Civil Society letter on the Article 17 implementation guidance

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Guidance must aim to protect users' rights!
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Earlier today 27 (update 17-09-2020: 32) civil society organisations sent a joint letter to Commissioner Breton summarising our responses to the Article 17 guidance consultation that closed last week. In addition to organisations participating in the stakeholder dialogue, the letter has also received support from a broad coalition of digital and human rights organisations from across Europe. 

The letter expresses concerns that the proposed Article 17 guidance endorses the use of automated content blocking by online services even though it is clear that this will lead to the violation of fundamental rights. It also warns that implementations of Article 17 based on the proposed guidance will violate established principles of EU law.

In this context the letter highlights the need for meaningful safeguards for legitimate uses of content uploaded to online platforms, and stresses the need for a robust redress mechanism for users. Summarising the consultation responses submitted by the various signatories, the letter highlights the importance of ensuring that uploads that are not manifestly infringing must remain online until a human review has taken place. The letter further stresses the importance of involving users’ organisations when setting technical parameters that are used to determine if an upload is manifestly infringing or not. 

The letter further highlights the need for full transparency of (automated) content removals and the ability for users (and user organisations on their behalf) to take actions against the abuse of the measures introduced by Article 17 of the DSM directive.

Finally, the letter also expresses support for the Commission’s clarification that Article 17 constitutes a “lex specialis” to the provisions of the InfoSoc Directive which provides Member States with maximum flexibility to include user rights preserving authorisation mechanisms in their national legislation.

You can read the full letter including the list of signatories here.

A step in the right direction: Our response to the targeted consultation on the Article 17 guidance

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Thanks for listening!
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Yesterday we submitted our response to the European Commission’s targeted consultation on the Article 17 guidance. As we have explained previously, with this consultation the Commission was seeking feedback on its initial ideas for the Article 17 implementation guidance, which the Commission intends to publish before the end of the Year. The document is intended to provide Member States with guidance on how to balance the conflicting requirements of Article 17 (preventing copyright infringements while ensuring that legal uses are not affected) when implementing it in their national legislations.

As we said in our initial analysis, we were very happy to note a clear commitment of the Commission to maintain the delicate legislative balance of Article 17 that reflected many of the constructive contributions that have been made by stakeholders across the spectrum during the dialogues. In general, we consider the Commission’s proposal a step in the right direction and this is reflected in our response to the consultation. Unsurprisingly, organisations representing rightholders have a completely different reaction to the proposal and have already started a campaign to convince the Commission into abandoning its approach. Continue reading

Commission consultation on Article 17 guidance: User rights must be protected at upload

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Legitimate uses must be considered at all times
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At the end of July the Commission published a long awaited “targeted consultation addressed to the participants to the stakeholder dialogue on Article 17 of the CDSM Directive“. With this consultation the Commission makes good on its (pre-covid) promise to “share initial views on the content of the Article 17 guidance” with the participants of the stakeholder dialogue. Nestled in-between 18 questions, the consultation document provides a detailed outline of what the Commission’s guidance could look like once it is finalised.

While we have been rather sceptical after the end of the six meetings of the stakeholder dialogue meetings, we are pleased to see that the initial views shared by the Commission express a genuine attempt to find a balance between the protection of user rights and the interests of creators and other rightholders, which reflects the complex balance of the provisions introduced by Article 17 after a long legislative fight.

In the remainder of this post we will take a first, high level, look at the Commission’s proposal for the Article 17 guidance, what it would mean for national implementations and how it would affect user rights.

Two welcome clarifications

With the consultation document the Commission takes a clear position on two issues that were central to the discussions in the stakeholder dialogue and that have important implications for national implementation of Article 17.

The first one concerns the nature of the right at the core of Article 17. Is Article 17 a mere clarification of the existing right of communication to the public, as rightholders have argued, or is it a special or sui generis right, as academics and civil society groups have argued? In the consultation document the Commission makes it clear that it considers Article 17 to be a special right (“lex specialis”) to the right of communication to the public, as defined in Article 3 of the 2001 InfoSoc Directive, and the limited liability regime for hosting providers of the E-commerce Directive. 

