The public domain belongs to all and is often defended by no-one: we want to change that

l'Age d'Airain by Rodin. the Age of Bronze by Auguste Rodin 3D
Litigating for the right to our shared culture
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As we approach our 10th anniversary, new ideas as to what role we want COMMUNIA to play in the coming decade are starting to take form. After spending a decade trying to improve policy and legislative processes, we can very much see COMMUNIA embracing other tools of intervention to expand the public domain and strengthen access to knowledge and culture. One of such tools, alongside our advocacy work, is strategic litigation.

Judicial developments are much needed to provide further clarity as to the scope of users rights in Europe. There’s still legal uncertainty as to whether certain public interest activities are permitted under existing exceptions and limitations to copyright,  how users can assert their rights on online platforms, whether (and how) users can enforce their rights against contracts and technological measures, and what’s the status of the public domain. The implementation of the new Copyright Directive, particularly Article 17, will bring further interpretation challenges. 

Whether and how much Communia will be able to engage in strategic litigation in the next decade is still to be determined, but we decided to take the first steps in this realm, by supporting a court proceeding that is aimed at challenging an abusive practice that is eroding the public domain: that of claiming exclusive rights overs tridimensional digitizations of public domain artworks.

The case against Musée Rodin

In 2018, artist and open access activist Cosmo Wenman filed a freedom of information request with the Musée Rodin in Paris to access the 3D scans of Auguste Rodin’s sculptures (all of which are in the public domain). When the museum refused to comply, Mr. Wenman appealed to the French Commission on Access to Administrative Documents (CADA).

In response the CADA confirmed that these 3D scans in question are administrative documents and are subject to public disclosure, under freedom of information laws, and therefore the Musée Rodin is required to give public access to them. 

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It’s our 10th birthday: Join us on the 15th of June to celebrate and discuss the future of copyright.

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This June, a few days after the implementation deadline for the DSM Directive, the COMMUNIA Association on the Public Domain will turn 10 years old. Founded in June 2011 in a Brussels bar (when gathering in the back rooms of bars was still a thing), to fight for policies that expand the public domain and increase access to and re-use of culture and knowledge, we have come a long way: 

Over the past decade we have engaged in efforts to shape the direction of copyright policy in the EU. After 10 years of existence and after the dust has settled on the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, it is time to look back, reflect and celebrate what we have achieved. 

We will do this on the 15th of June from 1530 (CEST) onwards with an anniversary event. For this occasion we will bring together key players and observers of the EU copyright policy arena from the past decade to reflect on the development of the EU copyright framework, to assess our efforts to expand the public domain and to increase access to and re-use of culture and knowledge, and to identify opportunities for policy changes in the decade to come. 

Our anniversary event will be hosted by COMMUNIA’s Teresa Nobre and Paul Keller. We will kick off by reviewing how our 14 policy recommendations have fared since we have adopted them in 2011.

After this we will be joined by Professor Juan Carlos de Martin (COMMUNIA founder and Politecnico di Torino), Professor Bernt Hugenholtz (University of Amsterdam) and Professor Pamela Samuelson (University of California, Berkeley) who will present reflections on our work and the evolution of the EU copyright framework in the past decade.

Afterwards Marco Giorello (Head of the Copyright Unit of the European Commission) will share some reflections on the evolving EU Copyright Policy Landscape. His presentation will be followed by a panel discussion on  the future of EU copyright policy between Catherine Stihler (CEO Creative Commons), Julia Reda (Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte and former MEP) and Melanie Dulong (Centre Internet et Société CIS-CNRS).

The COMMUNIA Anniversary is open for everyone to attend. Join us on Tuesday, the 15th of June, at 1530 CEST, by registering here. Registered participants will receive login information ahead of the event.

We are looking forward to celebrating with you 🥳

Communia Salon 2021/3: It’s the 7th of June 2021, so why is the internet still here?

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On Monday the 7th of June 2021 the Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive will enter into force. To mark this event we are organising a special COMMUNIA Salon taking stock of the implementation process across the EU and taking a closer look at the latest developments around Article 17 of the Directive. Join us at 1530h (CET) for a very special programme.

We will kick off the event with the Eurovision DSM contest evaluating the implementation progress (or the lack thereof) in the 27 member states. We will hand out awards for the best and worst implementations and will let you know which Member States have managed to implement in time and which ones are still struggling.

After this glamorous introduction we will shine a spotlight at the latest developments related to the implementation of Article 17 of the directive. Julia Reda (Project lead Control © at GFF and former MEP), João Quintais (Institute for Information Law at the University of Amsterdam), Christophe Geiger (Centre for International Intellectual Property Studies – CEIPI, University of Strasbourg) and Paul Keller (Open Future / COMMUNIA) will take a close look at the newly adopted German implementation law with its strong focus on user rights safeguards. They will also examine the final version of the Commission’s implementation guidance which we expect to be published just in time for our Salon. The Salon will be moderated by Teresa Nobre (COMMUNIA). 

