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This spring the ongoing effort to modernize the outdated copyright rules enters into the decisive fase.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

New study: ever more complex copyright is holding back creators

Creative Jail
Copyright must not become a creative jail
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One of the biggest shortcomings of the discussion on copyright is that most of it seems stuck in a fairly outdated creators vs users dichotomy. Copyright laws around the world are generally structured in such a way that they grant exclusive rights to creators and try to balance these with a limited set of rights for users (in the form of exceptions or limitations to copyright). Based on this design it is widely assumed that more (or stronger) exclusive rights benefit creators and that more (or broader) exceptions to copyright benefit users.

This conception is problematic on a number of levels. For one it is clear that creators benefit from user rights that ensure that users have a basic level of access to culture through educational systems and via public institutions such as museums and libraries. On the other hand users benefit from the exclusive rights granted to creators as they incentivise the very production of culture and knowledge that they want to access.

A more fundamental challenge to this general understanding of copyright is posed by the fact that the roles of users and creators are not mutually exclusive,  but overlapping. Many creators are also users of copyrighted materials and the other way around. The technological development of the past two decades has contributed to this blurring of the boundaries between creators and users. Digital technologies greatly facilitate both the creative re-use of existing works and the distribution of the resulting new works. This development has resulted in the emergence of the (somewhat nonsensical) category of “user generated content” and concepts like the “prosumer“.

These concepts deal with users becoming creators, and there are relatively straightforward answers to the challenges posed, such as the need to introduce an exception for user generated content in the EU copyright framework that we have been advocating for. But there is another more interesting side of the coin: creators becoming users. While it is true that creators have always appropriated the works of those authors who came before them, these dynamics have been turbocharged by the digital revolution. Creators have entire libraries of content at their fingertips, and the tools to manipulate, incorporate and build on existing works are becoming increasingly sophisticated. These are exciting times to be a creator, but this new reality also brings creators into contact with the limitations to their creative freedom imposed by copyright law. Continue reading

Access to cultural heritage: Geoblocking or a Digital Single Market

The
Geoblocking has no place on the Internet
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This is a slightly edited version of an analysis that was first published by Europeana on the Europeana Pro website

More than a year after the European Commission published its proposal for a Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market (DSM directive), the proposal continues to be discussed both in the Council and in the European Parliament. While the discussions in the European Parliament have recently slowed down to a crawl (the vote in the Legal Affairs committee is not expected before January), the discussions between the Member States in the Council are picking up steam: earlier this week, the Estonian Council presidency’s  consolidated compromise proposal was made public.

The compromise proposal contains an entire new chapter (chapter 1a – Measures to facilitate collective licensing’) that contains an a new article (art 9a – ’Collective licensing with an extended effect’). To anyone familiar with the Commission’s proposal (and the critical reception by cultural heritage institutions) this addition will appear somewhat odd as the Commission’s original proposal already relied on ’collective licensing with an extended effect’ as a mechanism that would allow cultural heritage Institutions to make out of commerce works (OOCW) from their collections available online.

So what exactly is going on here? Articles 7-9 of the Commission’s proposal are aimed at enabling the cross border use of out of commerce works. This would allow cultural heritage institutions to make such works from their collections available online so that they can be accessed from everywhere within the EU. While we think that relying on extended collective licensing alone will not be sufficient to achieve this objective for all sectors and all types of work, we are happy with the ambition to solve this problem on an EU wide basis.

A legal basis for Extended Collective Licensing

By contrast, the newly proposed article 9a focusses on (existing) national extended collective licensing arrangements and would not have any cross border effects. Instead, it introduces provisions into the EU legal framework that would remove the legal uncertainty that currently surrounds the extended collective licensing arrangements that exist in a number of (mainly nordic) EU Member States:

A functioning copyright framework that works for all parties requires the availability of proportionate, legal mechanisms for the licensing of works. Systems such as extended collective licensing or presumptions of representation are a well-established practice in several Member States and can provide such solutions, […] Given the increasing importance of the ability to offer flexible licensing solutions in the digital age, and the increasing use of such schemes in Member States, it is beneficial to further clarify in Union law the status of licensing mechanisms allowing collective management organisations to conclude licences, on a voluntary basis, irrespective of whether all rightholders have authorised the organisation to do so (Recital 28a + 29c of the Estonian Compromise proposal)

