A look at the AG Opinion on Article 17

The Contest between Apollo and Pan
Ex-ante blocking is against fundamental rights
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Last week, Advocate General Saugmandsgaard Øe at the CJEU issued his opinion in Case C-401/19, the Polish request to annul Article 17 of the CDSM directive. According to his Opinion, the preventive measures to monitor and block users’ uploads envisioned by Article 17(4) constitute a limitation on the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and information of the users of sharing services, but such a limitation is compatible with Article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, since all the conditions laid down in Article 52(1) of the Charter are satisfied. 

In particular, the Advocate General found that the new liability regime established by Article 17(4) respects the proportionality requirement – despite entailing significant risks for freedom of expression – as it is accompanied by sufficient safeguards to minimise those risks:

  • sharing service providers are not authorised to preventively block all content which reproduces the copyright-protected content identified by rightholders, including lawful content (Article 17(7));
  • those providers are obliged to detect and block only content the unlawfulness of which seems manifest in the light of the ‘relevant and necessary’ information provided by the rightholders (Article 17(8));
  • additionally, and as final safeguard for situations where, despite the obligation in Article 17(7), those providers nevertheless block such legitimate content mistakenly, users have at their disposal a complaint and redress mechanism as well as out-of-court mechanisms (Article 17(9)).

While one could argue that the annulment of this problematic provision would be preferable, in light of the recent decision of the CJEU on Joined Cases C‑682/18, YouTube, and C‑683/18, Cyando, these clarifications on user rights safeguards are very much welcome. The views shared by the Advocate General are, in general, aligned with the arguments brought forward by COMMUNIA and other users’ rights organizations as well as the position held by large group of  academics, and if the CJEU decides to follow the AG Opinion it should force countries that have implemented Article 17 without proper user rights safeguards to reverse course. 

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SCCR/41: COMMUNIA Statement on Limitations and Exceptions

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How can a country solve this issue alone?
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This week COMMUNIA is attending the 41st session of the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR), in its observer capacity.

This is the second time the Committee meets since the beginning of the pandemic. In November last year, we urged the Committee to take appropriate action to respond to the massive disruption to education, research and other public interest activities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, no Delegations put forward any proposal, and we left the SCCR disappointed at WIPO’s inaction in the face of this global crisis. 

Today, most Delegations expressed their agreement to a proposal to hold a number of regional consultations “to further develop the understanding of the situation of the cultural and educational and research institutions at the local level, especially in light of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on them”. Furthermore, a proposal by the Asia-Pacific Group, to hold an informational session at the next SCCR on the impact of COVID-19 on all the beneficiaries of the copyright system, was also well received.

Global South countries insisted, nevertheless, that the next steps for the agenda items on limitations and exceptions to copyright should not be limited to those consultations and information sessions. Many Delegations recalled the 2012 mandate to work towards “an appropriate international legal instrument”, and urged the Committee to set a work plan to fulfill the mandate.

The following is the statement made on behalf of COMMUNIA on the agenda item on limitations and exceptions for educational and research institutions and for persons with other disabilities (Agenda Item 7):

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SCCR/41: COMMUNIA Statement on the Protection of Broadcasting Organizations

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Again: no rights without exceptions!
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In our capacity of permanent observers of the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR), we are attending the 41st session of the Committee, which is taking place in a hybrid format of in-person and online participation from 28 June and 1 July 2021.

The first day of the event was dedicated to discuss the protection of broadcasting organizations, and several delegations shared their dissatisfaction with the fact that informal discussions on the text of the draft broadcast treaty had taken place without ensuring the participation of a diversity of delegations. The SCCR Chair invited to these meetings only to the so-called “Friends of the Chair”, which include Argentina, Colombia, the European Union, Finland, Germany, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, the Philippines, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, and the United States of America. Civil society observers joined Indonesia, Pakistan, Iran, South Africa and Chile in their ask for greater transparency and inclusivity.

The following is the statement made on behalf of COMMUNIA on this agenda item (Agenda Item 5):

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10 years of COMMUNIA, a decade of copyright reform: how far did we get?

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Last week, on June 15, COMMUNIA celebrated its first 10 years. To mark the event, we decided to revisit the 14 policy recommendations that were issued at the moment of our foundation, and that have been the guiding principles for our advocacy work in the last decade.

