Transparency and the ongoing hypocrisy around “evidence-based” policymaking

Man bekijkt een schilderij door een vergrootglas, Honoré Daumier, 1847
Policymakers should back up rhetoric with action

We’re taking part in Copyright Week, a series of actions and discussions supporting key principles that should guide copyright policy. Every day this week, various groups are taking on different elements of the law, and addressing what’s at stake, and what we need to do to make sure that copyright promotes creativity and innovation.

Today’s topic for Copyright Week is Transparency: Whether in the form of laws, international agreements, or website terms and standards, copyright policy should be made through a participatory, democratic, and transparent process.

For Copyright Week last year we wrote about transparency and representation in relation to the public consultations leading up to the European Commission’s release of their new Directive on copyright in the Digital Single Market. Our headline read, “Evidence-based copyright policy making should be a no-brainer.” We argued, “It’s obvious to us that any legislative proposal should be developed from reliable, impartial economic and policy research whose foundation is based on evidence and facts.” But when we saw what was in the Commission’s draft, it became clear that a large swath of substantive feedback from the public was mostly ignored.

Here we are a year later, and the situation in the EU has not improved one bit.

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Educators ask for a better copyright

Educators ask for a better copyright
58 signatures for better copyright

Today COMMUNIA sent a joint letter to all MEPs working on copyright reform. The letter is an urgent request to improve the education exception in the proposal for a Directive on copyright in the Digital Single Market. It is supported by 53 organisations representing schools, libraries, universities and non-formal education, and also 5 individual educators and information specialists.

The future of education determines the future of society. In the letter we explain the changes needed to facilitate the use of copyrighted works in support of education. We listed four main problems with the Commission’s proposal:

#1: A limited exception instead of a mandatory one

The European Commission proposed a mandatory exception, which can be overridden by licenses. As a consequence educational exception will still be different in each Member State. Moreover, educators will need a help from a lawyer to understand what they are allowed to do.

#2 Remuneration should not be mandatory

Currently most Member States have exceptions for educational purposes that are completely or largely unremunerated. Mandatory payments will change the situation of those educators (or their institutions), which will have to start paying for materials they are now using for free.

#3: Excluding experts

The European Commission’s proposal does not include all important providers of education as only formal educational establishments are covered by the exception. We note that the European lifelong-learning model underlines the value of informal and non-formal education conducted in the workplace. All these are are excluded from the education exception.

#4: Closed-door policy

The European Commission’s proposal limits digital uses to secure institutional networks and to the premises of an educational establishment. As a consequence educators will not develop and conduct educational activities in other facilities such as libraries and museums, and they will not be able to use modern means of communication, such as emails and the cloud.

You can still endorse the letter by sending an email to You can read the full letter below or download the PDF.Continue reading

Seven ways to save the EU copyright reform effort in 2018

Vuurwerk ter ere van de kroning van Willem III en Maria II tot koning en koningin van Groot-Brittannië
Its 2018! Time to finally #fixcopyright

With the arrival of 2018 the discussions of the Proposed Copyright in the Digital single Market Directive enters into its third year. After more than a year of discussions in both the Parliament and the Council, it is likely that 2018 will at the minimum see final positions from both institutions. Depending on how quickly these positions will be established we may even see the adoption of the directive in 2018. To get everybody up to speed here is a quick refresher of what is at stake in 2018:

1. The publishers right must die!

Form the start the idea of granting press publishers a neighbouring right (an extra layer of copyright) in their publications has been one of the most controversial parts of the Commission’s proposal. The idea, based on laws that have failed in both Germany and Spain, is so deeply flawed that there is almost no one from the academic community who is willing to argue in favor (there are of course lots of academics who oppose it). Even worse, in the course of 2017 it has become clear that both the European Parliament and the European Commission have tried to lock away self-commissioned studies that clearly show that the new right not only would be ineffective at directing views (thus, funds) back to publishers, it would also harm media pluralism and access to information.

In spite of the overwhelming amount of evidence speaking against it, and even though its original sponsor (Commissioner Oettinger) is no longer in charge of the dossier, the idea of granting press publishers more rights in order to economically strengthen them refuses to die. It is time that MEPs and the Member states realize that adopting laws based on wishful thinking is the opposite of evidence based policy making, and refuse to create additional rights for publishers. This should be easy as there is an alternative proposal that would strengthen the legal position of press publishers without threatening the freedom to link.

