Open Letter: Implementation Guidance on Article 17 Must Include Public Interest Stakeholders

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On Friday the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market was published in the Official Journal of the European Union, formally kicking off the implementation phase in which the Directive will be transposed into the national laws of the EU Member States. EU Member States will have until 7 June 2021 to adopt the provisions laid down in the directive into their respective copyright laws.

Today Communia and over 40 organisations sent an open letter to the European Commission calling for an inclusive stakeholder dialogue that incorporates the views of human rights, digital rights, and access to knowledge organisations. The letter was organised by the Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties). It focuses on Article 17 (formerly Article 13), the sweeping provision that alters the liability regime for online platforms by requiring licenses for all user generated uploads, and would lead to platforms having to install content filters lest they become liable for copyright infringement for works that aren’t able to be licensed. The adoption of Article 17 will put fundamental freedoms at risk and set a dangerous precedent for user rights, so it’s absolutely critical that in the implementation the article is transposed with care to protect freedom of expression. From our open letter:

Broad and inclusive participation is crucial for ensuring that the national implementations of Article 17 and the day-to-day cooperation between online content-sharing service providers and rightholders respects the Charter of Fundamental Rights by safeguarding citizens’ and creators’ freedom of expression and information, whilst also protecting their privacy. These should be the guiding principles for a harmonized implementation of Article 17 throughout the Digital Single Market.

Over the entirety of the 30-month reform process, Communia has been advocating for changes to improve the situation for users rights and produce a more balanced copyright system. Article 17 sets platforms up for failure because it is impossible to meet the obligations they have under the mitigation measures and to safeguard user rights at the same time. That’s why it’s important that the stakeholder dialogue and consultations on implementation listen closely to the input from human rights, digital rights, and knowledge communities in order to protect user rights and freedom of expression.

DSM directive adopted – implementation in Member States can still make a difference

Portret van Johann Lutz
Two year implementation period starts now
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Earlier this week, after almost exactly 30 months of legislative wrangling, the EU Member States approved the final compromise of the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. It’s the same text that was approved by the European Parliament at the end of March. This means that the Directive will become law as soon as it is published in the Official Journal of the European Union. Judged against our own ideas about a modern EU copyright framework that facilitates access to cultural and information, strengthens user rights and reduces unnecessary copyright infringement, the outcome of EU copyright reform process is a big disappointment. The directive expands the scope of copyright and instead of harmonising copyright rules across the EU member states, it contains measures that will further fragment and complicate the EU copyright framework. Instead of strengthening public interest exceptions to copyright, the directive relies on voluntary licensing by rightholders, giving them the ability to block users’ access.

As a result the final directive does not live up to the “Digital Single Market” label that it carries in its title. The adopted text does very little to harmonise an already complex set of rules among the Member States. Instead, the directive creates additional rules to the system that have been designed to further the (perceived) interests for specific classes of rightholders—most notably the music industry and press publishers. Once the directive has been implemented in the Member States, the EU copyright system will likely be more complex, and thus more difficult and costly to navigate for users and European businesses.

In this regard the provisions of Article 17 (formerly Article 13) remain the most problematic in the entire directive. The article is a legislative monstrosity that will most likely achieve the opposite of what it was intended to accomplish. Instead of establishing clear rules that require commercial content sharing platforms to adequately remunerate the creators of the works that they distribute, it will impose substantial regulatory burdens and create legal uncertainties for years to come. The most likely benefactors of this outcome will be large rightholders and the incumbent dominant platforms. The existing intermediaries within the creative value chain will have the means to navigate the uncertainties and conclude complex licensing arrangements, but users and independent creators at the edges of these value chains will suffer the consequences: They will be presented with fewer distribution platforms to choose from, and they will have less freedom of creative expression.

Implementation can make a difference

With the directive formally adopted by both the Parliament and Council, the fight for a better EU copyright enters into a new phase. The EU Member States will soon have two years to implement the rules established by the directive into their national copyright laws. While such implementations will have to include all the problematic aspects of the directive, there is some room for meaningful improvements, and some measures can be taken to mitigate the worst provisions of the directive. Continue reading

A Vision for a Shared Digital Europe

Rape of Europa
Towards a European digital space
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Today our friends at Centrum Cyfrowe, the Commons Network and publicspace.online are launching a new vision for digital policy making in Europe: This Vision for a Shared Digital Europe lays the foundation for a new frame for digital policy making in the EU. It proposes an overarching policy framework that brings together varied issues and policy arenas, including copyright reform, platform regulation, privacy, data-protection and data governance, antitrust, media regulation or innovation policy. In announcing this Vision they write:

Digitalisation has led much of our interaction, communication and economic activity to take place through data or over online intermediaries. What kind of space should this digital sphere be? We believe that seeing this space as a market place only does not do it justice. This space is in effect our society – a society that is experiencing a digital transformation. Therefore we cannot accept the digital sphere as a place where only market dynamics rule. Society is more than an interaction between market players, and people are more than entrepreneurs or consumers.

