether they serve the interests of Canadians. (page 53)

The report goes on to discuss potential changes to the “Safe Harbour Provisions” that apply to online service providers. Unsurprisingly this discussion is based on the “value gap” rhetoric that provided the germ of the upload filtering provisions contained in Article 17 of the DSM directive. The section on “Safe Harbour Provisions” (pages 74-83) is well worth reading as it makes it clear that there is no such thing as a single “value gap” that can be filled via a legislative intervention, and that changing the liability rules for online service providers will have damaging effects well beyond the music sector: Continue reading

A Vision for a Shared Digital Europe

Rape of Europa
Towards a European digital space
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Today our friends at Centrum Cyfrowe, the Commons Network and publicspace.online are launching a new vision for digital policy making in Europe: This Vision for a Shared Digital Europe lays the foundation for a new frame for digital policy making in the EU. It proposes an overarching policy framework that brings together varied issues and policy arenas, including copyright reform, platform regulation, privacy, data-protection and data governance, antitrust, media regulation or innovation policy. In announcing this Vision they write:

Digitalisation has led much of our interaction, communication and economic activity to take place through data or over online intermediaries. What kind of space should this digital sphere be? We believe that seeing this space as a market place only does not do it justice. This space is in effect our society – a society that is experiencing a digital transformation. Therefore we cannot accept the digital sphere as a place where only market dynamics rule. Society is more than an interaction between market players, and people are more than entrepreneurs or consumers.

As supporters of the European project, we believe that Europe needs to establish its own rules for the digital space, which embody our values: strong public institutions, democratic governance, sovereignty of communities and people, diversity of European cultures, equality and justice. A space that is common to all of us, but at the same time diverse and decentralised.

Over the past five months we have worked with a broad group stakeholders on developing a frame that can replace the existing Digital Single Market frame that dominates discussions about digital policy making in the EU. We propose a new, society-centric vision that is intended to guide policymakers and civil society organisations involved with digital policymaking in the direction of a more equitable and democratic digital environment, where basic liberties and rights are protected, where strong public institutions function in the public interest, and where people have a say in how their digital environment functions – a Shared Digital Europe. Continue reading

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

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

Happy birthday, Public Domain Manifesto

Public Domain Manifesto - The Public Domain is the rule and copyright is the exception.Licentie

Today we are re-launching the www.publicdomainmanifesto.org website. 10 years after it’s conception and to the day 9 years after its first publication, the Public Domain Manifesto remains as relevant and timely as ever. The Manifesto, which was developed as part of the COMMUNIA network in 2009 and launched on the 25th of January 2010 serves as our foundational document and continues to guide our activities to this day. Since 2010 it has been signed by more than 3100 individuals and organisations (you can still sign it here).

We developed the Manifesto in order to counter the widespread perception that the Public Domain is simply characterised by the absence of copyright. With the Public Domain Manifesto we are proposing a positive definition of the Public Domain that highlights the important role the Public Domain plays for society.

The Public Domain, as we understand it, is the wealth of information that is free from the barriers to access or reuse usually associated with copyright protection, either because it is free from any copyright protection or because the right holders have decided to remove these barriers. It is the basis of our self-understanding as expressed by our shared knowledge and culture. It is the raw material from which new knowledge is derived and new cultural works are created. Having a healthy and thriving Public Domain is essential to the social and economic well-being of our societies.

The Public Domain Manifesto goes on to define the Public Domain (something which most copyright laws do not do) and outlines principles and guidelines for a healthy Public Domain. The Public Domain, as aspired to in the Manifesto, is defined as cultural material that can be used without restriction, absent copyright protection. In addition to works that are formally in the Public Domain, this also includes works that have been contributed to the commons under open licenses. In addition, our definition also includes the rights users have under exceptions and limitations to copyright, fair use and fair dealing. Continue reading

Copyright reform still stalled, but there is some good news for the Public Domain

Wijsheid blijft langer dan schoonheid
some light in the shadows of the big controversy
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After last weeks inconclusive “final” trilogue, the discussions about the EU copyright reform package are paused for their third (!!) winter break. When they resume in January under the Romanian EU presidency the negotiators will be under a lot of pressure to find a politically viable compromise on Articles 13 and 11 and a few other controversial parts of the proposal. In the shadow of these more controversial elements of the proposal the negotiators have managed to provisionally agree on a large number of other issues and among these there are a number of positive developments.

