On 19 November 2018, 54 NGOs (including COMMUNIA) representing human rights and media freedom sent a letter to the Council of the European Union. The letter raises ongoing concerns regarding the proposal of the Directive on copyright in the Digital Single Market. The signatories underline that the current proposal risks creating severe impediments to the functioning of the internet and the freedom of expression of all, and urge the Council to take citizens’ rights into consideration during the trilogue negotiations:
For the ongoing trilogue negotiations, we urge you to reject obligatory or “voluntary” coerced filters and to keep the current liability regime intact. Enforcement of copyright must not become a pre-emptive, arbitrary and privately-enforced censorship of legal content.
Moreover, we ask you to hear the voice of academic research that a press publishers’ right will not have the intended effect and will instead lead to a less informed European society.
The letter is not only another call for a productive re-shaping of the future European copyright framework. It is also a strong voice against the predominant market-only narrative around the ongoing reform. NGOs continue to raise concerns related not just to the economic impact of the new Directive, but its deep influence on society, openness, fundamental rights and access to knowledge.
Not surprisingly, the letter focuses on the most disputed provisions–Article 13 upload filters and Article 11 ancillary copyright for press publishers. Since the beginning of the legislative process COMMUNIA has worked on nearly all parts of the Directive comments (including the new educational exception, TDM provisions and others), and we regret that there seems to be little attention paid to these other important aspects as policymakers focus only on the most controversial parts of the plan.
Limiting the damage by clearly identifying the services targeted
Under these conditions it seems that the most promising approach to minimize the harm that will be caused by these articles will be to limit what type of services they apply to.
Article 11 should be modified in such a way that it only applies to search engines and news aggregators. These are the type of services that press publishers are claiming to cause them harm (which we continue to doubt). This would prevent a lot of legal uncertainty (and thus damage) for everyone else on the internet.
The same approach makes sense for article 13. The music industry and other rightsholders have consistently argued that they are harmed by large online platforms that allow users to share audiovisual (AV) works. Given that the stated objective of the proponents of article 13 is to create a better bargaining position for rightsholders vis a vis YouTube, Facebook, Google and other commercial platforms, it seems reasonable to limit the types of services that would need to comply with article 13 to for-profit audio visual platforms that compete with licensed services only. Such a measure would prevent a lot of legal uncertainty for platforms that do not deal with AV works or do not operate on a for profit basis. Continue reading →
Last month the notorious EU Parliament vote approved almost all of the worst measures of the proposed Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. It was a significant setback for user rights and the open internet.
Recap: 12th September Parliament vote
The Parliament voted in favor of Article 13, which even though it didn’t mention explicitly, would in practice force online platforms that host significant amounts of user-uploaded works to filter all content for copyrighted materials and prevent the upload of those works unless a license has been agreed to. If the platforms don’t do this, they would be liable for copyright infringements of their users.
They approved Article 11, which gifts a new copyright-like right to press publishers that will allow them to control how we access and reference press publications and news stories online.
The text and data mining provisions of Article 3 pretty much stayed the same, with a mandatory exception carrying through, but only one which can be taken advantage of by not-for-profit research organisations, and only for the more limited scope of scientific research. An optional addendum would permit an expanded exception applicable to all, but only if the rights holders in the underlying works don’t object to it, or arrange their own licensing requirements.
Article 4, the copyright exception for education applying to digital and cross-border teaching activities, while being seriously improved over the Commission version, still contains the fatal flaw that the mandatory exception can be essentially ignored if there is appropriately licensed content made available in a Member State.
To add insult to injury, the Parliament doubled down on their rights giveaway bonanza, approving Article 12a to grant sports events organizers to prohibit anyone from sharing photos or other recordings of sports events. And the new Article 13b requires that image search engines to obtain licenses for even the smallest preview images that they display as search results.
There is no way around it, the outcome of today’s vote on the copyright directive in the European Parliament is a big loss for user rights and the open internet. MEPs have decidedly sided with the demands of the creative industries to hand them more control over how we access, use and share copyrighted works. Out of the seven issues that we listed this morning the European parliament voted against our position every single time.
