Transparency and the ongoing hypocrisy around “evidence-based” policymaking

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Policymakers should back up rhetoric with action
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We’re taking part in Copyright Week, a series of actions and discussions supporting key principles that should guide copyright policy. Every day this week, various groups are taking on different elements of the law, and addressing what’s at stake, and what we need to do to make sure that copyright promotes creativity and innovation.

Today’s topic for Copyright Week is Transparency: Whether in the form of laws, international agreements, or website terms and standards, copyright policy should be made through a participatory, democratic, and transparent process.

For Copyright Week last year we wrote about transparency and representation in relation to the public consultations leading up to the European Commission’s release of their new Directive on copyright in the Digital Single Market. Our headline read, “Evidence-based copyright policy making should be a no-brainer.” We argued, “It’s obvious to us that any legislative proposal should be developed from reliable, impartial economic and policy research whose foundation is based on evidence and facts.” But when we saw what was in the Commission’s draft, it became clear that a large swath of substantive feedback from the public was mostly ignored.

Here we are a year later, and the situation in the EU has not improved one bit.

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The copyright reform proposal is a threat to fundamental rights, the economy, education and creativity!

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Time to stop the #CensorshipMachine
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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.

Given that at this stage pretty much everything that can be said about the dangers and shortcomings of the Commission’s proposal has been said, our letter which has been signed by an unprecedented coalition of more than 80 civil society and human rights organisations limits itself to pointing out this very fact:

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]

An open letter from over 50 NGOs representing human rights and media freedom asking the EU legislators to delete Article 13:

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.

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More academics speak out against upload filters for online platforms

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Article 13 is incompatible with fundamental rights
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It seems like it is open letter writing season in Brussels right now. In the absence of any real legislative progress the directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, experts and other stakeholders are seizing the opportunity to make their voices heard. After more than 50 civil society organisations including Human Rights Watch, Reporters sans Frontiers and the Freedom of the Press Foundation issued a statement opposing the online filtering provisions proposed in article 13 of the Commission’s proposal, a group of more than 50 high profile copyright scholars has come forward with yet another statement opposing article 13.

In their paper “The Recommendation on Measures to Safeguard Fundamental Rights and the Open Internet in the Framework of the EU Copyright Reform” published on SSRC statement, the academics led by Professor Martin Senftleben (VU Amsterdam) restates the main problems posed by article 13 and recital 39:

The measures contemplated in Article 13 DSMD can hardly be deemed compatible with the fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed under Articles 8 (protection of personal data), 11 (freedom of expression) and 16 (freedom to conduct a business) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. The application of filtering systems that would result from the adoption of Article 13 DSMD would place a disproportionate burden on platform providers, in particular small and medium-sized operators, and lead to the systematic screening of personal data, even in cases where no infringing content is uploaded. The filtering systems would also deprive users of the room for freedom of expression that follows from statutory copyright exceptions, in particular the quotation right and the right to parody.

The adoption of Recital 38 DSMD would moreover lead to a remarkable restriction of eligibility for the liability privilege following from Article 14 of the E-Commerce Directive. Recital 38 DSMD does not adequately reflect the current status quo in the area of the safe harbour for hosting laid down by Article 14 E-Commerce Directive. […] The general requirement of “knowledge of, or control over” infringing user-generated content is missing. In the absence of any reference to this central requirement, Recital 38 DSMD is incomplete and fails to draw an accurate picture of the current conceptual contours of the safe harbour for hosting. […] Because of the ambiguous wording of Recital 38 DSMD, there is a real risk of modifying the notion of “communication to the public” considerably.

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Strong voice of civil liberties organisations against censorship in copyright framework

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Anyone following copyright debate may have an impression it is all about “money, money, money” (Abba). In COMMUNIA we believe that such an approach shows deep misunderstanding about the function of copyright. Copyright is just one angle of approaching more broader challenge, namely providing a just framework for to access to knowledge, information and culture. A well balanced copyright system is one of the fundamental underpinnings of a knowledge-based society.

Possibly the strongest challenge to such as system is are the proposals for forcing online platforms to filter all content uploaded by their users, put down in article 13 of the proposed Directive on copyright in the Digital Single Market. We have underlined many times before that proposed regulation will have a chilling effect on sharing content, access to information and the the ability to operate open platforms online.

Today, over 50 NGOs (including COMMUNIA) representing human rights and media freedom have send today an open letter to the European Commission President, the European Parliament and the Council asking them to delete the content filter mechanism. This letter comes ahead of a crucial vote in the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties committee, in which the MEPs tasked with upholding our fundamental freedoms will give their opinion on the upload filters that the Commission wants to introduce through article 13. The signatories of the letter, which include many prominent human rights organisations like the Freedom of the Press Foundation, Human Rights Watch and Reporters without Borders, believe that the mechanism introduced through article 13:

  • would violate the freedom of expression set out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights;
  • provokes such legal uncertainty that online services will have no other option than to monitor, filter and block EU citizens’ communications.; and,
  • includes obligations on internet companies that would be impossible to respect without the imposition of excessive restrictions on citizens’ fundamental rights.