As always, the COMMUNIA Salon is open for everyone to attend and will be held on Zoom. Join us on Monday, the 7th of June, at 1530 CEST, by registering here. Registered participants will receive login information ahead of the event.

German Article 17 implementation law sets the standard for protecting user rights against overblocking

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A practical approach to protecting users' rights
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Today the German Bundestag adopted the law implementing the provisions of the DSM directive into German law. The law still needs to be confirmed by the Bundesrat before it can be signed into law by the President, but it is not expected that the law will undergo any more changes during that process. As we have explained here before, the German implementation law is one of the most ambitious implementations of the DSM directive especially with regards to the way it implements the provisions of Article 17 of the directive. And while the discussions in the Bundestag have led to a number of changes to the text of the law, the key mechanism underpinning the government proposal for implementing Article 17 has emerged essentially unchanged. In addition, the discussion in the Bundestag has resulted in a number of substantial improvements in other parts of the law. 

Presumably legitimate uses

Once signed into law, the implementation of Article 17 will be the first one that contains a practical mechanism designed to ensure that the use of upload filters does not result in the blocking of user uploads which do not infringe copyright. The need for such an ex-ante mechanism arises from Article 17(7) and has also been stressed by the Commission at various points in the past

In order to achieve this, the German implementation relies on the concept of “uses presumably authorised by law”, which must not be blocked automatically. For an upload to qualify as “presumably authorised by law”, it needs to fulfil the following cumulative criteria:

  • The use must consist of less than 50% of the original protected work,
  • The use must combine the parts of the work with other content, and
  • The use must be minor (a non-commercial use of less than 15 seconds of audio or video, 160 characters of text or 125 kB of graphics) or, if it generates significant revenues or exceeds these thresholds, the user must flag it as being covered by an exception.

If these conditions are met, the use is considered to be “presumably authorised by law” and cannot be blocked automatically. Rightholders can still challenge the legality of such uses but platforms are required to keep the uploads online until those complaints have been reviewed by the platforms (there is an exception that allows “trusted rightholders” to request immediate removal if they consider the use evidently infringing and commercially harmful). 

This mechanism had been the target of massive criticism from rightholders throughout the parliamentary debate and it is welcome to see that the Bundestag has had the courage to hold the line here. The version of the law adopted today makes one small concession to rightholders. It now specifies that the “presumably authorised by law” mechanism does not apply to “the use of cinematographic works or videos until the end of their first public broadcast, in particular during the simultaneous broadcast of sports events, provided that the rightholder requests this from the service provider”. This change addresses concerns expressed by sports associations who argued that allowing people to share 15 second clips of sports events during an event would ruin their business model. While this seems highly dubious, the exception is so narrow that its impact on legal uses will be fairly minimal. 

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The Italian transposition of the CDSM Directive: A missed opportunity?

A Coastal Ruin in Italy
Italian implementation must include Article 14!
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On April 20, 2021, the Senate of the Italian Republic gave its final approval to the Law which authorises the transposition of the 2019 Copyright in the Digital Single Market (CDSM) Directive in the Italian Law. In this Guest Article Deborah De Angelis (Creative Commons Italy) and Federico Leva (Wikimedia Italy) recap the Italian process of transposition so far, outlining the next steps of the procedure and taking a closer look at the implementation of the public domain provisions (Article 14) of the Directive.

What has happened so far?

The freshly approved European Delegation Law is a legislative act that authorises and guides the Italian Government to transpose EU Directives and framework decisions into the Italian National Law. Such a Delegation Law must be proposed by the Government at the beginning of each year, with the approval of the European Delegation Law by both the Senate of the Republic and the Chamber of Deputies often taking a long time and occasionally exceeding a year.

Once the Delegation Law is approved, the Government can issue the related Legislative Decrees in order to change the existing laws and adapt them to the European rules. Since the approval of the delegation law and until the adoption of the Legislative Decrees, no change in law actually happens. Such Legislative Decrees are very quick to set into motion, as the Parliament has a few days only to object them; however, sometimes it happens that the Government waits a long time before issuing the Decrees, or it even neglects to issue any of them, forcing the  Parliament to reiterate the Delegation Law  a year later.

Between April 28, 2020 and June 8, 2020, various stakeholder organizations  were listened by the 14th Standing Committee (European Union Policies) during a series of informal hearings, and the related documents and proposals were published by the Senate.

