Member States adopt negotiation position, side with rightsholders in attack on user rights

Caïn venant de tuer son frère Abel, by Henry Vidal
Will Parliament step up to defend user rights?
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Last Friday the Committee of Permanent representatives of the Council (COREPER) agreed on a negotiating mandate for the proposed Copyright in the Digital Single Market directive. The agreed upon text does not substantially differ from the latest compromise proposals that we have discussed here before. Unfortunately that means that the Member States have agreed on text that fails to address the biggest shortcomings of the Commission’s proposal and in a number of cases actually makes it worse.

The result is a version of the Commission’s proposal that is even more out of balance than the original. The rights-holder lobby has managed to capture the Member States to advance their agenda to the detriment of the interests of internet users in the EU and in complete disregard of the original intention to further harmonise the fragmented EU copyright rules:

  • Over the past one and a half years the Member States, driven by a mediterranean maximalist coalition (France, Italy, Spain and Portugal) have doubled down on the Commission’s highly problematic proposal to impose upload filters for open internet platforms. As we have explained here, the version of Article 13 adopted by the Member States would create a new parallel liability regime that puts the creative expression of platform users at the mercy of a censorship machine run by platform operators in collusion with rightsholders.
  • Driven by the same mediterranean maximalist coalition the Member States have insisted on a narrow, innovation-hostile exception for Text and Data Mining. This approach flies in the face of the EU wide ambition to become an important player in the area of machine learning and artificial intelligence. At the insistence of more forward-looking Member States the Council text also includes an optional exception that allows TDM for a wider set of purposes and beneficiaries, but this comes at the cost of further splintering user rights in the EU.
  • Under intense pressure from Germany the Member States have maintained the introduction of a new ancillary copyright for press publishers against a near-universal academic consensus that such a right will endanger the freedom of information without benefitting press publishers. In a small improvement of the Commission’s proposal the new right would now last for a maximum of 2 years and would not apply retroactively.

There are a few areas where the Member States are proposing improvements to the Commission’s proposal (such as a more streamlined process that would allow cultural heritage institutions to make out-of-commerce works available online, and a new, albeit optional, paragraph providing a legal basis for extended collective licensing) but in general the Member States have missed the opportunity to fix the Commission’s flawed original proposal. Continue reading

As Council & Parliament edge towards finalizing positions, Article 13 remains a mess

Closeup of Art 13 flowchart
Art.13 in 3 flowcharts
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As the summer break draws closer both the European Parliament and the Council are intensifying their efforts to wrap up their positions on the proposed Copyright in the Digital Single Market directive. In both legislative bodies Article 13 (the upload filters for online platforms) remains the main stumbling block and both the Bulgarian Council presidency and the EPs rapporteur (MEP Voss) have have set deadlines this week to wrap up the discussion on Article 13.

Last week (after yet another inconclusive meeting on Article 13) MEP Voss has asked the political groups to provide him their final written comments “on the MAIN and MOST IMPORTANT open issues” by Wednesday the 23rd. On the same date the Bulgarian Council presidency has scheduled an attaché meeting to discuss the latest compromise proposal.

In the light of these (final?) attempts to wrap up the discussion it is important to take another look at how the discussion has evolved since the Commission published its proposal and how the 3 different versions of Article 13 compare to each other. In order to do so we have analysed the internal logic of the Commission proposal, the last Bulgarian compromise proposal and version 6 of the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs committee compromise text and depicted the most important elements in a series of flowcharts (see below). Even a casual glance at these makes it clear that both the Council’s and the Parliament’s changes to the text have resulted in vastly more complex versions.

Commission proposal: Simple language that creates a legal mess with lots of uncertainties.

Compared to the other two versions the Commission’s proposal is a thing of beauty. The article consists of three relatively concise paragraphs which results in a relatively straightforward flowchart: Continue reading

Council: Member States close to adopting a copyright maximalist position

Twee tijgers sluipend door het gras
Danger looming in the Council
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It is still unclear if the Bulgarian Council presidency will manage to get the member states in line to agree on a general negotiation position at the COREPER meeting scheduled for this Thursday. Under pressure from the Bulgarian presidency (or rather those who put pressure on them), the member states seem to be moving towards a common position. Last week’s working group meeting appears to have resolved most of the controversies around Article 3a (optional text and data mining exception) and Article 11 (press publishers rights). Article 13 remains the main sticking point, preventing the member states from agreeing on a negotiation mandate.

So what’s the status with regards to these 3 articles and where do the member states stand on them?

Article 13: Continued divisions over the scope of #censorshipfilters

In spite of the significant doubts that many member states expressed last year regarding measures targeting open online platforms contained in Article 13, the article has survived the subsequent rounds of discussions in the Council nearly intact. This seems mainly due to a pivot by the German government which is now backing censorship filters – even though the coalition agreement that underpins the current government is highly critical of such measures.