From our perspective the most positive development is the fact that based on an amendment proposed by the European Parliament, the negotiators have provisionally agreed to include a Public Domain clause in Article 5 of the Directive. This clause intended to ensure that reproductions of works in the public domain can no longer be protected by copyright or neighbouring rights (as it is currently the case in a number of EU member states such as Germany and Spain). This is not only welcome because it would solve a real problem or because it would turn one of the recommendations of our Public Domain Manifesto into law, but also because it will be the first ever mention of Public Domain in EU copyright framework! Continue reading

Join us for the European Copyright Action Days 19-21 march in Brussels

Banquet at the Crossbowmen’s Guild in Celebration of the Treaty of Münster
Join us in Brussels to #fixcopyright
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This spring the ongoing effort to modernize the outdated copyright rules enters into the decisive fase. It is widely expected that both the European Parliament and the EU Member states will their position on the proposed Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive. Right now things are not looking good: instead of a much needed update of the copyright framework that would enable new uses driven by technological innovation, policy makers in Brussels are working towards new restrictions that would would limit how information and creativity can be shared and enjoyed online.

Against this backdrop we are organising European Copyright Action Days on 19-21 march in Brussels. During these days we want to highlight the broad opposition of civil society, libraries, the users industry and many others concerning the restrictive aspects of the copyright reform proposal. During these days activists will convene in Brussels to discuss with lawmakers and advocate for a more future proof reform and to raise attention for the dangers of the proposed measures. Continue reading

MEP Voss sells out freedom of expression, doubles down on protecting Big Content

Cadmus doodt de draak
The fight for keeping the internet open is on!
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After more than a year of discussions MEP Axel Voss has finally come forward with his ideas about one of the most controversial aspects of the EU copyright reform proposal. On Wednesday he shared his compromise proposals for Article 13 of the proposed copyright in the DSM directive, that deals with filtering measures aimed at online platforms. The “compromises” drafted by MEP Voss make it clear that with regards to article 13 he has chosen to do the bidding of the music industry at the expense of users, open platforms and pretty much the rest of the internet.

Let’s focus on two main aspects of the approach that Voss is backing (for a more comprehensive analysis of his compromise see Julia Reda’s excellent write-up here). What would the new rules mean for users sharing materials via platforms, and what would the new rules mean for online platforms?

Online platforms: License or cease to exist!

In the version supported by MEP Voss, article 13 establishes two different obligations for online platforms that allow user uploads. In a first step, all platforms are required to obtain licenses from rightsholders. Those platforms that hold “significant amounts” of content also need to take “appropriate and proportionate measures to ensure the functioning of these agreements”. In the case that platforms do not have licensing agreements with rightsholders they need to take “appropriate and proportionate measures to prevent the availability on their services of works or other subject-matter”.

These rules would effectively end the current situation in which online platforms are not directly responsible for content that their users upload. The new rules would mean that all online platforms “that store and provide access to the public to copyright protected works or other subject-matter uploaded by their users” (which means pretty much all platforms) will be directly responsible for the content uploaded by their users and must obtain licenses from (unspecified) rightsholders. If they don’t (which is a strange condition given that all platforms must do so) they must implement filtering rules that prevent all copyrighted works from becoming available on their services. In other words, platforms must obtain licenses from rightsholders or they must cease to exist (as it is somewhat hard to make a business case for a platform on which nothing is available). Continue reading