2. Real legal certainty for Text and Data mining!

One of the core problems of copyright systems without a flexible exception (like fair use) is that everything not specifically permitted in the text of the copyright law will be deemed an infringement. This has resulted in an unclear legal status regarding Text and Data mining (letting computers read and interpret texts and other data). Since most forms of text and data mining require the making of copies, rights holders argue that text and data mining needs to be licensed, even if the entity engaging in TDM has legal access to the text and/or data to be mined. Continue reading

Mercosur-EU Free Trade Agreement: a bad deal for the public domain

Handel en koopvaardij
Stop the secret erosion of the Public Domain

Contrary to what the negotiating parties expected (and what many civil societies organizations feared), the Mercosur-EU Free Trade Agreement (FTA) was not signed during the World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference that took place at the beginning of December in Buenos Aires. Thus, the signing of the FTA that has been negotiated for almost twenty years was postponed once again. Over this time the negotiations were frozen during the era of the leftist governments in South America, but regained speed after the arrival of neoliberal governments to Brazil and Argentina.

Like many other multilateral agreements that have been negotiated in recent years (TPP, TTIP, etc.), the Mercosur-EU FTA covers a large number of areas (not all strictly related to trade) ranging from the exchange of goods to capital movements, phytosanitary measures, electronic commerce and intellectual property (IP). The area of ​​negotiation related to IP is extremely broad, including patents, trademarks, geographical indications and copyright, among other topics.

From TRIPS to TRIPS Plus

In most of the issues related to IP, the Mercosur-EU FTA goes beyond the international obligations imposed on the countries in 1994 with the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) in the context of the creation of the World Trade Organization. TRIPS established a minimum regulatory floor on IP that forced a large number of countries, including those of the Mercosur, to modify their laws, establishing restrictions on the circulation of knowledge and negatively affecting the public domain. In the field of copyright, TRIPS established a minimum copyright term of the author’s life plus 50 years, meaning that countries like Uruguay, which at that time had a term of only 40 years, was a major change. TRIPS also forced the countries to establish criminal penalties for IP infringements conducted on a commercial scale, as well as to protect software using the same regulatory framework as that applied to literary works. While some of these measures were already established in the Berne Convention and other treaties administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization, TRIPS stipulated economic sanctions for countries that did not comply with the obligations, which resulted in rapid adaptation to a new regulatory framework. Continue reading

The defense of education at the World Intellectual Property Organization

Fighting for minimum international standards!

As we reported last month, Communia attended the 35th session of WIPO’s Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR), which took place from 13 – 17 November in Geneva. The SCCR has a mandate to discuss limitations and exceptions to copyright, including for educational purposes. While Communia supports efforts to reach minimum international standards of exceptions and limitations to copyright in all the different areas that are currently under discussion (libraries, museums, archives, persons with disabilities, and education), our role there is specifically to support the dialogue on educational exceptions.

Why is it important to have baseline international standards?  

First, it’s a question of educational equity. The different treatments of education by copyright laws all over the world result in huge discrepancies in the way education is provided, thus increasing the inequality in educational outcomes. Educators in countries with none or poorly designed education exceptions have to be extremely careful when selecting the teaching materials they will use in educational activities or they can risk civil and criminal action for copyright infringement. Meanwhile, in countries that have strong, well-drafted copyright exceptions, teachers have the freedom to choose and use whichever materials they feel are most adequate for their instructional activities.Continue reading

Multiple news agencies confirm: Press publishers right will be used to limit freedom to link

Karikatuur van Franse censoren
Article 11 is an attack on the freedom to link

Within the new industry, news agencies fill the role of the objective gathers of facts. Agencies like DPA, AFP or ANP collect information and make them available to publishing companies who sometimes publish the information as is, but mostly use the information that they get from the agencies as an ingredient for their own reporting. Journalists rely on news agencies to confirm the accuracy of information they use in their reporting.

The heads of 8 major European news agencies have now entered the discussion about the ancillary publishers right for press publishers, via an open letter published in Wednesday’s edition of the French daily Le Monde (paywalled french language version here). They have done so taking the side of those press publishers who advocate for this right. The letter is a frontal attack on online platforms (Facebook and Google in particular) whom they accuse of profiting from hyperlinking to online new publications that are based on information gathered by the news agencies:

[The platforms] offer internet users the work done by others, the news media, by freely publishing hypertext links to their stories.

