Video Recording of COMMUNIA Salon on the AG Opinion in case C-401/19

On Wednesday the 21st of June we held a special lunch salon on Advocate General Saugmandsgaard Øe’s Opinion in Case C-401/19, the Polish request to annul Article 17 of the CDSM directive.

Moderated by Teresa Nobre, the salon started with Paul Keller (COMMUNIA/Open Future) assessing the opinion in the context of the Commission’s stakeholder dialogue and the ongoing national implementations (from min. 03:11 to min. 12:35 in the recording). While the opinion doesn’t provide for Article 17’s annulment, it provides important clarifications on users rights safeguards against automated, preventive content blocking systems adopted by sharing services providers.

Then Martin Husovec (London School of Economics) took a closer look at the overall strategy of the AG’s opinion while dwelling on its weaknesses and strengths (from min. 14:53 to min. 25.50 in the recordings). He focused on what he described as “AG Øe’s re-interpretation of Article 17” and further analysed the safeguard mechanisms provided in the opinion. 

The final presentation came from Julia Reda (GFF) (from min. 27:50 to min. 40:00 in the recordings) who expressed her disappointment to the fact that AG Øe did not recommend the to reject Article 17. She went on to  identify  a number of  inconsistencies in the parts of the opinion that attempt to reconcile the use of upload filters with the ban on general monitoring obligations. .

The discussion was followed by a Q&A session with the participants (from min. 42:20 onwards).

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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COMMUNIA SALON 4/2021: Article 17: Unpacking the AG Opinion in case C-401/19

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On Wednesday, the 21st of July at 1300 CEST, we will be organising a special lunch edition of our COMMUNIA salon. This time we will analyze the Opinion that CJEU Advocate General Saugmandsgaard Øe issued on Case C-401/19, the Polish request to annul Article 17 of the CDSM directive.

His Opinion finds that Article 17 is compatible with the freedom of expression and information guaranteed in Article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and consequently advises the Court to reject the annulment request. While the annulment of problematic provisions would be preferable, the opinion provides important clarification on user rights safeguards.

For this edition Paul Keller (COMMUNIA/Open Future) will be joined by Julia Reda (Project Lead © Control at GFF and former MEP) and Martin Husovec (Assistant Professor of Law at LSE) to discuss the AG Opinion’s implications on the implementation of the CDSM directive across Europe. The Salon will be moderated by Teresa Nobre (COMMUNIA).

As always, the COMMUNIA Salon is open for everyone to attend and will be held on Zoom. You are welcome to join us by registering here. You will receive your login details ahead of the Salon.

Video Recording of COMMUNIA’s 10th Anniversary

On Tuesday, June 15th, we celebrated our 10th anniversary with an online birthday party. For those of you who were unable to attend we have now published a recording of the event:

To kick off the festivities, we reviewed the 14 policy recommendations that COMMUNIA issued 10 years ago to see what happened to them over the past decade (from 00:03 to 00:21 in the recording). As it turns out a fair number of them have been at least partially – or  even fully – implemented, in many cases thanks to advocacy work that we and our partners have done 

For the second part of the event, we brought together three friends from academia who have influenced our work in important ways to reflect on COMMUNIA’s work. 

First, Prof. Juan Carlos de Martin (Politecnico di Torino and founding father of the COMMUNIA project) reflected on what makes COMMUNIA a unique community which started 15 years ago as an EU-funded network and that continues the importance of public funding for communities advocating for the public interest to this day.

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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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Video Recording of COMMUNIA Salon on the Article 17 guidance and the launch of the Eurovision implementation tracker.

On Monday the 7th of June – the day of the implementation deadline for the DSM Directive – we held a special COMMUNIA Salon to mark the entry into force of the Directive, to assess the implementation process being made in the 27 Member States and to discuss the Article 17 implementation guidance published by the Commission just before the entry into force of the Directive. 

The Salon kicked off with Teresa Nobre and Dimitar Dimitrov presenting our ongoing work supporting user rights’ advocates across the EU Member States to ensure a user rights’ friendly implementation of the Directive into national legislations (from 1:11 to 18:13 in the video recording). This was followed by the launch of the Eurovision DSM Contest, a new website which tracks the implementation progress for each Member State. 

The second part of the event (from 20:00 in the recording onwards) consisted of a discussion on the Commission’s Article 17 guidance. Paul Keller opened the discussion by noting that, while the guidance establishes important user rights’ safeguards that put into question the implementation approach chosen by Member States – most notably by France and Denmark –, it also contains a massive loophole by allowing rightholders to “earmark” their content as economically valuable.

Julia Reda (GFF) followed up by comparing the guidance to the recently adopted German implementation law. She argued that the German law seemed to be largely in line with the principles established by the guidance and highlighted that the German rules, for certain types of “high-value” content, are highly targeted and limited. In this light, this is much less problematic than the “earmarking” mechanism introduced by the Directive. 

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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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Article 17 implementation guidance: Strong user rights safeguards with a giant loophole

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Final guidance undermines users' rights safeguards
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Today, on the last day before the implementation deadline for the Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive, the European Commission has finally published its long overdue implementation guidance for Article 17 of the Directive. The guidance, which marks the end of a stakeholder process that started in October 2019, is supposed to provide Member States implementing the Directive with guidance on how to reconcile the contradicting objectives contained in Article 17 of the Directive. It comes at a time where only a handful of Member States have implemented the Directive into their national law. 