We launched a new website, dedicated to reviewing the implementation of these policy recommendations. 10 years on, it is possible to see that half of our recommendations have been implemented – fully or partially -, and the other half remains unfulfilled. Most importantly, almost all of the recommendations are still relevant.

Where victory can be claimed: freeing digital reproductions of public domain works and giving access to orphan works

One of COMMUNIA’s main objectives since its foundation has been to promote and protect the digital public domain. Therefore, when the EU Parliament decided to follow our Recommendation #5 and proposed the introduction of a provision in the new Copyright Directive, preventing Member States from protecting non original reproductions of works of visual arts in the public domain with copyright or related rights, we were exhilarated. Article 14 not only reconfirms the principle that no one should be able to claim exclusive control over works that are in the public domain; it’s also the first EU piece of legislation to expressly refer to the concept of “public domain”.

Getting the “public domain” to enter the EU acquis lexicon was a major victory for user rights, but for sure more measures are needed to effectively protect the Public Domain. Our Recommendation #6, which called for sanctioning false or misleading attempts to misappropriate or claim exclusive rights over public domain material, has not been implemented and is more relevant than ever, particularly on online content sharing platforms. Here, a false ownership claim can easily lead to the false blocking of public domain material, as a result of the use of automated content recognition systems combined with the lack of public databases of ownership rights (that’s why the German legislator has recently adopted measures against this type of abuse, setting a new standard for the protection of the Public Domain).

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Eurovision DSM Contest: the once in a decade copyright reform contest

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This Monday, June 7, was the last official day for EU Member States to implement the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. To mark the date we launched the “Eurovision DSM contest” website. The website provides a playful overview of the implementation of the new Copyright Directive across the EU, and Member States are scored on various performance levels: on the transparency and inclusivity of the procedure, on the implementation of Article 17, and on the implementation of other provisions that are either key from a user rights perspective (the mandatory exceptions and limitations to copyright and the public domain provision) or that also have the potential to harm users’ fundamental freedoms (the new press publisher rights). A bonus point is also available to those who have excelled in any other way.

While at the beginning of the week only three Member States had fully implemented the Directive (the Netherlands, Hungary and Germany), and could therefore be scored on all performance levels, it is already possible to track the level of activity across the board. As more Member States reach the finish line, we will attribute final scores and throw them into the contest. 

The first, second and third places (so far!)

So far, Germany is the front runner: the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection held a transparent and inclusive discussion, which lasted for more than a year, and set a high standard for protecting user rights against overblocking. Hungary is in second place, in part due to the bonus point it got for fast-tracking the implementation of the new digital education exception, during the outbreak of COVID-19, having created room for remote teaching while educational institutions were closed. The Netherlands have been the first out of the door, with a draft text ready for an online consultation less than a month after the publication of the Directive, but the Dutch government failed to demonstrate its commitment to protecting user rights in the implementation, pushing it to the third place so far (with the possibility to still earn some extra points, if the Minister of Justice decides to make use of the power that received in the implementation law, to provide further rules for the application of Article 17).

France and Denmark, which have rushed to implement on time only the provisions that strengthen the position of creators and right holders, have been scored for the implementation of Articles 15 and 17, but will only officially enter the contest once they have implemented the remaining parts of the Directive.

Skipping the parliamentary debate

At this point, all Member States (except Portugal) have, in some way or another, initiated the legislative procedure, but some processes have been far from transparent or inclusive. In France and Italy, the Parliament delegated the legislative powers in the government, meaning that those countries will skip a central stage of the democratic process, which is the parliamentary debate and vote over the concrete implementation proposal put forward by the government. In France, where the Ministry of Culture went through the implementation of Articles 15 and 17 without providing any opportunity for stakeholders to share their views and concerns about those provisions, no public consultation is expected for the remaining parts of the Directive. In Italy, the Ministry of Culture is said to be planning to, at least, run a public consultation once its draft decree is finalized.

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The public domain belongs to all and is often defended by no-one: we want to change that

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Litigating for the right to our shared culture
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As we approach our 10th anniversary, new ideas as to what role we want COMMUNIA to play in the coming decade are starting to take form. After spending a decade trying to improve policy and legislative processes, we can very much see COMMUNIA embracing other tools of intervention to expand the public domain and strengthen access to knowledge and culture. One of such tools, alongside our advocacy work, is strategic litigation.