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COMMUNIA supports the WTO TRIPS Waiver for COVID-19

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Supporting an equitable response to emergencies
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Today, Communia and a group of over 100 organisations and more than 150 academics and experts issued a statement calling for the World Trade Organization (WTO) to temporarily suspend its rules on intellectual property where needed to support the prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19.

This diverse group representing researchers, educators, students, information users, and the institutions that support them, urges all WTO Members to endorse the TRIPS waiver proposal presented by India and South Africa, including provisions that address “the copyright barriers to the prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19”.

All over the world, educational institutions, research organizations and cultural heritage institutions have been forced into closure as a non-pharmaceutical measure to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, the majority of national copyright laws in all the continents have no elasticity to cover educational, research and public interest activities that need to take place remotely during the periods when the physical premises of those institutions are closed due to emergencies that fundamentally disrupt the normal organization of society, like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Furthermore, as pointed out in the statement, “(i)n too many countries, researchers lack the rights they need to use the most advanced research methodologies, such as text and data mining, to help find and develop treatments to COVID-19.”

The fact that copyright laws are not able to support these activities constitutes a barrier to an equitable response to COVID-19, and it shows that these laws cannot be deemed to have properly internalized the fundamental rights to freedom of information, freedom of science and education. 

Therefore, the signatories call for urgent action to clarify that all copyright and related rights treaties, including the copyright provisions of the TRIPS Agreement:

  • Can and should be interpreted and implemented to respect the primacy of human rights obligations during the pandemic and other emergencies, including the rights to seek, receive and impart information, to education, and to freely participate in cultural life and share in scientific advancement and its benefits, while protecting the moral and material interests of authors;
  • Permit governments to protect and promote vital public interests during a health or other emergency; 
  • Permit governments to carry forward and appropriately extend into the digital environment limitations and exceptions that are appropriate in the digital network environment, particularly during a health or other emergency. 

You can read the full statement here

Video Recording of COMMUNIA Salon on the German proposal to implement Article 17

On Thursday we held the second COMMUNIA Salon in 2021. This time we discussed the German governments’ proposal for implementing the controversial Article 17 of the CDSM Directive. Taking place less than three months before the implementation deadline for the directive, this edition zoomed in on one of the most advanced legislative efforts to implement the directive (the Netherlands, which adopted their implementation law at the end of last year is the only Member State that is further along in the legislative process). The discussion was kicked off by a presentation by Dr Thomas Ewert and Dr Martin Bittner from the German Federal Ministry for Justice and Consumer Protection, who have been responsible for drafting the legislation. Their introduction presentation, focusing on the legislative history of the draft and its core mechanism, can be found between 02:30 and 28:50 in the video recording: 

One highlight of the presentation was the revelation that the Ministry has also filed an amendment to its own proposal, that expands the transparency provisions contained in the proposal. The proposed amendment would allow access to “data on the use of procedures for the automated and non-automated recognition and blocking of content to authorised parties” for scientific research purposes. In the light of our repeated calls for more transparency when it comes to the use of automated content recognition, this is a small but significant improvement of the proposal. 

The initial presentation was followed by perspectives from Marco Pancini (YouTube), Xavier Blanc (AEPO-ARTIS) and Julia Reda (GFF) who highlighted different aspects of the legislative proposal. Speaking from the perspective of large pan European platforms Marco Pancini expressed concerns about the variation of legislative approaches in the Member States with Germany marking one end of the spectrum. According to him this will lead to fragmentation of the digital single market and create substantial compliance burdens for all types of platforms.

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COMMUNIA salon on the German proposal to implement Article 17

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On Wednesday, the 17th of March, we will be organising the next edition of our virtual COMMUNIA Salon. This time we will  take another look at the  German implementation proposal for Article 17 of the DSM directive: On the 3rd of February the German government formally adopted its implementation proposal which is now headed for a first reading in the German parliament (Bundestag) later this month. We will examine how the proposal differs from the original implementation proposal that we discussed in July of last year, and what we can learn from the German approach to implementing Article 17. 

For this edition of the COMMUNIA Salon we will be joined by Dr. Martin Bittner und Dr. Thomas Ewert of the German Ministry for Justice and Consumer Protection (BMJV) who will present the implementation proposal. We will have reaction from Julia Reda (Project lead control © at GFF and former MEP), Marco Pancini (Youtube) and (Xavier Blanc (AEPO-ARTIS). The presentations will be followed by an informal question and answer session and concluding remarks by Paul Keller (COMMUNIA/Open Future). The Salon will be moderated by Teresa Nobre. 

