On Tuesday, November 10, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) heard case C-401/19. This case is a request by the Polish government to annul the filtering obligation contained in Article 17 of the Copyright in the Digital Single Market (DSM) Directive on the grounds that it will lead to censorship and will limit the freedom of expression and the freedom to receive and impart information guaranteed in Article 13 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (Charter).
The defendants in this case are the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. In addition, the European Commission and the governments of France and Spain intervened in the case on the side of the defendants. Advocate General Saugmandsgaard Øe was also present at the hearing.
Even for astute followers of the discussions around the implementation of Article 17, the hearing contained a number of surprises. While several Member States have been soldiering on with their national implementation proposals with little regard for the fundamental rights implications of Article 17, the hearing showed that the Court is taking Poland’s complaint very seriously and that the compliance of the contested provisions of Article 17 with the Charter is far from evident. Frequent reference was made during the hearing to the recent opinion of Advocate General Saugmandsgaard Øe in the YouTube and Cyando cases, which is highly critical of extensive obligations on platforms to police the copyright infringements of their users.
On the face of it, the case is about Poland’s request to annul Articles 17(4)(b) and (c) of the DSM directive. Poland argued its case, which essentially rests on the observation that while not explicitly mandating them, Article 17(4)(b) and (c) effectively require platforms to implement upload filters because there are no other effective means to comply with the obligations contained therein. Poland argues that this will lead to censorship and will limit the freedom of information of the users of online platforms.
According to Poland, the key problem with the directive is the move away from active participation of rightholders (as initiators of removal requests in the context of notice and takedown procedures) and instead handing the responsibility of removing infringing uploads over to platforms who will have to develop private enforcement systems to avoid liability for copyright infringement. Because they are not facing any comparable risk when they limit user rights by blocking access to legal content, this creates strong incentives for over-blocking. This in turn will result in censorship and violation of the fundamental rights to freedom of expression and information under the Charter. Consequently, the problematic parts of Article 17 should be annulled by the Court.
All other parties intervening in the case objected to this line of argument and stated that in their view Article 17 does not violate any fundamental rights. However, they presented strikingly contradictory interpretations of what Article 17 actually requires of platforms. There are two distinct lines of argument: The Commission, the Council and the European Parliament argued that that Article 17 contains enough internal safeguards to prevent users’ fundamental rights from being unduly limited. On the other hand, France and Spain argued that some limitations of fundamental freedoms are justified by the objective that Article 17 seeks to achieve. Continue reading
Do we need a new approach to copyright, as it applies to education? What has the pandemic changed? We will ask these questions during a Copyright for Education online event this Thursday, 29th of October).The session is co-organised with our member, Centrum Cyfrowe and is part of this year’s Open Education Policy Forum.
The Copyright for Education online event will take place on Thursday, 29th of October, at 13.00-14.15 UTC. You can register for the event here. Registered participants will receive a Zoom link on the day of the event.
We are inviting to this session educators, copyright scholars, activists and educational stakeholders. Our speakers include Meredith Jacob (PIJIP / Creative Commons USA, USA), Teresa Nobre (Communia Association, Portugal) and Allan Rocha de Souza (UFRRJ, Brazil) and will be moderated by Alek Tarkowski (Communia / Centrum Cyfrowe Foundation, Poland).
Debates about copyright reform, as seen from the perspective of educational stakeholders, often concern adjusting the law to the requirements of digital education. During the pandemic, we all experienced a sudden shift to digital, remote education. Did current copyright law prove to be fit for purpose, or did it become an obstacle to teaching and learning? What kind of copyright law do we require to support resilient education during the ongoing pandemic?
In this session, we want to highlight the growing importance of strong educational exceptions that are necessary for effective and resilient remote education. Our speakers will present perspectives from around the world and cases of different educational contexts and legal systems. We will also discuss ongoing legislative processes – such as the implementation of the new European Copyright Directive or ongoing policy debates at WIPO.