What sounds like a fairly technical discussion has wide ranging consequences for Member States implementing the Directive. As explained by João Quintais and Martin Husovec, now that it is clear that Article 17 is not a mere clarification of existing law, Member States have considerably more freedom in deciding how online platforms can obtain authorisation for making available the works uploaded by their users. This should mean that they are not constrained by the InfoSoc Directive. Therefore, mechanisms like the remunerated “de-minimis” exception proposed by the German Ministry of Justice that would legalise the use of short snippets of existing works are permitted and covered by the concept of “authorisation” introduced by Article 17. Continue reading

How Filters fail (to meet the requirements of the DSM directive)

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Three common failure modes of upload filters
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Article 17 of the DSM directive establishes that Online Content Sharing Service Providers (OCSSPs) are liable for copyright infringing uploads by their users unless they either obtain a license for the use of such content, or take a number of measures designed to prevent the availability of such content on their platforms. While the directive never explicitly talks about filters or automated content recognition (ACR) systems, it is assumed by all sides of the debate that, in order to meet this obligation, platforms have little choice but to implement ACR-based filtering systems that will scan all user uploads and block or remove uploads that contain works that have been flagged by their rightholders.

This de-facto requirement to implement upload filters is – by far – the most controversial aspect of the entire copyright directive and it continues to dominate the discussions about the implementation of Article 17 into national legislation.

In this context, it is important to remember that the use of such filters is not new and that their functioning can already be observed in practice. What is new, however, is the de-facto requirement for OCSSPs to implement filters as well as a number of requirements that OCSSPs need to meet to ensure that any measures (including filters) implemented by them are not infringing on the rights of users. This includes the requirement that any such measures “shall not result in the prevention of the availability of works or other subject matter uploaded by users, which do not infringe copyright and related rights, including where such works or other subject matter are covered by an exception or limitation“.

In other words, one of the most important contributions of the DSM directive is that, for the first time, it establishes conditions that need to be met by automated upload filters.

As we have argued many times before, these conditions present a very high hurdle for any technological solution to clear. The fact that upload filters are incapable of determining if a particular use of a copyrighted work is infringing or not has been established beyond any doubt. But that does not mean that the failure to assess the context is the only way that filters based on automated content recognition fail to meet the requirements established by the directive. In total there are at least three distinct ways how filters fail.

In the remainder of this post we will discuss these three failure modes based on examples collected by Techdirt in the course of a single week: removals caused by incorrect rights information, removals caused by the inability to recognise legitimate uses, and removals caused by the inability to accurately identify works.

Incorrect rights information

Incorrect rights information is probably the most common and best documented cause for the unjustified removal (or demonetisation) of works on YouTube.

ACR systems execute actions specified by whoever is recognised as the owner of a work. For the purposes of the ACR systems, the owner of a work is whoever claims to be the owner of the work and, unless there are conflicting ownership claims, there is no way to check the accuracy of such claims as there are no authoritative databases of ownership rights. As a result it is possible to claim ownership in public domain works (which no-one owns), in works that have been freely or widely licensed by their owners, or for any copyrighted work that has not already been claimed by someone else. Continue reading

Video recording from last weeks COMMUNIA salon

Last week Monday, on the first anniversary of the entry into force of the Copyright in the DSM Directive, we held the first virtual edition of our COMMUNIA Salon. During the event we presented an overview of the implementation status in the EU member states, zoomed in (sic!) on various legislative proposals to implement Articles 15 and 17 of the Directive and discussed ways to challenge parts of the Directive via the legal system. If you have missed the event you can watch a recording of the presentations and the subsequent discussion here: 

The event was kicked off by Teresa Nobre who launched the COMMUNIA implementation tracker and presented an overview of the implementation in the EU member states. While France has already implemented the press publishers right, the majority of EU member states are still in various stages of consultation. One year after the entry into force of the Directive, only Belgium, Croatia, France, Germany, Hungary and the Netherlands have put forward legislative proposals. Continue reading

New policy paper on fundamental rights as a limit to copyright during emergencies

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Adjusting essential uses to new modes of living
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Today, Communia released a policy paper on fundamental rights as a limit to copyright during emergencies. This policy paper has been prepared in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused a massive disruption of the normal organization of society in many EU countries. 

