Last week, Germany’s Ministry of Justice unveiled its proposal to implement Article 17 of the new Copyright Directive. In this post, we will look into the draft implementation in more detail, to understand how this proposal aims to protect user rights by:
- Making it easier for platforms to comply with the “best efforts” obligation to obtain authorization to publish their users’ uploads;
- Introducing a new exception covering minor uses of copyrighted content, which works as a fallback mechanism in the absence of authorization;
- Allowing users to override blocking/removal actions, by pre-flagging lawful uses;
- Allowing lawful content to stay up until human review and pausing the liability of platforms until a decision has been made;
- Sanctioning abusive behaviour by platforms, rightholders and users.
Complying with the “best efforts” obligation to obtain authorization
Under Article 17, platforms are deemed to carry out a copyright-restricted act when they give public access to copyrighted content uploaded by their users and, as a consequence, they must make “best efforts” to obtain an authorization to perform such acts. That authorization can hypothetically be granted through various means:
- directly by the copyright owners via individual licensing agreements (as mentioned in Article 17(1) second para.,) or
- by collective management organizations via collective license agreements, or
- by operation of law, if the national lawmakers decide e.g. to turn this exclusive right into an exception or limitation to copyright subject to compensation.
The implementation proposals that we have seen so far in other countries have limited themselves to the traditional individual licensing mechanism. This is of course problematic because individual licenses alone cannot cover the countless protected materials in existence and user rights will be at greater risk if the platforms have to block content at upload than if they obtain authorization to have that content uploaded to their platforms.
Germany had stated, when the Directive was approved, that it would explore further legal mechanisms (e.g. exceptions and limitations and collective licenses) to grant those permissions to platforms. The draft text now published delivers on those promises and introduces some welcoming innovation.
The proposed text starts by saying that the platforms need to make “alle Anstrengungen” (“every effort”) to acquire those rights by contract. The use of the wording “every effort” shall not, however, be interpreted as meaning anything else other than “best efforts”, according to the explanatory memorandum. In fact such obligation is considered to be fulfilled when the platform accepts a licensing offer made by a rightholder or when licenses are available through a domestic collective management organization (§4/1). Such contractual offers or collective licenses must apply to works typically uploaded to the platform, comprise a representative repertoire, cover the territory of Germany, and enable the use on appropriate conditions (§4/2).
A new de minimis exception that applies to the acts of platforms and noncommercial users
When, despite making the above-mentioned effort, the platform was not able to obtain an authorization, the draft text provides a fallback mechanism: it partially turns the new exclusive right into a remunerated exception, which covers minor uses of copyrighted content (§6 and §7/2). Continue reading