Judicial developments are much needed to provide further clarity as to the scope of users rights in Europe. There’s still legal uncertainty as to whether certain public interest activities are permitted under existing exceptions and limitations to copyright,  how users can assert their rights on online platforms, whether (and how) users can enforce their rights against contracts and technological measures, and what’s the status of the public domain. The implementation of the new Copyright Directive, particularly Article 17, will bring further interpretation challenges. 

Whether and how much Communia will be able to engage in strategic litigation in the next decade is still to be determined, but we decided to take the first steps in this realm, by supporting a court proceeding that is aimed at challenging an abusive practice that is eroding the public domain: that of claiming exclusive rights overs tridimensional digitizations of public domain artworks.

The case against Musée Rodin

In 2018, artist and open access activist Cosmo Wenman filed a freedom of information request with the Musée Rodin in Paris to access the 3D scans of Auguste Rodin’s sculptures (all of which are in the public domain). When the museum refused to comply, Mr. Wenman appealed to the French Commission on Access to Administrative Documents (CADA).

In response the CADA confirmed that these 3D scans in question are administrative documents and are subject to public disclosure, under freedom of information laws, and therefore the Musée Rodin is required to give public access to them. 

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COMMUNIA supports the WTO TRIPS Waiver for COVID-19

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Supporting an equitable response to emergencies
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Today, Communia and a group of over 100 organisations and more than 150 academics and experts issued a statement calling for the World Trade Organization (WTO) to temporarily suspend its rules on intellectual property where needed to support the prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19.

This diverse group representing researchers, educators, students, information users, and the institutions that support them, urges all WTO Members to endorse the TRIPS waiver proposal presented by India and South Africa, including provisions that address “the copyright barriers to the prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19”.

All over the world, educational institutions, research organizations and cultural heritage institutions have been forced into closure as a non-pharmaceutical measure to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, the majority of national copyright laws in all the continents have no elasticity to cover educational, research and public interest activities that need to take place remotely during the periods when the physical premises of those institutions are closed due to emergencies that fundamentally disrupt the normal organization of society, like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Furthermore, as pointed out in the statement, “(i)n too many countries, researchers lack the rights they need to use the most advanced research methodologies, such as text and data mining, to help find and develop treatments to COVID-19.”

The fact that copyright laws are not able to support these activities constitutes a barrier to an equitable response to COVID-19, and it shows that these laws cannot be deemed to have properly internalized the fundamental rights to freedom of information, freedom of science and education. 

Therefore, the signatories call for urgent action to clarify that all copyright and related rights treaties, including the copyright provisions of the TRIPS Agreement:

  • Can and should be interpreted and implemented to respect the primacy of human rights obligations during the pandemic and other emergencies, including the rights to seek, receive and impart information, to education, and to freely participate in cultural life and share in scientific advancement and its benefits, while protecting the moral and material interests of authors;
  • Permit governments to protect and promote vital public interests during a health or other emergency; 
  • Permit governments to carry forward and appropriately extend into the digital environment limitations and exceptions that are appropriate in the digital network environment, particularly during a health or other emergency. 

You can read the full statement here

Video Recording of COMMUNIA Salon on the role of ex-ante user rights safeguards in implementing Article 17

Yesterday, we held the first 2021 edition of our COMMUNIA Salon. This virtual edition focused on the role of ex-ante user rights safeguards in implementing Article 17. This is certainly the most controversial question that has arisen during the national discussions of the implementation of Article 17, and one that will likely be discussed long after the deadline for implementing the new Copyright Directive is over. During the event we heard the Commission’s views on the topic, recollected the legislative history of Article 17(7), and learned about two implementation proposals that are currently being discussed in Germany and Finland. If you have missed the event you can watch a recording of the presentations and the subsequent discussion here: 

The event was kicked off by Marco Giorello (Head of Copyright Unit, European Commission), who started by recalling that the main objective of Article 17 is to foster the conclusion of licensing agreements between rightholders and online platforms, and not to provide an enforcement tool to rightholders against illegal content. He then summarized the Commission’s views on the practical application of Article 17(7), clarifying that this provision requires online platforms to consider legitimate uses ex-ante and that it is not enough for Member States to give flesh to user rights by simply relying on ex-post redress and complaint mechanisms. He further acknowledged the struggles in finding a solution to implement Article 17 in a balanced way, pointing out that this is probably the first time that the EU lawmakers are trying to find a way to respect fundamental rights in a machine-to-machine environment.