One of the most important elements of any implementation of Article 17 will be how platforms can reconcile the use of automated content filtering with the requirement not to prevent the availability of legitimate uploads. While most implementation proposals that we have seen so far are silent on this crucial question, both the German discussion proposal and the Commission’s consultation proposal contain specific mechanisms that are intended to ensure that automated content filters do not block legitimate uploads, and that uploads are subject to human review if they are not obviously/likely infringing.
In order to achieve this objective, the German discussion draft published in June relies on the idea of “pre-flagging”: users would be allowed to flag uploads containing third party works as legitimate. Platforms would then be prevented from automatically blocking pre-flagged uploads unless they determine that the flag is incorrect because the upload is “obviously infringing”.
By contrast, the Commission’s implementation guidance consultation proposes a “match-and-flag” mechanism: if upload filters detect the presence of a third party work in an upload and the use is not deemed to be “likely infringing”, then the uploader is notified and given the ability to state that the use is legitimate. If the user flags the upload as legitimate, the platform will have to initiate a human review of the upload, which remains available from the moment of upload until the review has been concluded. This type of mechanism was first suggested by a group of copyright academics in October of last year. It is also at the core of the proposal that we had presented during the last meeting of the stakeholder dialogue.
Both approaches provide a mechanism that limits the application of fully automated upload filters (while implicitly acknowledging the fact that many platforms will deploy upload filters). In the Commission’s proposal, filters are limited to making a pre-selection (“is the upload likely infringing?”); in the German proposal, they can only operate on unflagged content and to filter out “obviously incorrect” pre-flags.
Convergence on “match-and-flag”?
Both approaches have been criticised by rightholders, who claim that they undermine the “original objective of the directive” without providing alternative proposals on how automated filtering can be reconciled with the requirement not to block legitimate uploads. In addition, the German discussion proposal has also been criticised by platforms such as Google and Facebook. The platforms are arguing that giving users the ability to pre-flag every single upload would be impractical and would likely lead to substantial numbers of unnecessary (where the content in question is already licensed) or unjustified (users making excessive use of the pre-flagging tool) pre-flags, which would make such a system impractical to operate at scale. Continue reading
Back in January of this year, we noted how both the Netherlands and France (at that point the only Member States that had presented proposals to implement Article 17) had proposed selective implementations of Article 17 that ignored crucial user rights safeguards. A lot has happened since January, but yesterday both Member States took further steps in their national implementations. And this time the two Member States are moving in opposite directions:
While the Dutch government has reacted to criticism from civil society and members of Parliament by fixing some of the most obvious shortcomings of its implementation law, the 2nd chamber of the French Parliament has adopted a law that gives the French government the power to implement Article 17 (and the rest of the provisions of the DSM directive) however it sees fit.
Netherlands: a course correction
Back in July of 2019, the Netherlands were the first country to propose an implementation law of the DSM directive. Somewhat surprisingly (the Netherlands had been one of the most vocal opponents of Article 17 in the Council) the proposed implementation law did not make any efforts to protect user rights and omitted most of the user rights safeguards contained in the final version of Article 17. After the proposal was sent to Parliament in June this year, together with Bits of Freedom and others we pointed out these shortcomings to the members of the legal affairs committee. Yesterday, in response to questions from members of the legal affairs committee, the government conceded that its original implementation proposal was incomplete and added the missing user rights safeguards to the proposal for an implementation law. Continue reading
Yesterday Politico published the response submitted by the French Government to the Commission’s stakeholder consultation on the article 17 implementation guidance. For anyone who has followed the French position in the debate about Article 17, the response (see here for an english language “courtesy translation”) will not be very surprising. The French reaction rejects the majority of what the Commission is proposing and questions and accuses the Commission of reversing the progress that (according to the French government) has been made with the adoption of Article 17 in early 2019. This position is largely aligned with the grievances expressed by a coalition of rightholders organisations in their recent letter to Commissioner Breton and it is consistent with the way France is implementing Article 17 in its national law (next week the Assemblée nationale will vote on a law that will authorise the French Government to implement the provisions of the DSM directive by decree).
