Filtered Futures: a Conference to examine upload filters after the CJEU ruling on Art. 17

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The recent CJEU decision on Article 17 of the copyright directive has defined a framework for the use of automated content moderation. The Court considers filtering obligations compatible with the right to freedom of expression and information as long as they are limited to use cases that allow for a robust automated distinction between legal and illegal content. In the context of Article 17, upload filters may therefore only be used by online platforms to block manifest infringements of copyright law. The Court leaves it up to the Member States to ensure that legal uses remain unaffected by their national transpositions of Article 17.

The judgment raises a host of important questions for the enforcement of copyright law as well as for the compatibility of upload filters with fundamental rights even beyond copyright law. To discuss these consequences, together with Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte we are jointly organizing the “Filtered Futures” conference on Monday, September 19th 2022, in Berlin. 

We are inviting papers from all disciplines contributing to the conference theme. To present your work at Filtered Futures, please complete the submission form by July 10th, 2022. The form asks for a short abstract of your talk. All applicants will be notified by July 22th, 2022.

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Video recording of the COMMUNIA Salon on the CJEU decision on Article 17

On the 28th of April, we hosted the second COMMUNIA Salon of 2022 to discuss the implications of the CJEU judgment in Case C-401/19, which rejected the request of the Polish government to annul Article 17 and confirmed that this provision can be reconciled with the right to freedom of expression provided that certain users rights safeguards are in place.

The Salon started with João Pedro Quintais (Assistant Professor at the Institute for Information Law (IViR), University of Amsterdam), who presented an overview of the case and the three main takeaways of the judgment, according to his preliminary reading of the judgment. First, the Court clarified that Article 17 follows a normative hierarchy, where the obligation of result to protect user rights or freedoms takes precedence over the obligations of best efforts that exist for preventive measures. Secondly, the ruling makes it clear that ex-post procedural safeguards are insufficient to take care of overblocking; ex-ante safeguards are also required to protect user rights or freedoms. Finally, with regards to filtering measures, it appears that it will be difficult to argue that the judgment leads to a conclusion that is different from the AG Opinion, according to which only manifestly infringing content can be blocked at upload.

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Case C-401/19: CJEU limits the use of automated filters and protects user rights at upload

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Today, the Court of Justice of the European Union issued its long awaited judgement on the compliance of the new liability regime established by Article 17 of the DSM Directive with fundamental rights. Rejecting the request of the Polish government to annul Article 17(4)(b) and the last half sentence of subparagraph (c), the Court confirmed that Article 17 can be reconciled with the right to freedom of expression because the article also provides ex-ante and ex-post safeguards to users rights that limit its impact on the right to freedom of expression and information.

Article 17 contains sufficient safeguards to minimise the impact of upload filters on fundamental freedoms

According to the CJEU, 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 online 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. 

The Court held that the risks that the use of upload filters entails for the right to freedom of expression and information of users of sharing platforms have been sufficiently addressed by the EU legislator, which laid down sufficient safeguards in Article 17(7), (8) and (9) to protect those rights: 

  • online sharing providers have an obligation of result to not preventively block lawful content (Article 17(7));
  • those providers are only obliged to detect and block content in on the basis of  relevant and necessary information provided by rightholders and cannot be required to block content which, in order to be found unlawful, would require an independent assessment of the content by them (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, users have at their disposal a complaint and redress mechanism as well as out-of-court mechanisms (Article 17(9)).
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COMMUNIA Salon on the CJEU decision on Article 17 and the future of upload filters in the EU

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On the 26th of April, the European Court of Justice will hand down its judgement in Case C-401/19 — the Polish challenge of the fundamental rights compliance of Article 17 of the Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive, which was adopted nearly 3 years ago in April 2019.

On the 28th of April, from 1500h to 1630 CET, we are hosting a virtual COMMUNIA salon to discuss the implications of this highly anticipated judgement and what it means for the national implementations of Article 17. 

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Our response to the new Austrian copyright implementation proposal

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One step forward two steps back
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When the Austrian government published its implementation proposal for Article 17 in December 2020 we called it “the most realistic implementation proposal yet“. On the 3rd of September the Austrian Ministry of Justice published a draft version of the implementation law covering all provisions of the CDSM directive, which includes revised provisions for implementing Article 17. And while this revised proposal maintains much of the approach contained in the previous draft, it contains some unfortunate regressions that undermine the user rights protections contained in the original draft. 

Earlier this week, together with epicenter.works, Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte, Wikimedia Austria, Creative Commons Austria and the Cultural Broadcasting Archive we have submitted extensive comments in response to the new implementation draft (PDF, in German) which we summarise below.

Article 17: A combination of the German implementation and the worst ideas from the Commission guidance

One of the strongest elements of the original implementation proposal was that it combined some of the approaches to safeguarding user rights and to preventing overblocking first put forward by the German Ministry of Justice in its implementation proposals with an attempt to stick as closely as possible to the text of the directive. Where the German implementation proposal (which in the meantime has become law) introduced the provisions implementing Article 17 in an entirely new act, the Austrian proposal includes them into the existing copyright act. The new proposal both maintains this approach and continues to follow the lead of the German legislator when it comes to the user rights safeguards. Unfortunately it combines this approach with introducing some of the worst elements of the Article 17 implementation guidance issued by the Commission earlier this year, the so-called “earmarking” provisions for commercially valuable works that allow right-holders to opt-out of most user rights protections. 

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A Proposal to leverage Article 17 to build a public repository of Public Domain and openly licensed works.

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Today Open Future and Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte are publishing a white-paper, authored by Felix Reda (GFF) and Paul Keller (Open Future/COMMUNIA) that proposes to build a public repository of Public Domain and openly licensed works. While the idea of creating repositories of Public Domain and openly licensed works is not new as such, the white paper proposes to use Article 17 of the EU copyright directive as leverage to create such a repository. Aside from its very problematic blocking and liability provisions, which we have criticized since the EU copyright directive’s inception, Article 17 also requires certain providers of online content sharing platforms to ensure that the copyright filters that they deploy “shall not result in the prevention of the availability of works or other subject matter uploaded by users, which do not infringe copyright and related rights”. This provision was added later in the negotiations to address widespread criticism from civil society and academia.

As a result these platforms need to prevent uploads containing Public Domain or openly licensed works from being blocked or removed as a result of copyright claims from (alleged) rightholders or face sanctions. For example, the German implementation of Article 17 explicitly requires that “after an abusive blocking request in respect of works in the public domain or works whose use by anyone is authorised free of charge, service providers must ensure, to the best of their ability […], that these works are not blocked again”.

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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 Felix 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 Felix 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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