As supporters of the European project, we believe that Europe needs to establish its own rules for the digital space, which embody our values: strong public institutions, democratic governance, sovereignty of communities and people, diversity of European cultures, equality and justice. A space that is common to all of us, but at the same time diverse and decentralised.

Over the past five months we have worked with a broad group stakeholders on developing a frame that can replace the existing Digital Single Market frame that dominates discussions about digital policy making in the EU. We propose a new, society-centric vision that is intended to guide policymakers and civil society organisations involved with digital policymaking in the direction of a more equitable and democratic digital environment, where basic liberties and rights are protected, where strong public institutions function in the public interest, and where people have a say in how their digital environment functions – a Shared Digital Europe. Continue reading

Say YES to copyright and NO to Article 13

Say YES to copyright and NO to Article 13Licentie

Earlier today, on the eve of tomorrow’s vote, we distributed 750 copies a journal titled “Say YES to copyright and NO to Article 13” to the offices of the MEPs in Strasbourg. This is part of a last ditch effort by civil society organisations to prevent MEPs from approving a new copyright directive that includes the disastrous Article 13. You can download our journal here (pdf) and we are re-publishing the text of the editorial below.

Say YES to copyright and NO to Article 13

Article 13 of the proposed Copyright Directive will put even more control over European culture and knowledge into the hands of online monopolies. As organisations representing digital creators and knowledge workers, we urge you to reject this provision that will replace the rule of law with proprietary algorithms controlled by big tech companies.

It is high time that Europe adapts its copyright framework to meet the needs of the digital age. The proposed directive contains many measures that take steps in the right direction, such as improving the negotiation position of authors and performers, better safeguarding the public domain, and by allowing researchers and cultural heritage institutions to make better use the opportunities created by the digital environment.

In spite of widespread opposition from academics, internet users and millions of concerned citizens, the directive still contains provisions that will force most internet platforms to filter all content uploaded by their users to remove any copyrighted works flagged by rightsholders. This will cost European companies and new startups millions, and what’s worse, it won’t work. The idea that technology can reliably differentiate between legitimate and unauthorised uses of copyrighted material has been credibly disputed by experts across the spectrum. Putting the regulation of speech and creative expression in the hands of private corporations lacks public support.

  • Instead of taking the right step toward a Digital Single Market that works for all, a directive that includes Article 13 would sow even more legal uncertainties.
  • Instead of empowering European creators, it will entrench the position of dominant platforms.
  • Instead of balancing fundamental rights, it will weaken the law by shifting power towards algorithms and away from crucial users’ rights upholding freedom of expression.

We support the objective to ensure that creators are rewarded adequately for their creativity. Upload filters themselves will not achieve this objective. This directive needs to take the interests of all stakeholders into account, not only “big tech” and “big content”. Copyright should be a matter of social contract that upholds the public interest, not of secret algorithms controlled by private actors. We therefore ask you to reject the text of the directive as long as it includes Article 13.

Reminder: making platforms pay creators doesn’t require upload filters

Musicerend gezelschap
Delete Article 13 now
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Days before the final vote of the European Parliament on the copyright directive, the discussion about the directive seems entirely focussed on Article 13. A wide coalition of civil society groups, online creators, academics and citizens is calling for the removal of Article 13 from the directive. On the other side 270 organisations representing rightsholders are calling on MEPs to say “yes to copyright” and pass the directive in its current form (including Article 13).

Behind the facade of these well known (and deeply entrenched) positions, something interesting is going on. If we start un-peeling the arguments brought forward by both sides, it seems that they are closer than it appears. When it comes to Article 13 there seem to be two points that almost everyone seems to agree on:

(1) Nobody really wants to see the widespread use of upload filters and (2) Everybody agrees that there is a need to ensure that creators are fairly rewarded on the basis of licenses obtained by the online platforms.

This agreement is emerging as a result of several recent developments. On the side of the opponents of Article 13 the intense discussion of the previous weeks has resurfaced the fact that underneath the calls for a deletion of Article 13 there is widespread acknowledgement that there is a real need for platforms to pay those creators who want to be paid for uses of their works by the platforms. On the side of the proponents of Article 13 there seems to be an increasing realisation that an Article 13 that does require widespread use of upload filters may lack sufficient support within the EP (and certainly outside of it).