Unfortunately, it is also based on a flawed understanding of the issue at hand. Since the French authorities note in their reaction that they “will carefully consider stakeholders’ responses and are open to continued discussions so that future guidance may play their concrete technical role with regards to the correct application of article 17”, it is necessary to clear up some of the misunderstandings here.
Misrepresenting Article 17
The constant references, on the side of rightholders and from the French government, to the “original objective”, “goal” or “spirit” of the directive try to mask the fact that the actual text of the directive is not as clear-cut as rightsholders and the French government would like it to be. The fact is that, in between its introduction (as Article 13) in 2016 and its adoption (as Article 17) in 2019, the provisions dealing with the “Use of protected content by online content-sharing service providers” have undergone substantial changes.
What was proposed as a relatively simple intervention to strengthen the position of rightholders vis-à-vis content sharing platforms by changing the liability position of said platforms, has – following intense criticism from academia, civil society and internet users – been transformed into a convoluted legal regime that serves a number of conflicting objectives. Article 17 now includes strong language that establishes new user rights and provides meaningful safeguards for preserving these rights. These additions to the article were essential in securing its adoption by the EU legislator. As a result, in the final version of the article, the original objective of strengthening the position of rightholders is just one of a number of objectives.
By now it seems clear that in their fierce determination to get the new copyright directive adopted, many of the supporters of the original proposal have failed to notice that the final legislative compromise had morphed into an article that is fundamentally different from what was originally proposed. In supporting the final compromise of Article 17, rightholders and the French government have in fact supported provisions that go against their long established positions. Continue reading
This week, the member states of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) postponed a decision on the Wikimedia Foundation’s application to become an official observer of this organization. China raised concerns, at 61st series of meetings of the Assemblies of WIPO Member States, that the Wikimedia Foundation “has been carrying out political activities through its member organizations which could undermine the state’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” The Wikimedia Foundation would need to provide further clarifications about the volunteer-led Wikimedia Taiwan chapter and about Wikimedia’s “Taiwan-related positions.” Discussion will resume at an extraordinary session of the General Assembly in early 2021.
This decision came as a shock to many observers of WIPO, since there has only been one case in recent memory where an observer status application to WIPO has not been accepted. In 2014, the Pirate Party International was rejected due to being a federation of political parties. As highlighted by the United States in its statement in support of Wikimedia Foundation’s application, “allowing the Wikimedia foundation to participate as an observer would be entirely consistent with the established precedent at WIPO of supporting other existing observers and Member States that also have some affiliation with Taiwan.”
According to Amanda Keton, General Counsel of the Wikimedia Foundation,
“(t)he objection by the Chinese delegation limits Wikimedia’s ability to engage with WIPO and interferes with the Foundation’s mission to strengthen access to free knowledge everywhere.”
This week, we have submitted our response to the European Commission’s consultation on the opportunities offered by digital technologies for the cultural heritage sector. We agree, it is high time to revisit the approach defined by the Recommendation on the digitisation and online accessibility of cultural material and digital preservation from 2011. Ten years is a lot of time and a new approach is needed due to three factors: advances in digitisation of heritage, legal reforms that took place in the meantime – especially the new Copyright Directive, and the rapidly changing digital environment.
We believe that cultural policies, to be fit for their purpose both today and in the years ahead, need to be based on an updated vision of the role of digital heritage for Europe’s societies. We need strategies that support the creation of social, cultural, and economic value based on Europe’s heritage. This is especially true in 2020, when during the Covid-19 pandemic the value of digitised cultural heritage for our societies became clearly visible. Yet it was also a time when many of the cultural heritage institutions faced a crisis.
We need an approach to cultural heritage that recognizes its value to the society and ensures the resilience of cultural heritage institutions and the cultural sector.
Below you will find highlights of the issues that we raise in our response. You can also download the full response as a PDF file.
