Academic statement on safeguarding user freedoms in implementing Article 17

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51 academics say: if in doubt - don't filter
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Yesterday 51 leading European copyright scholars published a statement on “Safeguarding User Freedoms in Implementing Article 17 of the Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive“. The statement is intended as input into the ongoing stakeholder dialogue. It focuses on the interplay between user rights and the filtering obligations established by Article 17. From the Kluwer Copyright blog:

Against this backdrop, a group of European academics (including the author of this post) has drafted a document with recommendations on user freedoms and safeguards included in Article 17 of the DSM Directive – namely in its paragraphs (7) and (9), to be read in the context of the aforementioned stakeholder dialogues. The recommendations are divided into three sections: on promoting licensing and limiting preventive measures; on exceptions and limitations in Article 17 (user freedoms); and on minimizing the risks of broad filtering and over-blocking (user safeguards). Despite the controversial nature of the topic, the recommendation has already been endorsed by around 50 European academics in this area, which is a testament to its balanced approach. Our intention is that these recommendations and interpretative guidelines are taken into consideration by the Commission, stakeholders, and Member States in their discussions on national implementations of Article 17 DSM Directive.

Based on a close reading of paragraphs 17(7) and 17(9), the academics show that Article 17 requires online platforms (OCSSPs in the language of the directive) to prioritise protecting users rights over blocking content. This statement provides strong support for our positions in the stakeholder dialogueContinue reading

Article 17 stakeholder dialogue (day 2): Filters, not licenses!

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On Tuesday this week the participants of the stakeholder dialogue on Article 17 of the EU copyright directive convened in Brussels for the second meeting. After a first meeting that focussed on practices in the music, games and software sectors (see our report here), this week’s meeting focussed on the current situation in the audiovisual (AV) and publishing sectors. 

Hollywood: Article 17 is about filtering after all

The meeting kicked off with a long series of statements from the many different rightholders in the AV sector (see the video recording here). The assembled sector representatives made it clear that from their perspective Article 17 is welcome (as it clarifies that online platforms need to obtain licenses for the works uploaded by their users) but that they are not interested in widely licensing AV works to UGC platforms and would instead focus on the blocking and removing of unlicensed content via the upload filtering mechanisms introduced by Article 17. 

This approach is the logical consequence of the predominant business model in the AV sector which relies on exclusive licensing to selected outlets (Cinema, TV, VOD platforms). It directly contradicts the music industries’ narrative from the first meeting that Article 17 is about licensing and not about blocking access – as in the case of music general availability is crucial. Representatives of the AV industry made it very clear that they would fight any attempts at non-voluntary licensing and that they would also fight against effective protection for user rights under exceptions and licensing (see for example the statement issued by the Motion Picture Association starting at 10:41:44 of the video recording). These initial statements make it clear that the AV industry does indeed look at Article 17 as an instrument to limit freedom of expression and reuse and will likely use the stakeholder dialogue to bend the article further in this direction. Continue reading

Article 17 stakeholder dialogue (day 1): Same old, same old

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Article 17(10) of the Copyright in the Digital Single Market directive requires the Commission to “organise stakeholder dialogues to discuss best practices for cooperation between online content-sharing service providers and rightholders”.  Last week Tuesday we took part in the first meeting of the stakeholder dialogue. The dialogue (which will consist of a series of meetings) is supposed to provide the Commission with input for producing guidelines can “balance fundamental rights and the use of exceptions and limitations” with the upload filtering obligations introduced by Article 17 of the directive.

The meeting, which was attended by 80 stakeholders (plus representatives from the 28 Member States), was supposed to focus on “current practices with regard to the cooperation between rightholders and online content sharing service providers” in the music, software and gaming sectors. The day  was kicked off by a short welcome address by Commissioner Maria Gabriel in which she praised the outcome of the copyright reform as an example of Europe taking the lead in developing rules for the digital environment (translation from the original French): 

The new Copyright Directive in the Digital Single Market demonstrates the ability of the European Union to collectively reflect on today’s challenges and to bring about just, innovative and concerted responses. It is another example of a Europe that opens the way and sets an example to the rest of the world.

[…] The new Directive, and in particular Article 17, opens a new era in the regulation of the relationship between copyright and digital services. And this, without touching the fundamentals. It does not challenge the traditional rules of copyright while introducing a new framework that provides essential guarantees to ensure a proper balance between fundamental rights, in the first place freedom of expression on the Internet.

[…] With the adoption of the Copyright Directive, the European Union is leading a global movement to develop a fairer economic model for the production, access and distribution of content in the digital environment. Europe is now a more attractive place to invest in creation and digital.

It should be evident that we do not share this positive assessment of the directive. If the directive was indeed such a balanced piece of legislation as the commissioner claims, then there would not be a need to organize stakeholder dialogue to patch up its worst inconsistencies. Continue reading

Article 17 Stakeholder Dialogue: We’ll Continue to Advocate for Safeguarding User Rights

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Yesterday the European Commission invited COMMUNIA to participate in the “Stakeholder dialogue under Article 17 of the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market” that will kick off in Brussels next week. This invitation comes after we had expressed our interest to participate in response to a call issued by the Commission in September. It is our understanding that COMMUNIA will be one of a small number of civil society participants in the dialogue (the Commission has yet to publish a list of participating organisations). 

Stakeholder dialogue to the rescue!

Article 17(10) of the Copyright in the Digital Single Market directive requires the Commission to “organise stakeholder dialogues to discuss best practices for cooperation between online content-sharing service providers and rightholders”. Based on the outcome of these dialogues with “content-sharing service providers, rightholders, users’ organisations and other relevant stakeholders” the Commission is expected to “issue guidance on the application of Article 17” that is supposed to “balance fundamental rights and the use of exceptions and limitations” with the upload filtering obligations introduced by Article 17. 

Given that two and a half years of legislative wrangling have failed to produce a balanced (or at least coherent) outcome, it seems rather unlikely that this stakeholder dialogue will be able to achieve such a balance. Still the stakeholder dialogue provides an opportunity to minimise the harm to the freedom of creative expression and the ability for smaller platforms to strive under Article 17. Such an optimistic view of the stakeholder dialogue has been put forward by the German government, which has stated that it

… therefore assumes that this dialogue is based on a spirit of guaranteeing appropriate remuneration for creatives, preventing ‘upload filters’ wherever possible, ensuring freedom of expression and safeguarding user rights. The German Federal Government assumes that uniform implementation throughout the Union will be agreed on in this dialogue, because fragmentary implementation with 27 national variants would not be compatible with the principles of a European Digital Single Market.

Five measures to minimize the harm caused by upload filters

While we have strongly criticised Article 1, mainly because of the filtering obligations it introduces, there are also positive elements in the article. These include mandatory exceptions for quotation and parody, and a number of procedural safeguards intended to ensure that users can exercise the rights they have under these exceptions and limitations.

As part of our contribution to the stakeholder dialogue we will strive to ensure an outcome that minimises the impact and scope of the filtering provisions and that maximises the scope of exceptions and limitations that guarantees meaningful safeguards for users to exercise the rights they have under these exceptions. From our perspective, the following five measures will guide our contribution to the stakeholder dialogue: Continue reading

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

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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

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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

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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

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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