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Copyright and COVID-19: Has WIPO learned nothing from the pandemic?

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It's time to put our differences aside
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In November, Communia participated in the World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) 40th session of the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR), the most important forum at the global level for copyright rulemaking. Due to the pandemic, this was the first time the Committee met this year, and the meeting took place in a hybrid format, with most of the delegations participating through online means. 

Our expectations for this meeting were high. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown, more clearly than ever, that copyright can stand in the way of schools, libraries and cultural heritage institutions properly operating. Copyright exceptions that permit these public interest activities still do not exist everywhere. Moreover, exceptions do not always apply regardless of whether activities are conducted on site or at a distance (digitally).

Communia and other civil society observers were expecting the Committee to consider the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on these public interest activities, and take appropriate action. However, WIPO member states had previously decided that, due to the format of the meeting, they would not engage in negotiations on any of the items on their agenda. Therefore, despite references to the problems caused by the pandemic in several Delegations’ statements, none put forward any proposal to deal with these issues.

Exceptions and limitations: shouldn’t we be there yet?

As explained in Communia’s statement to the Committee and highlighted by numerous WIPO-commissioned studies, WIPO member states are well aware that exceptions (notably the education and research exceptions) that exist today do not always have the elasticity to cover activities that take place remotely. More importantly, WIPO member states know that only an international instrument can solve the cross border aspects of distance activities, when the application of multiple national laws is triggered.

Progress on the topic of copyright exceptions has been limited for a number of years now. The only notable exception has been the Marrakesh Treaty, which establishes a mandatory exception for the benefit of persons who are blind, visually or otherwise print-disabled. Discussions on an international legal framework to cover a minimum set of legitimate uses made by persons with other disabilities, by educators, learners and researchers, and by libraries, archives and museums, have been diverted time and time again. 

With the pandemic, this state of affairs is even less acceptable than it was before. Before we were already seeing a trend towards digital and cross-border access and use of copyrighted materials for educational, research and other public interest purposes. Yet, WIPO member states could justify their inaction by telling themselves that these uses were not significant. 

However, in a few months, distance activities became the new normal. Now, institutions all over the world are opting for remote formats or hybrid models of in-person and online education, research and access to the collections of cultural heritage institutions. And we may never go back to the way things were before.Continue reading

SCCR/40: COMMUNIA Statement on Limitations and Exceptions

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15 years and a pandemic later: are we there yet?
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In our capacity of permanent observers of the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR), we are attending the 40th session of the Committee, which is taking place in a hybrid format of in-person and online participation from 16 to 20 November 2020.

The following is the statement made on behalf of Communia on limitations and exceptions for educational and research institutions and for persons with other disabilities (Agenda Item 7):

This Committee has been discussing the issue of copyright exceptions for almost 15 years. During this time, a number of studies were conducted and we learned that many countries fail to guarantee the right to use protected content for education, research and other legitimate purposes.

Still, reaching a common ground for exceptions was not a priority for all. Progress was limited even though we were seeing a clear trend towards cross-border uses, taking place online. 

Now, that state of affairs could be acceptable before the massive disruption to society caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. But over the last six months those cross-border online uses have become the new normal. 

All over the world, institutions are opting for remote formats or hybrid models of in-person and online access and use of content. And we may never go back to the way things were, namely for education, where we now have teachers and students working from home, often located in different Member States, and having to deal with a fragmented treatment of exceptions across those locations.

We understand that Northern countries prefer to negotiate bilaterally with developing countries. In our opinion, this perpetuates an unbalanced power relationship between the Global North and the Global South.

This forum can provide more transparency and legitimacy to these discussions. We thus urge you to not leave your mandate unfulfilled. 

In the Report on Regional Seminars and International Conference on Limitations and Exceptions, prepared by the Secretariat, we can find something for everyone’s taste. Now it’s up to this Committee to set priorities for its work. 

We urge the Committee to respond to the pandemic with a declaration or resolution to assert the flexibilities that exist; then work on model laws and on a binding solution for cross-border uses; and eventually discuss a minimum set of mandatory exceptions.

Thank you.