Taken together the positions adopted by the European Parliament this morning amount to an unprecedented expansion of exclusive rights for a small subset of already-powerful interests:
Under Article 13, rightsholders would get more control over how copyrighted works can be shared on online platforms. It will allow them to force platforms to filter content in ways that will negatively impact users rights.
Under Article 11 press publishers would get an entirely new right that will allow them to control how we access and reference press publications.
Under Article 3 rightsholders would get the right to prevent anyone other than scientific researchers from using computers to analyse information contained in legally accessible works.
Under the new Article 12a sports events organizers would become copyright holders allowing them to prohibit anyone from sharing photos or other recordings of sports events.
Finally under the new Article 13b image search engines would need to obtain licenses for even the smallest preview images that they display as search results.
With today’s adoption of the report the path is now clear for negotiations (the so called “trilogue“) between the Parliament, the Council and the Commission (see this helpful infographic for an overview of the remaining steps). Given that on most issues the positions of the three legislators are very similar, this process, which will be guided by the Austrian Presidency, will likely be relatively swift. Once these trilogue negotiations are complete, the resulting text will once more be voted in the European Parliament. This vote, which will likely take place at the end of this year or early next year will be the last possibility to prevent (or at least limit) the effects of today’s land grab by rightsholders. Stay tuned for a more extensive analysis over the next few days.
On the 5th of July a large majority of the Members of the European Parliament voted against fast-tracking the report of its JURI committee on the Copyright in the Digital Single Market directive so that the full parliament could discuss the contents of the report and make adjustments to a number of controversial provisions. This discussion has taken place over the last few weeks and tomorrow marks the day when the European Parliament will take a final vote on the report.
On the table are a wide range of proposals to amend three of the most controversial parts of the proposed directive, as well as a number of attempts to address omissions in the original text. However, large parts of the JURI text, such as the exceptions dealing with education and access to cultural heritage, have been left untouched and will not be affected by Wednesday’s vote.
EU lawmakers will have the opportunity to agree on some meaningful improvements to the proposed directive which would then become part of the Parliament’s position for the upcoming trilogue negotiation with the European Commission and the Member States. An improved Parliament position is badly needed since the European Commission’s original plan was terribly disappointing and the Member States have adopted a position that is even worse on crucial parts of the proposed directive. In order to keep open the possibility that the EU copyright reform process will result in real improvements to the EU copyright system MEPs must:
Text and data mining: Vote for an expanded version of the exception for text and data mining in Article which would allow anyone to text and data mine all legally accessible copyright protected works. This would be guaranteed by a set of amendments tabled by a cross-party coalition called the Digital Agenda Intergroup. Not adopting their amendments would mean that Europe will shut itself off from an essential tool for scientific, societal and economic progress.
Press publishers right: Delete the unnecessary and counterproductive Article 11, but it deletion is not possible, limit the most negative effects by refusing to grant press publishers additional rights that will hinder access to knowledge. This would be guaranteed by sets of amendments proposed by the Digital Agenda Intergroup and by the Greens/EFA political group.
Upload filters: Ensure that the attempts to address an imaginary value gap driven by the music industry by introducing mandatory upload filters do not damage the open nature of the internet and limit the freedom of (creative) expression online. In addition to deletion of Article 13 the damage can be limited by adopting amendments proposed by the Internal Market and Consumer Protection committee or the Digital Agenda Intergroup.
User-generated content: Vote in favor of the new amendments that clarify that users may engage with copyrighted works through remixes, memes and other types of user-generated content (UGC). Support for UGC was indicated in the JURI recitals, but left out of the article text. There are amendments tabled the Digital Agenda Intergroup as well as several MEPs including Cavada, Reda, Adinolfi, and Maštálka.
Freedom of Panorama: Vote in favor of new amendments that clarify the ability for European citizens to take and share photography of artworks and architecture in public spaces (freedom of panorama). There are amendments tabled by the Digital Agenda Intergroup as well as MEPs Maštálka and Reda.