What is remarkable here is that the news agencies’ letter explicitly singles out hyperlinking as the mechanism that should be the target of the ancillary right for press publishers. While we  and others such as the eponymous Save the Link campaign have argued for a long time that an ancillary copyright would threaten the ability to freely link to online resources, and thus break one of the fundamental building blocks of the internet, the press publishers have gone to great length to pretend that this is not the case., the lobby platform set up by the EU press and news publishers associations contains a “mythbuster” section that proclaims that the publishers right “is not a link tax”, will “not break the internet”, and will not “be used to block access to publishers] content” (the last one stands in direct contruy7 [adiction to this statement by Prof. Höppner—one of the few academic proponents of the right). In the same vein the European Publishers Council is proclaiming (complete with animated GIF) that “the link is safe” and that the publishers right will lead to “more links”.

Unfortunately for these self appointed “mythbusters” the news agencies seem to have missed the memo and made it clear that the right is indeed an attempt to break the freedom to link. While this could be filed away as a simple communication mistake, the news agencies reveal a much deeper truth: It doesn’t really matter what the proponents of a new right claim with regards to how it will be used. Once a new right exists rights holders are incentivised to make maximum use of the new right. The statements from the news agencies and Prof Höppner make it clear that this will include attempts to charge for linking to and blocking access to content.

As we have argued before, strengthening the position of press publishers (and journalists) does not require a new separate right which would likely be abused to impede the access to information and to break the internet. Instead the position of press publishers vis a vis abusive practices could be achieved by a legal presumption that press publishers are entitled to enforce the rights over the works or other subject matter that are licensed to them. This is the approach that was proposed by former MEP Comodini in the draft report of the European Parliament’s legal affairs committee and is one of the two options currently discussed among the member states in the Council.

This week’s intervention by the news agencies is a powerful reminder that handing out new rights is the wrong approach to the problem.

The Estonian Presidency’s new (and optional) TDM exception: small potatoes

Man bekijkt een schilderij door een vergrootglas, Honoré Daumier, 1847
The reform needs major fixes, not minor tweaks

Ahead of this week’s EU Council meetings of the Working Party on Intellectual Property (Copyright), the Austrian government has helpfully shared the Estonian Presidency’s revised compromise proposal on Articles 3 and 6 (including relevant recitals).

We’ve been following TDM with interest since the European Commission published its proposal on copyright in the Digital Single Market. Even though the Commission’s exception for TDM would be mandatory, we criticised their plan as not going far enough, as it would limit the beneficiaries of the exception only to research organisations, and only for purposes of scientific research.

The Estonian revisions leaves intact the Commission’s obligatory TDM exception that would apply to research organisations for purposes of scientific research. And, as expected, it continues to recommend that the beneficiaries originally contemplated by the Commission be expanded to include cultural heritage institutions. But the most significant change offered in this updated compromise proposal is an additional and optional exception in Article 3:

(5) Member States may provide for an exception or a limitation […] for temporary reproductions and extractions of works and other subject-matter that form an integral part of the process of text and data mining, provided that the works and other subject-matter are accessed lawfully and that the use of the works or other subject-matter for text and data mining is not expressly reserved by the rightholder.

This additional exception would apply to beneficiaries other than research organisations, and for uses other than scientific research. But those acts would be limited in that they only would cover temporary reproductions and extractions, and only if the rightsholder does not prohibit it. Continue reading

UK government report: The right to read should be the right to mine

De zanderij
AI development requires permissive TDM rules

Last month the British government published an independent report on Growing the artificial intelligence industry in the UK. The review, conducted by Professor Dame Wendy Hall and Jérôme Pesenti, discusses the potential for how artificial intelligence (AI) “can bring major social and economic benefits to the UK,” highlighting that AI could contribute an additional £630bn to the UK economy by 2035.

The report makes several recommendations that could be explored to support the continued development and adoption of AI in the UK, including improving access to data, training experts, and increasing demand for AI applications. Of particular interest to us are two specific recommendations:

“To improve the availability of data for developing AI systems, Government should ensure that public funding for research explicitly ensures publication of underlying data in machine-readable formats with clear rights information, and open wherever possible.


“To support text and data mining as a standard and essential tool for research, the UK should move towards establishing by default that for published research the right to read is also the right to mine data, where that does not result in products that substitute for the original works. Government should include potential uses of data for AI when assessing how to support for text and data mining.

