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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Austrian Article 17 proposal: The high road towards implementation?

Berglandschap met mensen op een weg
Reconciling the internal contradictions of Art. 17
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So far there we have seen two different approaches to implementing Article 17 into national copyright legislation. On the one hand, we have countries like France, the Netherlands, or Croatia who have presented implementation proposals that stick as closely as possible to the language and the structure of Article 17 while implementing its provisions within the structure of their existing copyright acts. In doing so these implementations essentially kick the can down the road with regards to figuring out how the conflicting requirements to filter (17(4)) and requirements to ensure that legal uploads are not filtered out (17(7)) can be reconciled. In the end, none of these implementation proposals offer a convincing mechanism for ensuring that creators get remunerated and that users’ rights are not violated.

On the other hand, we have the German approach that proposes to implement Article 17 via a separate “copyright-service-provider law” (“Urgeberrechts Diensteanbieter Gesetz”) that substantially departs from the language in an attempt to capture the structure and effet utile of the directive.

The German implementation proposal focuses on using the room for legislative discretion left by the directive to give practical meaning to the abstract requirements to protect user rights contained in the directive. It also adds measures aimed at ensuring that individual creators directly benefit from the new rules. As a result, the German implementation proposal is much closer to the legislative compromise struck by Article 17 than any of the more literal implementation proposals that have emerged so far.

Over the past few months, the German implementation proposal has come under intense pressure from exclusive rightsholders and some platforms who argue that the proposed approach does not adequately reflect the provisions of Article 17. Besides, rightsholders have also claimed that it violates national and international copyright law in multiple ways. A central argument of the opponents of the German implementation proposal is the claim that it strays too far from the text of the directive.

Given this background, it is interesting to see the first Austrian implementation proposal (that was circulated to stakeholders for feedback earlier this week) take a middle road between the two existing approaches. The Austrian implementation proposal does integrate the provisions from Article 17 directly into the text of the existing Austrian copyright act, thus deviating from the structure of Article 17, but mostly stays very close to the text of the directive. At the same time, it takes up key elements first introduced in the German approach: The non-waivable direct remuneration right for authors and performers, the protection of minor uses from automated filters, the ability for users to flag uploads as legitimate, and the ability for users’ organizations to act against platforms that engage in structural over-blocking. The result is a proposal that (similar to the German one) focuses on strengthening the position of creators and users, instead of leaving it up to platforms and large corporate rightsholders to set their own rules.

The Austrian proposal in more detail.

So let’s look at the Austrian proposal in more detail: Similar to the German proposal it introduces a direct remuneration right for authors and performers that will ensure that independent of existing contractual arrangements with publishers and other intermediaries, creators will be remunerated for the use of their works on platforms. As in the German proposal, this direct remuneration right can only be exercised via collective management organizations, which means that it will primarily benefit creators in sectors with existing collective management structures. In the German discussion this direct remuneration right has been strongly criticized by both platforms, who would prefer not to pay for obvious reasons) and by intermediary rightsholders, who prefer to control how much (or rather little) of their licensing revenue should go to the actual creators. Given that the need to make sure that creators benefit from the use of their works on platforms was the main argument for getting Article 17 in the first place, the fact that rightsholders are now trying to undermine the proposed direct remuneration right is more than a little bit hypocritical. Continue reading