In our paper we defend that, in order to transpose education, research and other public interest activities from public locations to private homes during government-imposed lockdowns, we need to be able to rely on the understanding that fundamental rights can, in exceptional situations, function as an external limit to our national copyright systems.

The main conclusions of our paper are the following:

First Conclusion

The educational and research exceptions and limitations provided for in Article 5(3)(a) of the InfoSoc Directive and in Articles 6(2)(b) and 9(b) of the Database Directive, and the public lending exception provided for in Article 6(1) of the EU Rental and Lending Rights Directive are mandatory for Member States, due to the fundamental rights that they internalize, namely those enshrined in Articles 11(1), 13 and 14(1) of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.Continue reading

Article 17 Stakeholder dialogue: COMMUNIA input paper

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Our principles for the the Commission guidelines
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Given the ongoing health emergency, the European Commission’s stakeholder dialogue on the implementation of Article 17 of the Copyright Directive is currently suspended. The 7th meeting of the stakeholder dialogue, which was originally scheduled for Monday of this week and where the Commission was expected to “share initial views on the content of the guidelines”, has been cancelled and it is currently unclear how and when the stakeholder dialogue will be resumed. In the meanwhile, the European Commission is continuing its work on the guidelines.

While we are waiting for news on the future of the stakeholder dialogue we have produced an input paper for the Commission (pdf) that summarises our observations from the stakeholder dialogue so far and formulates a number of principles that the Commission should take into account when drafting its guidelines. In line with our initial principles, the input paper focuses on licensing, transparency and procedural safeguards for users’ rights. The paper builds on the model that we had presented during the last meeting of the stakeholder dialogue

Specifically, we are asking the Commission to include the following in the Article 17 implementation guidelines: 

  • Recommend to national lawmakers to fully explore all legal mechanisms (including collective licensing with extended effect, mandatory collective management schemes and other non-voluntary licensing schemes) for granting OCSSPs authorisation to have in their platforms copyright-protected works and other subject matter uploaded by their users.
  • Require that all ownership claims made in the context of the measures required by Article 17 must be made fully transparent to allow public scrutiny and prevent unjustified removals or blocking by rightholders claiming ownership of works that they do not own.
  • Require that OCSSPs publish statistical information on the number of removal/blocking actions as well as the number of complaints and the resolution of complaints arising as the result of such actions.
  • Requires that in cases other than obvious infringement and in order to prevent automated measures from affecting lawful uses, users must have the ability to override all automated actions before the blocking/removal takes effect.
  • Require that in case of obvious (“prima facie”) infringement uploaded content can be automatically blocked/removed under the condition that uploaders have the ability to easily and effectively challenge such blocks/removals.
  • Require that users must be able to rely on all existing exceptions as grounds for challenging removal/blocking actions and must be able to dispute the ownership claims on which an action is based.

Continue reading

Article 17 stakeholder dialogue (day 6): Hitting a brick wall

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This week saw the sixth meeting of the EU stakeholder dialogue on the implementation of Article 17 of the new copyright directive. This meeting was the first one where the question of how to reconcile the protection of user rights’ with automated filters based on technology that cannot assess the legality of the use of copyrighted works was explicitly on the agenda. From the perspective of the users’ organisations participating in the stakeholder dialogue this is the main question that the stakeholder dialogue (and the guidelines that the Commission will have to issue afterwards) needs to address. 

Unfortunately, Monday’s meeting did not result in a productive discussion about how to protect users’ rights. Proposals made by COMMUNIA and Studio71 on how to strike a balance between the rights of users and the interests of creators and other rightholders were largely ignored by a coalition of major rightholders from both the music and the audio-visual sectors. Working in concert, the representatives of the Hollywood studios (MPA), film producers (FIAFP), commercial television channels (ACT), major record labels (IFPI) and music publishers (ICMP) disputed the fact that there is a tension between protecting users rights and automated blocking, restated their conviction that Article 17 is only about empowering them versus the platforms, and suggested that users should simply trust that rightholders will not block free speech or other legitimate uses. In doing so they have made it clear that they want their interests to prevail at all cost, that users should not be trusted and that for them user rights are something that should exist at their discretion. 