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Spain: Publishers pay themselves in desperate effort to show that giving them extra rights actually has an effect

De schout betaalt de boer zijn vergoeding, de weduwe van de baljuw treurt bij zijn doodskist
Publishers pretending that the link-tax works
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Two weeks ago the IMCO committee managed to give a new breath of life into the proposal for an ancillary copyright for press publishers that many observers (including us) had presumed to be more or less dead in the water. Following on the heels of this surprising development interesting information is emerging from Spain where a similar right has been existing since 2015. The situation in Spain shows how ineffective additional rights for publishers are and how publishers try to influence the EU policy debate on copyright reform by manipulating evidence.

Earlier this week the Spanish Association of Publishers of Periodical Publications (AEEPP) published an English version of a study that assesses the impact of the introduction of the ancillary copyright (article 32.2 of the Spanish Copyright Act) in Spain. This article states that a copyright fee must be paid by sites aggregating or otherwise linking to online news to the publishers of such news. These payments (referred to as a Google Tax, after the fact that they seem to be primarily intended to extract revenue from Google) are collected by the CEDRO copyright collection society.

The study comes to a pretty devastating conclusion that clearly shows that granting a new right to press publishers is highly problematic and will not have the desired result of stabilising the business models of struggling publishers:

This analysis concludes that there is neither theoretical nor empirical justification for the introduction of a fee to be paid by news aggregators to publishers for linking their content as part of their aggregation services. Likewise, the arbitrary nature of the fee, which prevents publishers from opting out of receiving the payments, inflicts harm on a large number of outlets, particularly small publications.

Moreover, the introduction of such a fee has a negative impact on competition, not just for the aggregator segment, but also for online publications and, ultimately, for consumers, including readers and advertisers. Continue reading

Open Letter: Copyright reform proposal is fundamentally broken and won’t make Europe more competitive

Vrouw schrijft een brief in een interieur
Towards a more ambitious reform agenda
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Yesterday we sent an open letter on copyright reform to the EU Member State ministers attending the Competitiveness Council. We have done so together with more than 60 other civil society and trade associations – representing publishers, libraries, scientific and research institutions, consumers, digital rights groups, start-ups, technology businesses, educational institutions and creator representatives.

The letter reflects our growing concern over the fact that the EU is wasting the long overdue opportunity to reform its outdated copyright framework. And that we are missing a chance to make it fit for purpose in the digital environment. At the root of the problem is the Commission’s backward looking proposal for a copyright in the digital single market directive that was presented in September of last year.

More than half a year later we see the discussion on the reform proposal caught up within the narrow vision that the Commission has presented. While the European Parliament is so far moving in the direction of fixing the biggest flaws of the Commission’s proposal and seems to be willing to introduce some additional positive elements, the Member States are moving in the opposite direction. There is a lot of concern that Member States are attempting to hollow out the positive aspects of the proposal while doubling down on the measures designed to protect the business interests of legacy intermediaries (such as publishers and record companies).

Given this we have joined forces with a diverse group of stakeholders to ask the Member States (and other EU lawmakers) to oppose the most damaging aspects of the proposal and to embrace a more ambitious agenda for positive reform. In particular the open letter is highlighting three key messages: Continue reading

Members of the European Parliament call for safeguarding the Public Domain

Vrouw op een jaarmarkt door een dief van haar geldbuidel beroofd
stop the misappropriation of public domain works
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One of the issues that has been glaringly absent from the Commission’s proposal for Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive is better protection of the Public Domain from Cultural Heritage Institutions who are trying to appropriate Public Domain works that they have digitized.

Most of Europe’s Museums, Libraries and Archives digitize Public Domain works in their collection in order to make them available without any restrictions (in line with our Public Domain Manifesto and Europeana’s Public Domain Charter). However, a minority of institutions uses loopholes in copyright legislation to claim exclusive rights over digital reproductions of works for which copyright protection has expired.