New rights for sports broadcasters and image search: Vote against the additional copyright protection gifted to sports events organisers snuck into the JURI report, as well as the addition of a licensing requirement for image search engines. Neither of these amendments were debated nor received a sufficient level of scrutiny by the Parliament, and both would result in substantial expansions of the scope of copyright that must be opposed given the absence of any evidence supporting such measures.
Support for the public domain: Vote in favor of the amendments that add a positive definition of the public domain to the EU copyright framework. Copyright law takes a big part of its legitimacy from the fact that it creates temporary exclusive rights and this fundamental principle deserves explicit recognition in EU law. MEPs should support the amendments introduced by MEP Adinolfi.
While most of the proposals on the table explicitly exclude open knowledge repositories like Wikipedia, open access publication platforms and free software repositories from the filtering obligations (and liability risks) established by Article 13, this does not guarantee that the directive will not limit access to knowledge and culture and damage the public domain. Exempting these service may protect them from the immediate negative effects of the Directive, but but it would not take away legal uncertainties for innovators in this space.. This is why projects from Wikipedia to GitHub to the library and research community still oppose Article 13. Just yesterday, Jimmy Wales, a Wikipedia co-founder, warned again that “foolish, detrimental changes to the law could make it really hard for future platforms to allow people the freedom to create.”
The decentralised nature of the internet has enabled a radical opening up of knowledge and a culture of sharing that has reduced the ability of commercial intermediaries to control and limit access to knowledge for profit making purposes. Continue reading →
In less than two weeks the European Parliament will vote on its position on the Copyright in the Digital Single Market directive. After the resounding rejection of the JURI mandate on the 5th of July, MEPs are searching for compromises that will allow the European Parliament to enter into negotiations with the Commission and the Member States. A key to finding such a compromise will be a new version of Article 13 that reflects the broad opposition against the upload filters that led to the rejection of the JURI mandate in July.
Last week Friday MEP Axel Voss presented his proposal for a new compromise on Article 13. According to Voss the new version answers to the demands voiced by critics of the original JURI text (and he expects those critics to support his new version):
The new proposal for #copyrightdirective does not forsee any measures/„upload filter“ … Now I expect everyone who was against the previous proposal because of this to support the new proposal.
(1) Without prejudice to Article 3(1) and (2) of Directive 2001/29/EC, online content sharing service providers perform an act of communication to the public.
As a result open platforms would need to obtain licenses for all copyrighted content that could possibly be uploaded to such platforms, which is of course impossible since not all copyrighted content is available for licensing. In practice this will mean that platforms need to filter out all copyrighted works for which they do not have a license. Contrary to what Axel Voss wants us to believe, his latest proposal would mandate upload filtering on an unprecedented scale (see the flowchart below for a more detailed analysis). Continue reading →
Summer is definitely over (sorry to write this) and copyright reform is back as one of the most controversial issues on the Brussels policy agenda. It is expected that the European Parliament will finally decide on the position on the proposed Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive on September, 12th. Right now things are not looking good: instead of a much needed update of the copyright framework that would enable new uses driven by technological innovation, policy makers in Brussels are working towards new restrictions that would would limit how information and creativity can be shared and enjoyed online.
To prevent this from happening we are joining forces with a broad coalition of civil society organisations, academics, libraries and free software developers to advocate for sensible rules that do not limit access to knowledge, freedom of expression and innovation online. A balanced approach on copyright reform matters for all of us and we urge you to join us in convincing MEPs that they must not damage the internet in order to serve the interests of rightsholders. Please join us in contacting your MEPs via saveyourinternet.eu
Copyright action week
Throughout the coming days (up until the 11th which is the day before the vote in the European Parliament) various groups and initiatives will highlight the negative impact of the Article 13 (upload filters) on a broad range of issues. These include human and digital rights, academic research , access to knowledge, online creation and fan art and many other everyday online activities. Continue reading →
As the members of the European Parliament make their way to Strasbourg for the final plenary before the summer break, here is a reminder of what is at stake when they will vote on the JURI report on the proposed copyright directive this Thursday. Formally they will be voting to approve (or reject) the negotiation mandate the JURI members had given themselves on the 20th of June which, allows MEP Voss to start negotiating the final text of the directive with the Member States and the European Commission. As we wrote earlier the negotiation mandate is highly problematic as it embraces both the publishers right (“link tax”) and a requirement for open platforms to filter all user uploads (“censorship filters”). Both of these articles, which are pushed for by large rightsholders to give them more control over the content that they distribute, undermine important principles of the Internet and will cause significant damage to the much wider online environment.
