Civil Society letter on the Article 17 implementation guidance

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Guidance must aim to protect users' rights!
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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.

A step in the right direction: Our response to the targeted consultation on the Article 17 guidance

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Thanks for listening!
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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

Commission consultation on Article 17 guidance: User rights must be protected at upload

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Legitimate uses must be considered at all times
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At the end of July the Commission published a long awaited “targeted consultation addressed to the participants to the stakeholder dialogue on Article 17 of the CDSM Directive“. With this consultation the Commission makes good on its (pre-covid) promise to “share initial views on the content of the Article 17 guidance” with the participants of the stakeholder dialogue. Nestled in-between 18 questions, the consultation document provides a detailed outline of what the Commission’s guidance could look like once it is finalised.

While we have been rather sceptical after the end of the six meetings of the stakeholder dialogue meetings, we are pleased to see that the initial views shared by the Commission express a genuine attempt to find a balance between the protection of user rights and the interests of creators and other rightholders, which reflects the complex balance of the provisions introduced by Article 17 after a long legislative fight.

In the remainder of this post we will take a first, high level, look at the Commission’s proposal for the Article 17 guidance, what it would mean for national implementations and how it would affect user rights.

Two welcome clarifications

With the consultation document the Commission takes a clear position on two issues that were central to the discussions in the stakeholder dialogue and that have important implications for national implementation of Article 17.

The first one concerns the nature of the right at the core of Article 17. Is Article 17 a mere clarification of the existing right of communication to the public, as rightholders have argued, or is it a special or sui generis right, as academics and civil society groups have argued? In the consultation document the Commission makes it clear that it considers Article 17 to be a special right (“lex specialis”) to the right of communication to the public, as defined in Article 3 of the 2001 InfoSoc Directive, and the limited liability regime for hosting providers of the E-commerce Directive. 

What sounds like a fairly technical discussion has wide ranging consequences for Member States implementing the Directive. As explained by João Quintais and Martin Husovec, now that it is clear that Article 17 is not a mere clarification of existing law, Member States have considerably more freedom in deciding how online platforms can obtain authorisation for making available the works uploaded by their users. This should mean that they are not constrained by the InfoSoc Directive. Therefore, mechanisms like the remunerated “de-minimis” exception proposed by the German Ministry of Justice that would legalise the use of short snippets of existing works are permitted and covered by the concept of “authorisation” introduced by Article 17. Continue reading

Member States watch: User rights safeguards must be fully implemented into national laws

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Submissions in Hungary and the Netherlands
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As part of our implementation project we are tracking the national implementations of the DSM directive in the different EU member states and are working together with local advocates and civil society organisations to make sure that national implementations are as good as possible from the users and public interest perspectives. As part of this work we are also occasionally providing input into national legislative processes. Earlier this week we made a submission to the public consultation in Hungary and expressed concerns about shortcomings of the Dutch implementation law in a letter to the Dutch Parliament.

Hungary: The importance of the pastiche exception

Last month the Hungarian Ministry of Justice and the Hungarian Intellectual Property Office (HIPO) published a consultation proposal on the transposition of the DSm directive into Hungarian law.

Hungary is one of the EU member states that currently does not have an exception for parody, caricature or pastiche in their Copyright Act. Article 17(7) of the DSM directive requires all Member States to “ensure that users […] are able to rely” on exceptions or limitations authorising use “for the purpose of caricature, parody or pastiche”. Consequently Hungary must introduce such an exception as part of the implementation of the directive. The consultation proposal identified two different options to meet this requirement:

  • an exception allowing “anyone to use any work for the purposes of (…) parody by evoking the original work and by expressing humour or mockery” (Option A), or
  • an exception allowing “anyone to use any work for the purposes of (…) creating a parody, caricature or pastiche” (Option B).

In our submission to the consultation (Hungarian, English) we pointed out that Option A, by omitting caricature and parody, fails to properly implement the DSM directive and that therefore the Hungarian legislator should go with Option B. Option B, in line with our longstanding position on exceptions and limitations in the EU copyright framework, recommends to closely follow the language of the exception contained in Article 5(3)(k) of the Information Society Directive. By taking over the wording of the prototype exception and leaving the interpretation of the concepts of parody, caricature and pastiche to the courts, Option B takes full advantage of the policy space that is available to Member States and enables the harmonization of these concepts across the EU. This is especially important since in the context of Article 17, the concept of pastiche will likely become an important safeguard for the freedom of expression. Continue reading

Database Directive Study: Options for Neutralising the Sui Generis Right

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Finally a way out of the database rights maze?
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A few weeks ago the European Commission published a study on the ongoing evaluation of the Database Directive. The report was led by the Joint Institute for Innovation Policy, and contains an analysis of last year’s public consultation, as well as information from expert interviews and a stakeholders’ workshop.