This outcome leaves the European Commission in the difficult position to make sense of the input gathered throughout the previous six meetings and to outline a way forwards. Fortunately it seemed that the Commission is not willing to succumb to the unconstructive behaviour exhibited by rightholders and will take serious its task of finding a balance between users rights and the interests of different types of rightholders. 

A proposals for protecting users’ rights

So how could such a balance look like and what is at stake? One of the key insights that emerged from the previous rounds of the stakeholder dialogue is that even the most advanced content recognition technology is incapable of understanding the context in which works are used. This means that technology alone cannot make the determination if a use is lawful or not. Article 17 requires platforms to take measures to prevent the availability of content that rightholders want to keep off the sharing platforms and, at the same time, to ensure that legitimate uses (such as quotations or parodies) are not affected. This means that no matter how good it is at recognising content, ACR alone cannot meet the requirements of the directive. Continue reading

Article 17 stakeholder dialogue (day 5): It all depends

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Last week Thursday saw the 5th meeting of the Commission’s stakeholder dialogue on Article 17 of the copyright directive. On paper this meeting was the first meeting where the stakeholders had the opportunity to discuss the actual provisions contained in Article 17 of the directive in order for the Commission “to gather evidence, views and suggestions that the services of the Commission can take into account” when preparing its guidelines on the application of Article 17. 

Contractual freedom über alles

In reality (recording available here), the 5th meeting was the meeting where it became clear that the vast majority of represented stakeholders is not interested in constructively contributing to the process and is instead participating in order to actively undermine the stakeholder process. Interventions made by commercial rights holders from the Music and AV sectors, as well as by platforms, focused on demanding maximum contractual freedom and arguing that the Commission’s guidelines should not contain any binding requirements. When asked to provide input for defining core concepts of the directive (such as “best efforts to obtain authorisation” and “best efforts to prevent availability”), most stakeholders limited their contribution to countless variations of “it depends” or theorising about “dynamic concepts”.

While there were some notable exceptions (apart from users organisations, collective management organisations and journalists’ organisations provided substantive input), it can hardly be surprising that both rightholders and big platforms have no interest in substantive guidelines that would offer meaningful safeguards for user rights. Continue reading

Article 17 stakeholder dialogue: What have we learned so far

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This analysis was previously published in two instalments on the Kluver Copyright Blog (part 1, part 2).

As 2020 unfolds, the European Commission’s stakeholder dialogue pursuant to Article 17 of the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market (CDSM directive) enters its third (and likely final) phase. After four meetings that focussed on gathering “an overview of the current market situation as regards licensing practices, tools used for online content management […] and related issues and concerns”, the next two (or more) meetings will finally deal with issues raised by the provisions in Article 17 of the CDSM directive. According to the Commission’s discussion paper for the meetings of 16 January and 10 February 2020, the objective of the third phase “is to gather evidence, views and suggestions that the services of the Commission can take into account in preparing the guidance pursuant to Article 17(10)”. 

In other words, after four meetings that have set the scene, the stakeholder dialogue will now address some of the thorny issues raised by Article 17. These include the key concepts like the best effort obligations to obtain authorisation and to prevent the availability of content (Article 17(4)), as well as the safeguards for legitimate uses of content (Article 17(7)) and the complaint and redress mechanisms available to users (Article 17(9)). In preparation for these forthcoming discussions, it is worth recapitulating what we have learned since the stakeholder dialogue kicked off in October of last year. 

Three takeaways from the stakeholder dialogue so far

After more than 25 hours of discussion (recordings of the four meetings can be found here: 1, 2, 3 and 4), there are three main insights that will likely have a substantial impact on the overall outcome of the stakeholder dialogue. These are the different motivations of different types of rightholders; the technical limitations of Automated Content Recognition (ACR) technologies; and the general lack of transparency with regards to current rights management practices. The first two of these are discussed in this post and the third will be covered in part 2 which will be published shortly. Continue reading