Earlier today 27 (update 17-09-2020: 32) civil society organisations sent a joint letter to Commissioner Breton summarising our responses to the Article 17 guidance consultation that closed last week. In addition to organisations participating in the stakeholder dialogue, the letter has also received support from a broad coalition of digital and human rights organisations from across Europe.
The letter expresses concerns that the proposed Article 17 guidance endorses the use of automated content blocking by online services even though it is clear that this will lead to the violation of fundamental rights. It also warns that implementations of Article 17 based on the proposed guidance will violate established principles of EU law.
In this context the letter highlights the need for meaningful safeguards for legitimate uses of content uploaded to online platforms, and stresses the need for a robust redress mechanism for users. Summarising the consultation responses submitted by the various signatories, the letter highlights the importance of ensuring that uploads that are not manifestly infringing must remain online until a human review has taken place. The letter further stresses the importance of involving users’ organisations when setting technical parameters that are used to determine if an upload is manifestly infringing or not.
The letter further highlights the need for full transparency of (automated) content removals and the ability for users (and user organisations on their behalf) to take actions against the abuse of the measures introduced by Article 17 of the DSM directive.
Finally, the letter also expresses support for the Commission’s clarification that Article 17 constitutes a “lex specialis” to the provisions of the InfoSoc Directive which provides Member States with maximum flexibility to include user rights preserving authorisation mechanisms in their national legislation.
You can read the full letter including the list of signatories here.
Yesterday we submitted our response to the European Commission’s targeted consultation on the Article 17 guidance. As we have explained previously, with this consultation the Commission was seeking feedback on its initial ideas for the Article 17 implementation guidance, which the Commission intends to publish before the end of the Year. The document is intended to provide Member States with guidance on how to balance the conflicting requirements of Article 17 (preventing copyright infringements while ensuring that legal uses are not affected) when implementing it in their national legislations.
As we said in our initial analysis, we were very happy to note a clear commitment of the Commission to maintain the delicate legislative balance of Article 17 that reflected many of the constructive contributions that have been made by stakeholders across the spectrum during the dialogues. In general, we consider the Commission’s proposal a step in the right direction and this is reflected in our response to the consultation. Unsurprisingly, organisations representing rightholders have a completely different reaction to the proposal and have already started a campaign to convince the Commission into abandoning its approach. Continue reading
On Thursday, the 17th of September, we will be organising the fourth Communia Salon this year. During the online event, organised in cooperation with the #NoWorries project, we want to discuss policies that concern digital cultural heritage. Our meeting will take place right after the European Commission will close its consultation on opportunities offered by digital technologies for the culture heritage sector. We also want to discuss the ongoing implementation of the Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive, and the rules that it will set for cultural heritage institutions.
In the consultations, the European Commission is referring to the “Recommendation on the digitisation and online accessibility of cultural material and digital preservation”, from 2011. Almost a decade has passed since then, and large amounts of heritage have been digitised. The term “digitisation” has been replaced with the idea of digital transformation. At the same time, barriers and challenges to access and reuse still remain – heritage in digitised form is a potentially underused resource.
During the salon, we want to ask representatives of key stakeholders from the heritage sector: what are the effects of digital technologies on the cultural heritage sector, and how should we shape them with appropriate policies? With regard to copyright regulations, we want to discuss wheter the reform went far enough, and whether it struck the the right balance? We also want to consider whether any other policies are needed for Europe to fully benefit from digital heritage?
Join us for a debate moderated by Alek Tarkowski (Communia / Centrum Cyfrowe), with the participation of Paul Keller (Communia / IViR), Ariadna Matas (Europeana), Hessel van Oorschot (Open Nederland / Tribe of Noise) and Brigitte Vézina (Creative Commons).
The Salon is open for everyone to attend and will be held on Zoom. Join us on Thursday, the 17th of September, at 1530 CET, by registering here. Registered participants will receive login information ahead of the event.