The Commission’s evaluation study confirms some of our suspicions that the sui generis right is doing little to increase the production of databases in the EU. The report notes, “the effectiveness of the sui generis right, as a means to stimulate investment on databases, remains unproven and still highly contested” (p. ii). Perhaps not surprisingly, the report shows a split between the views of database producers and users. Whereas users argue that the confusion and overall ineffectiveness of the sui generis right means it should be repealed, some database makers take the opposite view, claiming that the sui generis right “is an effective means to protect databases which is often used alongside other means of protection, such as contractual terms, copyright and technological measures” (p. ii).

The evaluation of the Database Directive

To recap the issue, the study is about Directive 96/9/EC on the legal protection of databases (Database Directive). The Directive came into force on 27 March 1996. It attempted to harmonise the copyright rules that applied to original databases, and also created a new sui generis right to protect non-original databases on which major investments have been made by database makers.

Last year the Commission launched a public consultation on the application and impact of the Database Directive. Communia responded to the consultation, and published a policy paper with recommendations for the future of the Database Directive. We argued that even though the Directive has successfully harmonised the legal protection of databases with regard to copyright, there is no clear evidence that the sui generis right has improved the interests of businesses or improved EU competitiveness by increasing the production of databases. And the introduction of the sui generis right has increased the complexity and confusion for database producers as well as users.

Our recommendations included the following:

  • repeal the sui generis database right;
  • harmonize the limitations and exceptions provided in the Database Directive with the Infosoc Directive and make them mandatory;
  • if it is not possible to fully revoke the sui generis right, the Commission should amend the Database Directive to introduce a system whereby producers of databases must register to receive protection under the sui generis right; and
  • set a maximum term so that there cannot be perpetual extensions of database protection.

Continue reading

Commission pushes inconvenient copyright research down the memory hole

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An inconvenient truth about online infringement
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This week MEP Julia Reda shared an unpublished report of a study examining the effects of copyright infringement on sales of creative works. Apparently the contract for the economic research was tendered by the Commission in 2014 for €360,000. It was completed in 2015 but never published, and Reda received a copy of the report after several freedom of information requests.

The background of the study hinges on the assumption that “illicit use of copyrighted material reduces revenues of rights-holders and thus their incentives to produce content.” (p. 19). As our friends at EDRi are pointing out, this assumption is one of the underlying motivations for the Commission’s deeply flawed crusade against open online platforms. So what does the research show? From the report (our emphasis):

In 2014, on average 51 per cent of the adults and 72 per cent of the minors in the EU have illegally downloaded or streamed any form of creative content […] In general, the results do not show robust statistical evidence of displacement of sales by online copyright infringements.” (p. 7)

This result is not shocking. Many online content providers are finding that users will pay for content when that content can be conveniently accessed at a fair price—hence the significant growth of popular online film and television streaming services like Netflix. But this is not the narrative that the Commission wishes to promulgate, as it doesn’t fit their worldview. Or more accurately, it doesn’t align with the interests of the incumbent content industries, who, as we’ve argued, want nothing more than “to minimize the impact of the fundamental changes brought about by digital technologies and the internet on legacy business models.”

One assumes that the findings from this study would have been a useful input into the Commission’s proposal for the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. And surely it would have been interesting to creative sector economists, the startup and technology communities, consumer rights organisations, civil society advocates, and the public at large. Instead, the Commission pushed ahead and introduced restrictive copyright reforms that blindly tries to stop something, which according to research commissioned by the Commission itself is not a problem.

This incident makes a few things crystal clear: 1) the Commission has confirmed it has no interest in pursuing evidence-based policymaking, and 2) freedom of information laws are an increasingly vital tool by which to shed light on the shady workings of some public institutions.

