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.
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.
Ahead of this week’s EU Council meetings of the Working Party on Intellectual Property (Copyright), the Austrian government has helpfully shared the Estonian Presidency’s revised compromise proposal on Articles 3 and 6 (including relevant recitals).
We’ve been following TDM with interest 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.
The Estonian revisions leaves intact the Commission’s obligatory TDM exception that would apply to research organisations for purposes of scientific research. And, as expected, it continues to recommend that the beneficiaries originally contemplated by the Commission be expanded to include cultural heritage institutions. But the most significant change offered in this updated compromise proposal is an additional and optional exception in Article 3:
(5) Member States may provide for an exception or a limitation […] for temporary reproductions and extractions of works and other subject-matter that form an integral part of the process of text and data mining, provided that the works and other subject-matter are accessed lawfully and that the use of the works or other subject-matter for text and data mining is not expressly reserved by the rightholder.
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. Continue reading →
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 →
More than a year after the European Commission published its proposal for a Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market (DSM directive), the proposal continues to be discussed both in the Council and in the European Parliament. While the discussions in the European Parliament have recently slowed down to a crawl (the vote in the Legal Affairs committee is not expected before January), the discussions between the Member States in the Council are picking up steam: earlier this week, the Estonian Council presidency’s consolidated compromise proposal was made public.
The compromise proposal contains an entire new chapter (chapter 1a – Measures to facilitate collective licensing’) that contains an a new article (art 9a – ’Collective licensing with an extended effect’). To anyone familiar with the Commission’s proposal (and the critical reception by cultural heritage institutions) this addition will appear somewhat odd as the Commission’s original proposal already relied on ’collective licensing with an extended effect’ as a mechanism that would allow cultural heritage Institutions to make out of commerce works (OOCW) from their collections available online.
So what exactly is going on here? Articles 7-9 of the Commission’s proposal are aimed at enabling the cross border use of out of commerce works. This would allow cultural heritage institutions to make such works from their collections available online so that they can be accessed from everywhere within the EU. While we think that relying on extended collective licensing alone will not be sufficient to achieve this objective for all sectors and all types of work, we are happy with the ambition to solve this problem on an EU wide basis.
A legal basis for Extended Collective Licensing
By contrast, the newly proposed article 9a focusses on (existing) national extended collective licensing arrangements and would not have any cross border effects. Instead, it introduces provisions into the EU legal framework that would remove the legal uncertainty that currently surrounds the extended collective licensing arrangements that exist in a number of (mainly nordic) EU Member States:
A functioning copyright framework that works for all parties requires the availability of proportionate, legal mechanisms for the licensing of works. Systems such as extended collective licensing or presumptions of representation are a well-established practice in several Member States and can provide such solutions, […] Given the increasing importance of the ability to offer flexible licensing solutions in the digital age, and the increasing use of such schemes in Member States, it is beneficial to further clarify in Union law the status of licensing mechanisms allowing collective management organisations to conclude licences, on a voluntary basis, irrespective of whether all rightholders have authorised the organisation to do so (Recital 28a + 29c of the Estonian Compromise proposal)
Lately we have written so much about ourselves, human rights organisations, academics (1|2) and member states (1|2) criticising the upload filters proposed in article 13 of the proposed DSM directive that one could almost forget that there are indeed powerful forces who are pushing for these filters to become a reality.
The amendments proposed by France, Spain and Portugal offer the clearest view yet on what the proponents of article 13 want to achieve. In their eyes article 13 is not about vague and ill defined “measures to ensure the functioning of agreements concluded” between rightsholders and online platforms but about creating a complete change of the legal status of open online platforms. The amendments proposed make an attempt to (a) re-define the activities of online platforms as communication to the public undertaken by those platforms and to (b) remove online platforms that allow uploads by their users from the protections afforded to them by the e-commerce directive.
Legal uncertainty exists as regards the conditions under which the provision of access by information society service providers allowing users to upload content can be considered as an act of communication to the public. This affects rightholders’ possibilities to determine whether, and under which conditions, their works and other subject-matter are used as well as their possibilities to get an appropriate remuneration for it. The present directive clarifies the conditions under which such information society service providers can be considered to perform an act of communication to the public and therefore do not fall in the scope of Article 14 of the Directive 2000/31/EC. (recital 37, additions by FR/ES/PT in bold)
While the proposed Copyright in the Digital Single Market directive is seen by most stakeholders as an attempt to adapt the copyright rules to the evolving realities of the digital economy, the French (and their Portuguese and Spanish supporters) are clearly of the opinion that it should be the other way around: according to them the realities of the digital world must be adapted to the principles of copyright orthodoxy (i.e to a legal constructs established in the late 19th century). Continue reading →
The Council of the European Union, currently led by the Estonian Presidency, has published an updated compromise proposal regarding Articles 2 to 9 of the Commission’s draft directive on copyright. The Estonian proposal will be discussed among the Member States next week at the meeting of the Copyright working party.
The minor tweaks to the exception for text and data mining offered in this recent draft—as well as the earlier changes suggested in the Maltese compromise proposal from 8 May —are inadequate to supporting research and innovation in the European digital single market.
Where the Commission’s original plan only permits “research organisations” to take advantage of the exception, the new Council’s compromise proposal would extend the beneficiaries to include “cultural heritage institutions.” At first glance this addition would seem welcome because it expands (albeit narrowly) to an additional beneficiary group. But this meager edit ignores the larger concern that citizens and private sector organisations still will be excluded from the benefits of the exception. As we’ve argued, this is clearly not aligned with the goals of the reform to promote activity in the digital single market.
In addition, the Council compromise proposals do not change the problematic limitation that TDM may only be carried out strictly for “purposes of scientific research.” We’ve criticized the Commission’s short-sighted approach in only permitting TDM to apply to scientific research. Such a restraint will surely decrease the potential impact of novel TDM uses, such as for journalism-related investigations, market research, or other types of activities not strictly considered “scientific research”. Continue reading →
A lot of the concerns raised by the six member states centered on the relationship between the Commission’s proposed Article 13, user rights granted under exceptions and limitations, and the rights enshrined in the EU fundamental rights charter. In contrast the intervention by the German government seems to be motivated by a different set of concerns. In the introductory paragraph of the document they write (emphasis ours):
We welcome the fact that the Commission has addressed the matter of how to fairly distribute the value created by internet platforms. We must ensure that creative individuals receive fair pay, also if their work is available on the internet. Concurrently, platforms must not be jeopardised in their function as a societal medium of communication. Moreover, it must be ensured that the competitiveness of European enterprises and the freedom of scientific communication are not impaired.
Based on this is seems clear that the German government is primarily worried about the potential negative impacts that Article 13 would have outside the narrow confines of the music industry. The German government is concerned that the Commission, driven by the the music industry’s desire to cripple the liability exceptions of the E-Commerce directive, will undermine the economic basis for much of Europe’s digital economy.
A threat to the digital economy and academic research
Similar to the six member states before it, the German government is not at all convinced that the Commission’s proposal will leave the legal principles established by the E-Commerce directive intact. From the German point of view this is especially worrisome as the liability exceptions apply to many platforms other than the video sharing and social media services targeted by the music industry. And while the music industry is without a doubt an important contributor to the EU economy, so are other sectors that rely on online platforms and the protections granted by the E-Commerce directive (see for example this excellent report by the Open Forum Europe and the Free Software Foundation Europe that highlights how Article 13 would create substantial burdens for collaborative software development in the EU). Continue reading →