While there is agreement in principle, the Member States are still spit on the scope of the article. The maximalist axis of France, Spain, Portugal and Italy is backing a broad implementation of the article, while most other member states (including Germany) seem to be favouring a narrowing down of the scope of the services that would be required to filter. Lack of consensus on the scope of Article 13 seems to be the main obstacle that prevents the Bulgarian presidency from closing the file.

Article 11 map (April 2018)
Member States (in red) supporting the introduction of censorship filters for online platforms (own research)

As we have argued before, rushing Article 13 across the finish line carries substantial risks to the European internet economy and to our freedom of creative expression. Continue reading

Now even the rightsholders agree: Article 13 is dangerous and (and should be deleted)

Aanval van de Giganten op de godenwereld
Article 13 will hurt both users and creators
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Now that the Bulgarian Council presidency seems to have decided that it is time to wrap up the discussions on the DSM proposal and push for a political decision on a negotiation mandate, people are getting nervous. Late last week a whole assortment of organisations representing rights holders from the AV industry (organised in the creativity works! coalition) have sent a letter to Member State ministers and representatives, outlining their concerns with the latest Bulgarian compromise text. The document mainly focuses on Article 13, and what they have to say about that article is rather interesting (and surprisingly in line with positions that we have been arguing all along).

The overriding concern expressed by the rightsholders in their letter is that some of the more recent changes introduced in the council would turn Article 13 from a magic weapon against a few online platforms into a mechanism that threatens to further empower these very platforms in a way that does not benefit rights holders. In response to this, Creativity Works! (CW!) argues for further strengthening some of the most problematic aspects of Article 13.

We have long argued that Article 13 seems to be designed to benefit the big dominant online platforms, as it will entrench their market position. For smaller companies compliance with the filtering obligations will be difficult and costly while the main targets of Article 13 already have filtering systems in place (such as YouTube’s Content ID), and it is a welcome sign to see rights holders waking up to this reality.

For us it has been clear from the start that Article 13 will not achieve its stated goals. Instead the filtering obligations will cause tremendous harm to the freedom of expression and to open platforms that operate in fields that have nothing to do with the distribution of entertainment products. For this reason we think that the only responsible way to deal with Article 13 is to delete it and start over with a discussion about how we can best ensure that creators can be fairly compensated for their work. (Note that in this discussion most of the members of CW! are likely to be part of the problem rather than the solution as CW! has very little representation from actual creators.)

And while CW! is not joining us in our call to delete Article 13, their letter does illustrate our argument that adjusting general concepts of copyright law in order to address the concerns of specific groups of stakeholders is utterly irresponsible in the light of the big (and often unintended) consequences such an intervention can have.

Case in point: the re-definition of right of communication to the public. We and others critical of Article 13 have long argued that Article 13 would expand the right of communication to the public. Within the Commission’s proposal this aspect of Article 13 was hidden away in a recital, but over the successive drafts it has become more explicit. This seems to have led to the sudden realisation by rights holders that such a re-definition of this important right can also negatively affect them. In their letter they wrote on the last Bulgarian compromise proposal:

It would limit the scope of the right of communication to the public by incompletely applying Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) case law and setting into stone in Article 13 only certain criteria developed by the Court. This approach would roll-back the CJEU’s case law, which has repeatedly confirmed that a broad interpretation of the right of communication to the public (CTTP) is necessary to achieve the main objective of the Copyright Directive, which is to establish a high level of protection for authors and rights holders. CW! recalls that the exclusive right of communication to the public, including the making available right, as enshrined in EU law (and further clarified by the Court), has emerged as the bedrock for the financing, licencing and protection of content, as well as its ultimate delivery to consumers in the online environment. The Court has also emphasised, in its recent judgments, that in order to determine whether there has been a CTTP, several complementary criteria must be taken into account, which are not autonomous, but are interdependent. Any proposals that entail a selective application of the Court’s jurisprudence, or that imply a narrowing of the scope of the right of CTTP, would be contrary to the protection required by current EU and international law.

While we do not agree that the current draft would limit the scope of the CTTP right, this passage illustrates the dangers of carelessly fiddling around with core legal concepts that underpin the EU copyright framework. Continue reading

Proposed Council compromise on TDM: still not good enough

De zanderij
The right to read must be the right to mine!
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We’ve already written about how the Bulgarian compromise proposal for both Article 13 and Article 11 are too broken to fix. Their proposal for Article 3 (Text and Data Mining) does little to alter the major problems standing in the way of a progressive exception for text and data mining.

We’ve continued to follow Article 3 since the European Commission published its proposal on copyright in the Digital Single Market. Even though the Commission’s exception for TDM would be mandatory, we criticised their plan as not going far enough, as it would limit the beneficiaries of the exception only to research organisations, and only for purposes of scientific research.