Repeal the sui generis database right

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the Directive no one asked for
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The European Commission has launched a public consultation on the application and impact of the Database Directive on legal protection of databases. The Directive offers copyright protection for original databases and creates a new right called the sui generis right to protect databases on which major investments have been made. In the light of this consultation Communia has published its view on the Database Directive in its 12th policy paper. You can read the entire policy paper here.

The Directive aimed to remove existing differences in the legal protection of databases by harmonising the rules that applied to copyright protection. In addition it wanted to safeguard interests of businesses and users alike, namely the investment of database makers, and ensure that the legitimate interests of users of information contained in databases were secured. Continue reading

Internet users and authors say “no!” to more rights for publishers

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More rights for publishers? A really bad idea!
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The European Commission’s public consultation on a neighbouring right for publishers and on the freedom of panorama closed on Wednesday. While the Commission has yet to publish the results of the consultation, Copyright 4 Creativity and Save the Link – who have both been providing tools that encouraged internet users to respond to the consultation – have published data on the responses that they have forwarded to the Commission.

The 2819 responses collected by Copyright 4 Creativity show a very clear picture. According to C4C, 96% of the respondents indicated that the introduction of new rights for publishers (either in the form of an ancillary copyright for press publishers or of a generic neighbouring right for all publishers) would have a strong negative impact on publishers, authors and other rightsholders, educators, researchers, online service providers and end users. This is a pretty resounding NO! to the misguided notion that the problems of the publishing sector can be solved by creating rights out of thin air.

Open Media, the organisation behind the Save the Link campaign, gathered more than 35.000 signatories (including 9937 from the EU) supporting the following statement:

a new ‘neighbouring right’ limited to [press] publishers and the creation of a new neighbouring right covering publishers in all sectors, will each have a strong negative impact on consumers, end-users, and EU citizens.

Now both C4C and Save the Link have both targeted internet users who are critical of an expansion of copyrights. It is therefore not really surprising that that these number show strong opposition to the introduction of new rights that provide publishers and other rights holders with more control over the internet. However, it is relatively hard to imagine that the other responses that the commission has received will change the overall picture of strong opposition to the idea of a neighbouring right for publishers. Continue reading

Your voice counts – only 12 days left

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Make your voice heard!
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The current European Commission public consultation is about ancillary copyright as well as the ‘panorama exception’. We encourage you all to show support for a strong, mandatory freedom of panorama exception in Europe and to say “no” to ancillary copyright. COMMUNIA has already submitted their feedback, and you can let your voice be heard as well. Responses to the Commission’s survey must be received by June 15, and you can check out how to answer the questions with the guide at http://youcan.fixcopyright.eu/.

Why are these issues important for you?

As we’ve written before, ancillary copyright is good for no one. Everyday Internet users and consumers of news and articles would then have a harder time finding the news and information they were looking for, and would potentially face more constraints in quoting, linking to, aggregating, or otherwise using works protected by a new ancillary right for press publishers.

Even more worrying is adopting additional rights on top of a copyright system that is fundamentally broken. This is neither contributing to the Commission’s objective of modernizing the EU copyright framework nor adapting it to the challenges of a fast-evolving digital environment. Creating new rights (which are next to impossible to retract) is not a suitable method for managing the relationship between different market segments and the public. The ancillary copyright will cause substantial collateral damage to education and access to knowledge. Continue reading

COMMUNIA response to Commission’s consultation on ancillary copyright and freedom of panorama

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The European Commission’s public consultation on the role of publishers in the copyright value chain and on the ‘panorama exception’ wraps up on 15 June. COMMUNIA has submitted its response (PDF) to the questionnaire. Our answers reflect the role of COMMUNIA as a non-profit organisation that defends the public domain and advocates a copyright system that benefits users, creators, educators, researchers and cultural heritage institutions. Below we provide a summary of our responses to both parts of the consultation.

Ancillary copyright for publishers

It will come as no surprise that we oppose the creation of a new neighbouring right for publishers. Doing so would have a strong negative impact on all the audiences identified in the questionnaire, including publishers, authors, journalists, researchers, online service providers, and users.

For the majority of publishers, it would establish an unnecessary (and often unwanted) additional right that they would have to deal with, and could even make it harder for them to grow and develop innovative business models. And perhaps more to the point, the experiments with ancillary rights for press publishers in both Spain and Germany did not result in increased revenues. Instead, it likely decreased the visibility (and by extension, revenues) of their content—exactly the opposite of what was intended.

Continue reading