The legal basis for such claims is often found in copyright rules that also afford some form of protection to non-original photographs. These are photographic reproductions that qualify for copyright protection because they do not constitute the “own intellectual creation” of the author. Such loopholes exist in 7 EU member states and the proposed DSM directive would have been an opportunity to close them. Continue reading

The proposed publishers right is an attack on the public domain

Adreskaart voor boekhandel Scheltema en Holkema
Save the public domain from the publishers right
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Traditionally, at the beginning of the new year we celebrated what is known as Public Domain Day: on the first of January of any given year the works of authors who have been dead for more than 70 years enter the public domain. As this is a decisive year for copyright reform in the European Union, it seems much more important to highlight the dangers for the public domain that we are facing in the context of the copyright reform process (you can refer to Wikipedia and the Public Domain Review for overviews of works that have entered the public domain this year).

While copyright reform generally has a positive connotation, it is important to realise that a reform does not mean that things will change for the better. As we have pointed out before, the copyright reform package presented by the Commission is extremely one-sided. And both the attempt to introduce a new right for press publishers, and the requirements for online platforms to filter user uploads, have the potential to cause a lot of damage to the public domain and the ability of users to access information and express themselves online.

Shrinking the public domain

When it comes to the public domain the proposal to introduce a new right for press publishers contained in article 11 of the Commission’s proposal is the most dangerous, as it has the potential to shrink the public domain. Our 2010 Public Domain Manifesto defines the public domain as being

… comprised of our shared knowledge, culture and resources that can be used without copyright restrictions by virtue of current law.

This definition implies that the scope of the public domain can change in response to changes of the legal environment. The most obvious would be changes to the duration of copyright protection. Lengthening the term of protection would shrink the public domain while shortening the term would grow the public domain (as we argue for in our policy recommendation #1). Continue reading

Cultural Heritage Institutions: Commission’s Copyright Proposal fails to address our needs

Adreskaart voor boekhandel Scheltema en Holkema
Unlock Europe's cultural heritage now!
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Last week a number of Europeana organisations representing libraries and other cultural heritage organizations released a joint response to the Commission’s copyright proposals. The paper, issued by LIBER, EBLIDA, IFLA, Public Libraries 2020 and Europeana, deals with those elements of the EU copyright framework that are directly relevant to cultural heritage institutions.

This includes four issues addressed in the Commission’s Proposal for a Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market (the exceptions for Text and Data Mining, Education, and Preservation copies, and the measures aimed at improving access to out-of-commerce works), and a number of issues that the Commission’s proposal fails to address, such as on-site access to collections and online document supply.

Exceptions are too narrow

The paper underlines that from the perspective of cultural heritage institutions, EU copyright reform needs to focus on updating and harmonizing copyright exceptions:

We believe that overall welfare is best served by a robust and mandatory set of copyright exceptions which facilitate access to knowledge.

Given this general approach it is not surprising the cultural heritage institutions share many of the same concerns we raised in our analysis of the Commission’s proposal. Continue reading

As the European Parliament starts discussing copyright proposal, rightsholders point out they want even worse © rules

Johan de Witt 's nachts op straat aangevallen
Copyright reform: the right to link under attack
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Earlier this week the JURI committee of the EP held the first hearing on the proposed Copyright in the Digital Single Market directive. This hearing officially kicks off the process through which the European Parliament will develop its position on the Commission’s proposal. The parliamentary process is shepherded by MEP Therese Comodini Cachia (EPP, Malta). According to a preliminary timeline published by her, the process will be completed before next year’s summer break.

Wednesday’s hearing (recording) focussed on one of the most controversial issues of proposed Directive, the measures for filtering and blocking user uploaded content contained in article 13. These are supposed to address a so-called “value gap” caused by online platforms that allow users to share content online. The Commission has bought into the rightsholders narrative, although evidence why these measures are necessary is still lacking.

The wrong answer to online creativity: privatised censorship and filtering

As our friends at EDRi have pointed out in painstaking detail, such an obligation to monitor and filter is at odds with other EU laws and with jurisprudence from the Court of Justice of the EU, and would negatively impact the freedom of expression online. Continue reading