Upload Filters have become toxic

This second development represents a marked shift in the positioning of the supporters of Article 13. The most prominent example of this is a position paper of the German CDU (the same political party that rapporteur Axel Voss belongs to) in which the promise (to an enraged German electorate) that Germany would implement Article 13 in such a way that there will be no need for upload filters (by requiring platforms to obtain blanket licenses). While the substance of this claim is way out of line with the actual text of Article 13 and the requirements of the rest of the EU framework, it does illustrate that even for the CDU, which was instrumental in pushing through the current text, upload filters have become too toxic to be associated with. Continue reading

A final x-ray of Article 13: legislative wishful thinking that will hurt user rights

Article 13 final flowchart
Impossible obligations create legal uncertainty
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Since last year we have tracked the development of Article 13 of the proposed Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market by publishing a series of flowcharts that illustrates its internal logic (or absence thereof). Now that there is a final compromise version of the directive we have taken another look at the inner workings of the article. The final version of Article 13 continues to be so problematic that as long as it remains part of the overall package, the directive as a whole will do more harm than good. This is recognised by an increasing number of MEPs who are pledging that they will vote against Article 13 at the final plenary vote.

The flowchart below illustrates the main operative elements of Article 13. These include the definition of the affected services, the types of services that are explicitly excluded from its scope (the green box in the top right corner) and the reversal of the liability rules for the services covered by Article 13. It further details the obligations imposed on the services. These include an obligation to seek licenses for all copyrighted works uploaded by users (the yellow box) and the requirements to ensure the unavailability of certain works that will force platforms to implement upload filters (the two red boxes). The yellow box at the bottom contains the measures that platforms must take to ensure that the upload filters don’t negatively affect users’ rights.

Article 13 final flowchart

The Scope: Broad yet vague

The problems with Article 13 start with the definition of the services it applies to. While Article 13 is intended to address concerns about value distribution raised by a limited set of industries (primarily the music industry) it applies to all types of copyright protected works. But there is no good reason why an article that is intended to bolster that bargaining power of the music industry should impose expensive obligations on platforms that have nothing to do with hosting musical works. In addition, the limitation to platforms that deal with “large amounts” of works is so vague that it does not provide any legal certainty for smaller platforms and will undoubtedly give raise to court challenges. On the positive side the definition clearly limits the scope to for-profit services. Continue reading

The education exception was gutted during the Trilogues

A dragon devouring the companions of Cadmus
Article 4: attacked through the recitals
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When the European Commission proposed to grant the same minimum rights for digital educational activities in every EU Member State, we applauded the initiative. The proposal had flaws, but there was room for public discussion at the European Parliament, which could have led to an improvement of the proposal. Unfortunately, the improvements introduced by the Parliament were gutted during the trilogue debates, which were conducted behind closed doors.

Let’s recall the improvements introduced by the Parliament: (i) on the issue of licensing, where the EC proposed to allow the exception to be switched off if unilateral licensing offers were made available to schools, the EP suggested to give priority only to bilateral licensing agreements that the schools had agreed on; (ii) on the issue of beneficiaries, where the EC proposed to cover only the activities run by formal educational establishments, the EP suggested to include museums and other cultural heritage institutions as beneficiaries of the exception; (iii) on the issue of contractual overrides, where the EC had done nothing to protect the exception against contracts, the EP proposed to prevent contractual overrides of the education exception, and (iv) on the issue of technologies, where the EC proposed to make the exception function only on the school’s closed networks, the EP attempted to cover more means of communication by replacing the word “networks” with “environments”.

Unfortunately, the European Council did not engage in the same type of public discussions with regard to new European law proposals and, maybe because of that, it’s version of Article 4 did not include similar improvements. What is worse: it made the prospects of having an improved and harmonized landscape for educational activities in Europe even less likely.

For several months, the Commission, the Council and the Parliament discussed, behind closed doors, the fate of the new Directive, and as far as we are aware there was little interest in discussing the education exception because there were other pressing issues that required their attention. As a result, the positive amendments contained in the Parliament version were not retained in the Trilogues.