In the final version of the guidance published today, the Commission will require Member States to include ex-ante safeguards for user rights in their national implementation legislation. In doing so, it provides support to the implementation approach taken by Germany (and discussed in Austria and Finland), while making it clear that Member States who have limited themselves to merely re-stating the provisions of the Directive (such as France, The Netherlands and Hungary) will need to include such additional safeguards (more on this below). 

Unfortunately, and confirming the suspicions that we had expressed in our recent open letter, the final version of the guidance walks back the strong commitment to protect users’ fundamental rights that the Commission had shown earlier in the process. As a result of relentless pressure from the entertainment industry, the final version of the guidance contains an “earmarking” mechanism that is designed to allow rightholders to override safeguards against automated blocking of user uploads that are not manifestly infringing, by claiming that a use of their works “could cause significant economic harm”. This provision is ripe for abuse by rightholders and undermines the relatively strong principles for safeguarding users’ fundamental rights, which the guidelines require Member States to include in their national implementations (see our detailed description of how the “earmarking” provision undermines the principles of the guidance here). 

The “earmarking” mechanism was added to the guidance in the last three months, in closed-door deliberations of the Commission and in reaction to massive pressure from rightholders. This back-room dealing of the Commission in the last months stands in stark contrast to the transparent and balanced way in which the Commission had handled the initial stages of the stakeholder process. After a series of public stakeholder dialogue meetings, the Commission had released a remarkably balanced consultation draft of the guidance in July of last year. The Commission then used the principles outlined in the draft to defend the legality of Article 17 before the CJEU, only to agree on a final version that substantially undermines these principles, behind closed doors and without further consultation of the stakeholders involved in the process. 

This conduct abuses the stakeholder process that the Commission was legally required to hold as part of the hard fought-political compromise embodied in Article 17. Where the Commission initially lived up to its role as a neutral steward of the legislative compromise, it has abandoned this role unilaterally, changing the final result based on massive political pressure from rightholders.

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A closer look at the final Commission guidance on the application of Article 17

Today, on the verge of the implementation deadline for the CDSM directive, the European Commission has published its long awaited guidance on the application of Article 17 of the Directive, in the form of a Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council. The structure of the final guidance largely follows the outline of the Commission’s targeted consultation on the guidance from July 2020, but there are significant changes to the substance of the final document. The final version of the guidance makes it clear that the European Commission has completely undermined the position it held before the CJEU, that Article 17 is compatible with fundamental rights as long as only manifestly infringing content can be blocked.

In the final guidance, the Commission maintains that it is “not enough for the transposition and application of Article 17(7) to restore legitimate content ex post under Article 17(9), once it has been removed or disabled” and argues that only manifestly infringing content should be blocked automatically, but these “principles” are included in name only. By introducing the ability for rightholders to “earmark” any content that has the potential to ”cause significant economic harm”, the guidance allows rightholders to easily override these principles, whenever they see fit, and to force platforms to automatically block user uploads even if they are not manifestly infringing.

In the remainder of this post we will examine these last minute changes to the guidance in more detail. Before we do that, we will briefly recall the key problem that the guidance was supposed to resolve and the principles that underpinned previous versions of the guidance.

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It’s our 10th birthday: Join us on the 15th of June to celebrate and discuss the future of copyright.

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This June, a few days after the implementation deadline for the DSM Directive, the COMMUNIA Association on the Public Domain will turn 10 years old. Founded in June 2011 in a Brussels bar (when gathering in the back rooms of bars was still a thing), to fight for policies that expand the public domain and increase access to and re-use of culture and knowledge, we have come a long way: 

Over the past decade we have engaged in efforts to shape the direction of copyright policy in the EU. After 10 years of existence and after the dust has settled on the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, it is time to look back, reflect and celebrate what we have achieved. 

We will do this on the 15th of June from 1530 (CEST) onwards with an anniversary event. For this occasion we will bring together key players and observers of the EU copyright policy arena from the past decade to reflect on the development of the EU copyright framework, to assess our efforts to expand the public domain and to increase access to and re-use of culture and knowledge, and to identify opportunities for policy changes in the decade to come. 

Our anniversary event will be hosted by COMMUNIA’s Teresa Nobre and Paul Keller. We will kick off by reviewing how our 14 policy recommendations have fared since we have adopted them in 2011.

After this we will be joined by Professor Juan Carlos de Martin (COMMUNIA founder and Politecnico di Torino), Professor Bernt Hugenholtz (University of Amsterdam) and Professor Pamela Samuelson (University of California, Berkeley) who will present reflections on our work and the evolution of the EU copyright framework in the past decade.

Afterwards Marco Giorello (Head of the Copyright Unit of the European Commission) will share some reflections on the evolving EU Copyright Policy Landscape. His presentation will be followed by a panel discussion on  the future of EU copyright policy between Catherine Stihler (CEO Creative Commons), Julia Reda (Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte and former MEP) and Melanie Dulong (Centre Internet et Société CIS-CNRS).

The COMMUNIA Anniversary is open for everyone to attend. Join us on Tuesday, the 15th of June, at 1530 CEST, by registering here. Registered participants will receive login information ahead of the event.

We are looking forward to celebrating with you 🥳