It is clearly beneficial that governments require that the outputs of publicly funded research and data be made widely available in open technical formats that are consumable by computers. If the data is not made available in machine-readable formats, it will be impossible to efficiently conduct text and data mining across a large corpus of works. It’s also good that the report recommends that the UK push for an environment where “the right to read is the right to mine”—meaning that legal access to the underlying text or data should be sufficient for the user to conduct any further research techniques (such as TDM) and that no additional legal permissions or licenses should be  required in order to do so. Continue reading

The copyright reform proposal is a threat to fundamental rights, the economy, education and creativity!

A woman shouting into a man's ear-trumpet. Wood engraving.
Time to stop the #CensorshipMachine

It has been well over a year since the European Commission has presented its proposal for adapting the EU copyright rules to the realities of the digital age. The proposed changes (as flawed as they may be) are part of an agenda to make Europe more competitive and to stimulate economic growth.

The proposal continues to be debated in the European parliament with no real end in sight. In this situation we have taken today’s meeting of the EU Competitiveness Council (which brings together the ministers responsible for trade, economy, industry, research and innovation, and space from the 28 EU member states, as an occasion to write yet another open letter.

Given that at this stage pretty much everything that can be said about the dangers and shortcomings of the Commission’s proposal has been said, our letter which has been signed by an unprecedented coalition of more than 80 civil society and human rights organisations limits itself to pointing out this very fact:

We write to you to share our respectful but serious concerns that discussions in the Council and European Commission on the Copyright Directive are on the verge of causing irreparable damage to our fundamental rights and freedoms, our economy and competitiveness, our education and research, our innovation and competition, our creativity and our culture. We refer you to the numerous letters and analyses sent previously from a broad spectrum of European stakeholders and experts for more details (see attached).

Attached to the letter are 29 different opinions, studies, open letters and reports that have been addressed at the EU legislators since the publication of the reform proposal. These include a recommendation co-signed by over 50 respected academics on measures to safeguard fundamental rights and the open Internet in the framework of the EU copyright reform, which points out that:

Article 13 (…) is disproportionate and irreconcilable with the fundamental rights guarantees in the Charter [of Fundamental Rights of the EU]

An open letter from over 50 NGOs representing human rights and media freedom asking the EU legislators to delete Article 13:

Article 13 appears to provoke such legal uncertainty that online services will have no other option than to monitor, filter and block EU citizens’ communications if they are to have any chance of staying in business. Article 13 contradicts existing rules and the case law of the Court of Justice.

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European Parliament Civil Liberties committee is second EP committee to reject mandatory upload filters

Twee apen maken muziek
Article 13 is a threat to creative expression online

Yesterday, the members of the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee (LIBE) did the right thing and voted down the Commission’s proposal to impose upload filters on online platforms. The LIBE opinion, which was drafted by Polish EPP MEP Michał Boni and adopted with a clear majority of 36 votes for and just 5 against, dismantles the most problematic aspects of Article 13 of the Commission’s proposal: the members of the LIBE committee voted to remove the obligation for online platforms to use automated content recognition technologies to filter all user uploads in order to prevent users of these platforms from sharing copyrighted materials without permission from rights holders. The opinion also proposes strengthening user’s ability to contest the takedown of works they’ve uploaded.

Members of Parliament are recognizing the dangers upload filters pose to freedom of expresion..

While this approach is not perfect (as we have repeatedly said Article 13 should be deleted from the proposed directive), it shows that the members of the European Parliament are not willing to blindly follow the attempts by the music industry and the Commission to give big rightsholders more control over how we create, share and access content online. It is encouraging to see that the members of Parliament have listened to the arguments against automated upload filters, such as the recent warning by more than 50 prominent professors and scholars of copyright and internet law that automated filtering systems “would deprive users of the room for freedom of expression” and the open letter that we co-signed with 50 human rights and civil liberties organisations, which pointed out that content filters would both “limit the freedom to impart information […], and the freedom to receive information on the other.”

LIBE is now the second committee of the European Parliament that is calling for a halt to the automated content filtering plans proposed by the Commission. Back in July the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee (IMCO) adopted the same amendments that were adopted yesterday by LIBE. While both committees will be at the table when the leading JURI committee discusses these plans, it is far from certain that the Committee on Legal Affairs will follow the line established by them.

…while Member States continue to push for mandatory censorship filters

Outside of the European Parliament the LIBE vote also sends a strong signal to the Member States who are discussing this issue in parallel. The Estonian presidency has proposed a new compromise text on article 13 that will be discussed among the member states later this week. The language proposed by the Estonian proposal significantly overhauls the Commission’s proposal, but that new coat of paint cannot hide the fact that it still tries to force online platforms to implement automated content filtering technologies. Continue reading