This spring the ongoing effort to modernize the outdated copyright rules enters into the decisive fase. It is widely expected that both the European Parliament and the EU Member states will their position on the proposed Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive. Right now things are not looking good: instead of a much needed update of the copyright framework that would enable new uses driven by technological innovation, policy makers in Brussels are working towards new restrictions that would would limit how information and creativity can be shared and enjoyed online.
Against this backdrop we are organising European Copyright Action Days on 19-21 march in Brussels. During these days we want to highlight the broad opposition of civil society, libraries, the users industry and many others concerning the restrictive aspects of the copyright reform proposal. During these days activists will convene in Brussels to discuss with lawmakers and advocate for a more future proof reform and to raise attention for the dangers of the proposed measures. Continue reading →
The Bulgarian EU Presidency is under immense pressure to move the copyright reform forward. Yet it seems like the country is too timid to defend its own interests. A new campaign kicked off in Sofia to try and change that.
Somewhere far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the EU lies a small unregarded country—Bulgaria. In 2018 this Member State will not only be known for resonant voices and rampant corruption, but also for its prominent role in the EU copyright reform. While it holds the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU it is up to the Bulgarian government to propose new compromises and bring the discussion forward in order to reach a common position between Member States.
But the Council is not Bulgaria’s only copyright stronghold at the moment. The reform falls in the competences of the country’s Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, and 10% of the votes in the lead European Parliament committee (Legal Affairs) are to be cast by MEPs from parties currently making up its governing coalition.
The Bulgarian Compromise, a French Affair?
At the end of 2017 the Council negotiations hit somewhat of a stalemate and the Estonian Presidency was forced to give up, unnerved after trying for months to square the circle between the content industry’s bold demands and fundamental rights for users and the public.
Apparently the Bulgarian Presidency decided to kick 2018 off with a fresh approach. They circulated questions on the most controversial articles of the reform among Member States and then seemed to be proposing a new compromise.
After more than a year of discussions MEP Axel Voss has finally come forward with his ideas about one of the most controversial aspects of the EU copyright reform proposal. On Wednesday he shared his compromise proposals for Article 13 of the proposed copyright in the DSM directive, that deals with filtering measures aimed at online platforms. The “compromises” drafted by MEP Voss make it clear that with regards to article 13 he has chosen to do the bidding of the music industry at the expense of users, open platforms and pretty much the rest of the internet.
Let’s focus on two main aspects of the approach that Voss is backing (for a more comprehensive analysis of his compromise see Julia Reda’s excellent write-up here). What would the new rules mean for users sharing materials via platforms, and what would the new rules mean for online platforms?
Online platforms: License or cease to exist!
In the version supported by MEP Voss, article 13 establishes two different obligations for online platforms that allow user uploads. In a first step, all platforms are required to obtain licenses from rightsholders. Those platforms that hold “significant amounts” of content also need to take “appropriate and proportionate measures to ensure the functioning of these agreements”. In the case that platforms do not have licensing agreements with rightsholders they need to take “appropriate and proportionate measures to prevent the availability on their services of works or other subject-matter”.
These rules would effectively end the current situation in which online platforms are not directly responsible for content that their users upload. The new rules would mean that all online platforms “that store and provide access to the public to copyright protected works or other subject-matter uploaded by their users” (which means pretty much all platforms) will be directly responsible for the content uploaded by their users and must obtain licenses from (unspecified) rightsholders. If they don’t (which is a strange condition given that all platforms must do so) they must implement filtering rules that prevent all copyrighted works from becoming available on their services. In other words, platforms must obtain licenses from rightsholders or they must cease to exist (as it is somewhat hard to make a business case for a platform on which nothing is available). Continue reading →
One of the biggest shortcomings of the discussion on copyright is that most of it seems stuck in a fairly outdated creators vs users dichotomy. Copyright laws around the world are generally structured in such a way that they grant exclusive rights to creators and try to balance these with a limited set of rights for users (in the form of exceptions or limitations to copyright). Based on this design it is widely assumed that more (or stronger) exclusive rights benefit creators and that more (or broader) exceptions to copyright benefit users.
This conception is problematic on a number of levels. For one it is clear that creators benefit from user rights that ensure that users have a basic level of access to culture through educational systems and via public institutions such as museums and libraries. On the other hand users benefit from the exclusive rights granted to creators as they incentivise the very production of culture and knowledge that they want to access.
A more fundamental challenge to this general understanding of copyright is posed by the fact that the roles of users and creators are not mutually exclusive, but overlapping. Many creators are also users of copyrighted materials and the other way around. The technological development of the past two decades has contributed to this blurring of the boundaries between creators and users. Digital technologies greatly facilitate both the creative re-use of existing works and the distribution of the resulting new works. This development has resulted in the emergence of the (somewhat nonsensical) category of “user generated content” and concepts like the “prosumer“.