In other words, the question that MEPs will have to decide this week, is if we accept the fact that fundamental principles of the Internet get thrown overboard at the request of particular industries who stand to benefit from such a move, even if it is clear that everybody else will be worse off as a result. Over the past weeks it has become clear that people are not happy with this prospect. MEPs have been overwhelmed with angry mails from Internet users, online creators have warned about the end of certain forms of creativity, people have taken to the streets in more than 30 places across Europe and more than 145 civil society organisations once again confirmed their opposition to the proposed measures.
In the light of these massive protests, the music industry which is the driving force behind the Article 13 upload filters is in damage control mode trying to downplay the effects of the measures it is calling for. Their fairly ridiculous attempt to position article 13 as “pro memes and mashups” was quickly debunked on social media and by European copyright scholars. The fact that scholarly opinion on the proposed changes, which largely overlaps with the perception by users, has been completely ignored by the members of the JURI committee is one of the driving forces behind the attempt to stop the JURI negotiation mandate this week.
So who is in favour of the measures approved by JURI and who is against them? Who should European lawmakers listen to when it comes to deciding on changes to the copyright regime that will have far-reaching effects for users, creators and businesses alike?
Most of these voices have been ignored by the debate in the JURI committee which has shown a particular disregard for independent expertise throughout the process. It is now up to all members of the European Parliament to decide if the Parliament should enter into negotiations with the Member States and the Commission based on the narrow view taken by the members of the JURI committee or on a view that takes these voices into account.
This morning the Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament voted on the report on the proposed Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive. The results are in and they are not pretty: MEPs have adopted Article 13 which would force open platforms operating in Europe to install upload filters. They have also adopted the controversial press publishers right (art 11). As a bonus to rightsholders they granted more rights to “sports event organisers” and adopted a provision intended to force image search engines to pay for displaying thumbnail images as search results.
This amounts to a massive power grab by rightsholders who will enjoy much more control over how we use the Internet to communicate, share, create and inform ourselves. It is a big step away from an open Internet towards an Internet that functions as a distribution channel for mainstream culture. It is a huge loss for European cultural diversity and the freedom of expression online.
It is telling that the MEPs in the JURI committee have also voted against all attempts to give users more rights. Proposals to introduce EU wide freedom of panorama and to allow the use of protected works in User Generated Content (both of which would merely bring the law in line with reality) were voted down. The MEPs adopted a number of small improvements for users in the fields of education, access to cultural heritage and with regards to Text and Data Mining but most of these come with significant drawbacks.
The education exception contains a license priority clause that allows rightsholders to turn off the exception and dictate problematic licensing terms to educational users, which creates a dangerous precedent for users’ rights and goes against the CJEU ruling on this issue.
The Text and Data Mining (TDM) exception is limited to scientific research purposes only. The expansion that would open TDM to everyone for every purpose (which is crucial for the development of technologies such as artificial intelligence in the EU) is merely optional and will not apply across the EU as a whole.
Taken as a whole, the JURI committee’s vote shows an utter disregard for the rights of citizens in the digital environment. It is telling that both the Civil Liberties and the Consumer Protection committees have prepared much more balanced reports that have been completely ignored by the members of the Legal Affairs committee.This shows that lawmakers still treat the rights and interests of citizens and creators as spare change in the the fight between big content and big tech.
Today’s round has clearly gone to ‘big content’ in spite of warnings from pretty much anyone other than the rightsholders that this outcome will have disastrous consequences for the open Internet and our freedom of speech. Citizens’ freedom of expression should not be the function of an arrangement between rightsholders and big technology companies. It is a right that needs to be defended on its own merits and it is extremely worrisome that EU lawmakers have effectively decided to give big technology companies – that are based outside of the EU – the responsibility to decide how European citizens can express themselves online.