Below, we explain three negative changes made to the text of the educational exception in this final phase of the legislative process. Changes made without public consultation, transparency or due review of evidence. These include denying teachers the right to benefit from the exception when there are licenses available in the market for them to buy; excluding the educational programs run by museums and libraries from the scope of the exception; and allowing Member States to fragment the exception, by defining different proportions to which a work can be used.Continue reading

A “compromise” that fails to deliver – our overall assessment of the directive remains negative

Overall DSM directive assessment: bad for the peopleLicentie

On Wednesday the Council formally approved the trilogue compromise text of the DSM directive with only 5 Member States voting against the compromise. In a joint statement the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Finland, Italy and Poland sharply criticised the compromise:

We believe that the Directive in its current form is a step back for the Digital Single Market rather than a step forward.

Most notably we regret that the Directive does not strike the right balance between the protection of right holders and the interests of EU citizens and companies. It therefore risks to hinder innovation rather than promote it and to have a negative impact the competitiveness of the European Digital Single Market.

Furthermore, we feel that the Directive lacks legal clarity, will lead to legal uncertainty for many stakeholders concerned and may encroach upon EU citizens’ rights.

These criticisms are very much in line with our own assessment of the directive and it is unfortunate that the rest of the Member States have chosen to ignore them. After this week’s approval by the Member States it is now up to the European Parliament to prevent the directive (or its most harmful element, Article 13) from being passed into law. There is no date for the final plenary vote yet, but the final showdown is widely expected to take place anytime between mid-March and mid-April.

Internet is should be for the people

In the light of this we have now updated our overall analysis of the directive (which we had first published in January) to reflect the final compromise text. The final trilogue negotiations have resulted in changes to the text related to the Text and Data mining exception, the publishers right, the fair remuneration right and — most notably — Article 13. By and large the changes to the text have been minor and in line with our expectations, and as a result our overall assessment of the directive as a whole remains negative. The finals text will do a lot of harm to internet users and needs to be blocked from becoming law. Continue reading

After 30 months, EU legislators agree to sell out users and creators to big platforms and big content.

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European users and creators deserve better
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After yesterday’s agreement between the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission on a compromise text, the EU copyright reform process has entered into its final phase. The good news is that after yesterday’s compromise the text cannot get any worse: it will either be adopted or it will be rejected. The bad news is that the text that was agreed on yesterday is **the worst version that we have seen yet**. After three days of negotiations, the negotiators have agreed on a text that would benefit big corporate rightsholders, Google and other dominant platforms at the expense of users, creators and the rest of the European internet economy.

To understand what has happened during the negotiations, it is illustrative to look at the differences between the final compromise and the text that had been agreed among the EU member states last week (which was the result of horse trading between the French and German governments).

A win for dominant platforms…

Yesterday’s compromise text is largely in line with the French-German deal. This includes a terrible version of Article 13 that will severely limit users ability to express themselves online. It will also further consolidate the power of dominant platforms, as smaller platforms will struggle with implementing expensive filtering technology and supporting the increased costs for dealing with increased liability.

It also introduces a EU-wide neighbouring right for press publishers that will have very similar effects. It benefits dominant platforms who can afford compliance while creating additional costs and risks for smaller players. As a result, users will likely end up with less access to information and the diversity of information available online will likely suffer. Under these conditions it remains to be seen if rightsholders will indeed manage to extract more value from the large intermediaries.    

…at the expense of users and creators

As if this would not be bad enough, the negotiators have introduced last minute changes to the text that further weaken provisions that were intended to protect the rights of users and individual creators. The French/German deal did not (at least not clearly) include a UGC exception for users of every online platform, but it used language that at least applied to  user-generated content uploaded to the platforms covered by Article 13. The final compromise has adopted questionable language that may or may not  provide a meaningful protection for users of platforms covered by Article 13, depending on whether Member States are obliged to fully implement the existing quotation and parody exceptions provided in the InfoSoc Directive, and make them applicable to user-generated content, which is not evident from the text. Continue reading

Final countdown on Article 13: here is how bad it really is

Article 13 flowchart (detail)
Article 13: death by filters
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Today will see the third of the “final” trilogue meetings this week. Soon we will either have a final text of the copyright directive (and we are assuming it will be either bad or very bad), or it’ll be dead in the water. At this moment the fate of the directive largely hinges on the ability of the negotiations to find a compromise on Article 13. The negotiations this week rely on the mandate obtained by the Romanian presidency last Friday. This text, based on a compromise hashed out between France and Germany, has been widely characterized as the worst version of Article 13 yet.

While negotiators have been working on finding a final compromise this week, we have analysed the current text proposed by the presidency and created a flowchart of what’s in play. In its current version Article 13 now has nine operative provisions — now exceeding the number of articles the 2001 InfoSoc directive required to describe both the rights granted under copyright and the exceptions and limitations to those rights!

Article 13 flowchart (full) Continue reading