These concepts deal with users becoming creators, and there are relatively straightforward answers to the challenges posed, such as the need to introduce an exception for user generated content in the EU copyright framework that we have been advocating for. But there is another more interesting side of the coin: creators becoming users. While it is true that creators have always appropriated the works of those authors who came before them, these dynamics have been turbocharged by the digital revolution. Creators have entire libraries of content at their fingertips, and the tools to manipulate, incorporate and build on existing works are becoming increasingly sophisticated. These are exciting times to be a creator, but this new reality also brings creators into contact with the limitations to their creative freedom imposed by copyright law. Continue reading →
Today, a group of Portuguese organizations, including an important innovation acceleration hub, software companies, free culture and users rights advocates, and the Portuguese association of librarians, archivists and documentalists, sent an open letter to the Portuguese Government asking to the Government to reconsider its position in relation to art. 13 (the proposal to require online platforms to filter all uploads by their users).
As we have noted before, Portugal is, along with France and Spain, one of the countries that supports the Commission’s plan to force online platforms to install upload filters that would prevent any uses of copyright protected not explicitly approved by rightsholders. Portugal has also been pushing forward amendments proposed by the French Government that would significantly change the way online platforms operate. Under the rules proposed by the French, operating open platforms would only be possible with permission from rights holders.
Portugal can still make it right!
The signatories of the letter acknowledge the negative impact that such proposals would have on the fundamental rights of the Portuguese citizens and on the booming Portuguese ecosystem of startups and entrepreneurs, which is as important to the Portuguese economy as the tourism industry. They, thus, ask to the Portuguese Government to depart from its initial position, which privileges the interests of a small class of commercial copyright holders, and to embrace the future of digital innovation instead.
This open letter is yet another reminder that copyright policy cannot be based on the interests of commercial rightsholders alone and a reminder that it is important to challenge the positions of national governments on this important issue (see this helpful overview by MEP Julia Reda for other governments that need to be reminded that we need copyright rules that embrace the future instead of the past).
Today the Copyright working group of the Council is meeting for the first time under the new Bulgarian presidency. The agenda consist of discussions about articles 11 (press publishers right) and article 13 (upload filters for online platforms) and it appears that the Bulgarian Presidency is planning to push ahead on both of them in line with the one sided approach taken by the Estonian presidency. In the light of this meeting Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda has released a video featuring a number of MEPs from across the political spectrum speaking out against mandatory filtering of user uploaded content:
In the video the MEPs make it clear that filtering technology that would be mandated under article 13 will be used to limit the free expression of internet users in the EU. They also point out that it is highly problematic to require large corporations to install filtering technology that they will then operate outside of any public oversight and without any ability for meaningful recurse by normal users.
The examples provided by the MEPs in the video are a welcome reminder that it will not be enough to prevent upload filters from becoming mandatory by deleting article 13 from the proposed DSM directive, but that we we need to regulate the application of existing filtering technology and that that we finally need to positively define what rights users have when it comes to re-using existing works to express themselves online.
With the arrival of 2018 the discussions of the Proposed Copyright in the Digital single Market Directive enters into its third year. After more than a year of discussions in both the Parliament and the Council, it is likely that 2018 will at the minimum see final positions from both institutions. Depending on how quickly these positions will be established we may even see the adoption of the directive in 2018. To get everybody up to speed here is a quick refresher of what is at stake in 2018:
1. The publishers right must die!
Form the start the idea of granting press publishers a neighbouring right (an extra layer of copyright) in their publications has been one of the most controversial parts of the Commission’s proposal. The idea, based on laws that have failed in both Germany and Spain, is so deeply flawed that there is almost no one from the academic community who is willing to argue in favor (there are of course lots of academics who oppose it). Even worse, in the course of 2017 it has become clear that both the European Parliament and the European Commission have tried to lock away self-commissioned studies that clearly show that the new right not only would be ineffective at directing views (thus, funds) back to publishers, it would also harm media pluralism and access to information.
In spite of the overwhelming amount of evidence speaking against it, and even though its original sponsor (Commissioner Oettinger) is no longer in charge of the dossier, the idea of granting press publishers more rights in order to economically strengthen them refuses to die. It is time that MEPs and the Member states realize that adopting laws based on wishful thinking is the opposite of evidence based policy making, and refuse to create additional rights for publishers. This should be easy as there is an alternative proposal that would strengthen the legal position of press publishers without threatening the freedom to link.