TDM in the Bulgarian presidency proposal

The Bulgarian proposal is nearly identical to the changes already offered by the earlier Estonian plan. It leaves intact the Commission’s obligatory TDM exception that would apply to research organisations (including cultural heritage institutions) for purposes of scientific research. The Bulgarian proposal similarly introduces an additional and optional exception in Article 3 for temporary reproductions and extractions. This additional exception would apply to beneficiaries other than research organisations, and for uses other than scientific research. But those acts would be limited in that they only would cover temporary reproductions and extractions, and only if the rightsholder does not prohibit it.

In our earlier blog post we wondered whether the existing (and mandatory) exception in the InfoSoc and Database Directives on temporary reproductions arguably already covers the temporary reproductions for text and data mining purposes. In any case, this additional and merely optional exception, for acts that might already be covered under existing law, which can easily be neutralised if rights holders don’t want it, is a weak compromise. It doesn’t address the main concerns we’ve had with Article 3 since the beginning. It also fails to bring much needed harmonization and will instead further the already existing fragmentation of users rights in EU. Continue reading

Article 11: still too broken to fix

Parisiens en train d'etudier la question turque
More rights won't save quality journalism
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This week the Bulgarian presidency released their consolidated presidency compromise proposal for a directive on copyright in the digital single market. Instead of taking a proactive approach to fix some of the worst elements of the Commission’s beleaguered proposal, their plan backtracks on many of the most controversial aspects, which only seems to throw the public further under the proverbial bus. As we discussed recently, Article 13 is beyond repair and should be deleted.

The same goes with Article 11— the provision that would create new rights in press publications and allow press publishers to control digital uses of even the smallest snippets of their content. We’ve advocated that the press publishers right should be removed from the proposed directive. Not only is the mechanism ill-suited to address the challenges in supporting quality journalism, it would have the effect of decreasing competition and innovation in the delivery of news, limit access to information, and create widespread negative repercussions for related stakeholders.

Instead, the Bulgarian “compromise” doubles down on the Commission’s original idea and ignoring most of the positive protections offered by some members of Parliament and the earlier Estonian draft. Continue reading

Article 13: still too broken to fix

Aanval van de Giganten op de godenwereld
Article 13 is an attack on open online platforms
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As we are heading into the final phases of the discussion on article 13 in both the European Parliament and the Council the issue that article 13 has the potential to do substantial damage to the European digital economy is getting more attention from lawmakers. So far the answer to this problem by the proponents of Article 13 is to exempt more and more types of online platforms from the filtering and or licensing requirements established by Article 13. By now the list of services to be excluded contains “Non-for profit online encyclopaedia“, “educational or scientific repositories, where the content is uploaded by the rightholder“, “providers of cloud services for individual use which do not provide access to the public“, “online market places whose main activity is online retail of physical goods” (European Parliament draft), “non-for-profit open source software developing platforms” and “internet access service providers” (Council compromise proposal).

Generally speaking it is a good indication that a policy is bad if there is a need to make a large number of exceptions to prevent it from doing lots of unintended harm. This principle is on full display in the discussion about article 13. As we (and many others) have argued before, article 13 is broken so badly that it cannot be fixed and should be deleted. The key problem with article 13 is that the music industry is employing its old weapon of choice (copyright law) in an attempt to reign in behaviour of a very small group of online platforms that is perceived as problematic by the music industry. By using copyright law as a trigger for the licensing and filtering obligations contained in article 13, the article inevitably effects every other online platform that deals with copyrighted contents (i.e pretty much all online platforms).

It is not surprising that other platforms that operate in completely different markets (like GitHub which has nothing to do with uploading music) have started to realise that article 13 is a threat to their businesses and are demanding to be excluded from the scope of article 13. While excluding such platforms seems like an obvious choice to prevent some of the worst side effects of the provisions contained in article 13, it will not fix the underlying problem: In an age where copyright touches almost every online business model, copyright law is not a suitable regulatory instrument to adjust the bargaining positions of specific industries anymore. In order to make sure that article 13 has no negative side effects it would need to come with a list of exceptions that excludes every single business model that it is not targeted at. Continue reading

Is the Bulgarian Article 13 Compromise a French affair?

Kaart van de Balkan
Bulgaria should oppose censorship filters!
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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.

Weirdly enough, this proposal seems to be very close to the positions of France, Spain, and Portugal than a honest attempt at balancing between the different challenges Europe faces. Continue reading

Open Letter challenges Portuguese Government’s position on art. 13

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).

Stop the #censorshipmachine now!

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.

The time to stop the #censorshipmachine is now and you can contribute to this by sharing Julia Reda’s video or the excellent explainer video produced by the Create.Refresh campaign.