The German proposal has been adopted at an interesting time. While the Commission is finalising its implementation guidance, the German proposal shows what the user rights-preserving implementation foreseen by the Commission in its draft guidance could look like in practice. The proposed German implementation of Article 17 contains specific mechanisms designed to ensure that platforms comply with the requirement in Article 17 that legal uploads must not be blocked. While the proposal is not without flaws, it can nevertheless serve as an example for other Member States looking for a way to implement Article 17 in a user rights-preserving way

As always, the COMMUNIA Salon is open for everyone to attend and will be held on Zoom. Join us on Wednesday, the 17th of March, at 1530 CET, by registering here. Registered participants will receive login information ahead of the event.

German government draft on Article 17: Two steps forward, one step back

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maintaining the balance?
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At the beginning of February, the German Government (the “Bundeskabinett”) adopted the proposal for the implementation of the copyright directive, which opens the path for discussions in Parliament. While the proposal that has been adopted earlier this month has undergone significant changes since the first versions emerged in January 2020 (the provisions dealing the the new neighbouring rights for press publishers and most of the exceptions) and in June 2020 (the provisions dealing with Article 17, Out-of-Commerce Works and the protection of the Public Domain), it still remains one of the most ambitious implementation efforts that we have seen so far.

This post will take a closer look at the provisions implementing Article 17 of the Directive into German law. As we had noted in our analysis of the original discussion draft from June last year, the German legislator is proposing to implement these provisions into a new act that is separate from the copyright act: the “Act on the Copyright Liability of Online Sharing Content Service Providers”. By now the proposal for this act has undergone two public revisions. After the first discussion draft in June, the Ministry of Justice published a revised draft (“Referentenentwurf“) in October of last year. This revised version maintained the core user rights safeguards underpinning the original proposal (a new remunerated exception for minor use and the ability for uploaders to flag uploads as legitimate) while making a few changes to the way the pre-flagging mechanism works

A step back for user rights

Just as the original discussion draft, the Referentenentwurf drew massive criticism from rightsholders that was primarily directed at the user rights safeguards contained in the proposal. Unfortunately the Ministry of Justice has now caved in to some of these demands and as a result  the user rights safeguards have been further cut back in the final proposal adopted by the government (“Regierungsentwurf“).

The most substantial change in the Regierungsentwurf concerns the legal mechanism for ensuring that user rights are protected in line with the requirements of paragraph 17(7). The original proposal relied on a new exception that legalised minor uses of copyrighted works (any use consisting of less than 20 seconds of audio or video, 1000 characters of text or images smaller than 250Kb) and would have prevented platforms from blocking such uses. 

In the updated proposal this exception is gone and has been replaced by a more limited construction of “uses presumably authorised by law” which cannot be blocked automatically. For a use to be “presumably authorised by law” it needs to fulfil the following cumulative criteria:

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France once more fails to demonstrate support for its interpretation of Article 17

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Ex-post redress is still not good enough
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Last week the French Ministry of Culture held a virtual event to present the second report on content recognition tools on digital sharing platforms commissioned by the Conseil Supérieur de la Propriété Littéraire et Artistique (High Council for literary and artistic property – CSPLA). The new CSPLA report, authored by Jean-Philippe Mochon (who had also authored the previous report on content recognition tools), focuses on “proposals for the implementation of Article 17 of the EU copyright directive”. The report consists of three parts: 

The first part contains a “review of existing best practices” of the use of content recognition tools. Here, the authors argue that such tools “must be given their rightful place in the implementation of Article 17 of the Directive”. The second part of the report focuses on the “balance between the fundamental rights set out in Article 17”. The third and concluding part of the report contains a number of recommendations for implementing Article 17 in France (and beyond). 

The central argument that is woven throughout the CSPLA report is that automated content recognition technologies already play an important role in managing copyright on digital sharing platforms, that Article 17 provides for sufficient fundamental rights protection through the complaint and redress mechanism alone, and that temporary restrictions on freedom of expression are considered acceptable to achieve the goal of stronger protection of intellectual property rights. A more detailed critique of some of the core arguments contained in the middle part can be found in this post on the Kluwer Copyright Blog

To mark the occasion of the publication of the CSPLA report, the French permanent representation in Brussels hosted a (virtual) event that was clearly intended to demonstrate additional support for the French position in the discussion about the implementation of Article 17. 

For the presentation of the report the organizers had invited the authors of the report and three external speakers, representing the European co-legislators: MEP Axel Voss (the European Parliament’s rapporteur for the DSM directive), Marco Giorello (the head of the Copyright Unit of the European Commission) and Ricardo Castanheira (representing the Portugese Council Presidency). If the organizers of the event had hoped that these speakers would express support for the French position in the Article 17 implementation discussion, then they must have been quite disappointed: None of the three respondents came forward with unqualified support for French interpretation of Article 17. As expected, Marco Giorello made it clear once more that the Commission does not agree with the French position that there is no need for ex-ante user rights safeguards in national implementations of Article 17:

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