2. Real legal certainty for Text and Data mining!
One of the core problems of copyright systems without a flexible exception (like fair use) is that everything not specifically permitted in the text of the copyright law will be deemed an infringement. This has resulted in an unclear legal status regarding Text and Data mining (letting computers read and interpret texts and other data). Since most forms of text and data mining require the making of copies, rights holders argue that text and data mining needs to be licensed, even if the entity engaging in TDM has legal access to the text and/or data to be mined. Continue reading →
Within the new industry, news agencies fill the role of the objective gathers of facts. Agencies like DPA, AFP or ANP collect information and make them available to publishing companies who sometimes publish the information as is, but mostly use the information that they get from the agencies as an ingredient for their own reporting. Journalists rely on news agencies to confirm the accuracy of information they use in their reporting.
The heads of 8 major European news agencies have now entered the discussion about the ancillary publishers right for press publishers, via an open letter published in Wednesday’s edition of the French daily Le Monde (paywalled french language version here). They have done so taking the side of those press publishers who advocate for this right. The letter is a frontal attack on online platforms (Facebook and Google in particular) whom they accuse of profiting from hyperlinking to online new publications that are based on information gathered by the news agencies:
[The platforms] offer internet users the work done by others, the news media, by freely publishing hypertext links to their stories.
Publishersright.eu, the lobby platform set up by the EU press and news publishers associations contains a “mythbuster” section that proclaims that the publishers right “is not a link tax”, will “not break the internet”, and will not “be used to block access to publishers] content” (the last one stands in direct contruy7 [adiction to this statement by Prof. Höppner—one of the few academic proponents of the right). In the same vein the European Publishers Council is proclaiming (complete with animated GIF) that “the link is safe” and that the publishers right will lead to “more links”.
Unfortunately for these self appointed “mythbusters” the news agencies seem to have missed the memo and made it clear that the right is indeed an attempt to break the freedom to link. While this could be filed away as a simple communication mistake, the news agencies reveal a much deeper truth: It doesn’t really matter what the proponents of a new right claim with regards to how it will be used. Once a new right exists rights holders are incentivised to make maximum use of the new right. The statements from the news agencies and Prof Höppner make it clear that this will include attempts to charge for linking to and blocking access to content.
It has been well over a year since the European Commission has presented its proposal for adapting the EU copyright rules to the realities of the digital age. The proposed changes (as flawed as they may be) are part of an agenda to make Europe more competitive and to stimulate economic growth.
The proposal continues to be debated in the European parliament with no real end in sight. In this situation we have taken today’s meeting of the EU Competitiveness Council (which brings together the ministers responsible for trade, economy, industry, research and innovation, and space from the 28 EU member states, as an occasion to write yet another open letter.
We write to you to share our respectful but serious concerns that discussions in the Council and European Commission on the Copyright Directive are on the verge of causing irreparable damage to our fundamental rights and freedoms, our economy and competitiveness, our education and research, our innovation and competition, our creativity and our culture. We refer you to the numerous letters and analyses sent previously from a broad spectrum of European stakeholders and experts for more details (see attached).
Attached to the letter are 29 different opinions, studies, open letters and reports that have been addressed at the EU legislators since the publication of the reform proposal. These include a recommendation co-signed by over 50 respected academics on measures to safeguard fundamental rights and the open Internet in the framework of the EU copyright reform, which points out that:
Article 13 (…) is disproportionate and irreconcilable with the fundamental rights guarantees in the Charter [of Fundamental Rights of the EU]
Article 13 appears to provoke such legal uncertainty that online services will have no other option than to monitor, filter and block EU citizens’ communications if they are to have any chance of staying in business. Article 13 contradicts existing rules and the case law of the Court of Justice.
Yesterday, the members of the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee (LIBE) did the right thing and voted down the Commission’s proposal to impose upload filters on online platforms. The LIBE opinion, which was drafted by Polish EPP MEP Michał Boni and adopted with a clear majority of 36 votes for and just 5 against, dismantles the most problematic aspects of Article 13 of the Commission’s proposal: the members of the LIBE committee voted to remove the obligation for online platforms to use automated content recognition technologies to filter all user uploads in order to prevent users of these platforms from sharing copyrighted materials without permission from rights holders. The opinion also proposes strengthening user’s ability to contest the takedown of works they’ve uploaded.
Members of Parliament are recognizing the dangers upload filters pose to freedom of expresion..
…while Member States continue to push for mandatory censorship filters
Outside of the European Parliament the LIBE vote also sends a strong signal to the Member States who are discussing this issue in parallel. The Estonian presidency has proposed a new compromise text on article 13 that will be discussed among the member states later this week. The language proposed by the Estonian proposal significantly overhauls the Commission’s proposal, but that new coat of paint cannot hide the fact that it still tries to force online platforms to implement automated content filtering technologies. Continue reading →