If the European Union decides to approve the European Commission’s proposal, this would constitute an unprecedented step towards building an online censorship infrastructure. Similar filtering obligation have previously been rejected in the context of preventing terrorism and hate speech. Continue reading

Commission pushes inconvenient copyright research down the memory hole

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An inconvenient truth about online infringement
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This week MEP Julia Reda shared an unpublished report of a study examining the effects of copyright infringement on sales of creative works. Apparently the contract for the economic research was tendered by the Commission in 2014 for €360,000. It was completed in 2015 but never published, and Reda received a copy of the report after several freedom of information requests.

The background of the study hinges on the assumption that “illicit use of copyrighted material reduces revenues of rights-holders and thus their incentives to produce content.” (p. 19). As our friends at EDRi are pointing out, this assumption is one of the underlying motivations for the Commission’s deeply flawed crusade against open online platforms. So what does the research show? From the report (our emphasis):

In 2014, on average 51 per cent of the adults and 72 per cent of the minors in the EU have illegally downloaded or streamed any form of creative content […] In general, the results do not show robust statistical evidence of displacement of sales by online copyright infringements.” (p. 7)

This result is not shocking. Many online content providers are finding that users will pay for content when that content can be conveniently accessed at a fair price—hence the significant growth of popular online film and television streaming services like Netflix. But this is not the narrative that the Commission wishes to promulgate, as it doesn’t fit their worldview. Or more accurately, it doesn’t align with the interests of the incumbent content industries, who, as we’ve argued, want nothing more than “to minimize the impact of the fundamental changes brought about by digital technologies and the internet on legacy business models.”

One assumes that the findings from this study would have been a useful input into the Commission’s proposal for the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. And surely it would have been interesting to creative sector economists, the startup and technology communities, consumer rights organisations, civil society advocates, and the public at large. Instead, the Commission pushed ahead and introduced restrictive copyright reforms that blindly tries to stop something, which according to research commissioned by the Commission itself is not a problem.

This incident makes a few things crystal clear: 1) the Commission has confirmed it has no interest in pursuing evidence-based policymaking, and 2) freedom of information laws are an increasingly vital tool by which to shed light on the shady workings of some public institutions.

Germany to Commission: Article 13 endangers the competitiveness of European enterprises

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Germany says upload filters may be illegal
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Two weeks ago we highlighted the fact that six EU member states had asked questions to the Council legal service about the legality of Article 13 of the proposed Digital Single Market directive. Yesterday it emerged that the government of Germany also has serious concerns about Article 13 and asked its own set of questions to the Council legal service. As our friends at copybuzz.com point out, this move by Germany adds a lot of weight to the questions raised by Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Ireland and the Netherlands before the summer. While the questions asked by the German document more or less mirror the concerns of the other six member states, there are also some important differences.

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

Leading Academics: Article 13 is incompatible with EU law and must be deleted

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There is no place for upload filters in EU law!
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Last week (the same day that we published an updated version of our position paper on article 13) our friends at copybuzz pointed to a paper by The Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition on article 13, published in response to a set of questions raised by six EU member states over the summer. As we have reported here, the questions related to the relationship between the measures proposed in article 13 and recital 38 of the Commission’s proposal and the existing EU legal framework (the E-Commerce Directive, the InfoSoc Directive and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU).

The questions posed by the member states already implied that article 13 and recital 38 would violate a number of legal concepts established by existing legislation. The answers provided by the Max Planck Institute confirm this. As the paper, authored by Prof. Dr. Reto Hilty and Dr. Valentina Moscon points out, there are serious problems with all 4 aspects of the proposal that have given rise to the member state’s queries. Based on their analysis the Hilty and Moscon come to the same conclusion as we did in our own position paper:

Therefore, it is inadvisable to adopt Article 13 of the proposed Directive and its respective Recitals, 38 and 39. (page 2)

This opinion is based on an analysis that finds that the Commission’s proposal would create legal uncertainty, would risk conflicting with the user rights (exceptions and limitations) granted by the InfoSoc Directive, would be inconsistent with the E-Commerce Directive, and could enable abusive behaviour that threatens fundamental human rights, such as the freedom of expression and information.

A scathing takedown of the Commission’s Proposal

All in all, the responses to the questions posed by the six member states read as a scathing takedown of the Commission’s Proposal. Continue reading

Member States to Commission: We don’t trust your claims that censorship filters are in line with EU law

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Are upload filters even legal?
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Hot on the heels of last week’s leak of a (rather depressing) Estonian council compromise proposal that contained two bad proposals for the upload filter comes another leak of a council document. Apparently not all EU Member States are convinced that the Commission’s plans to require online platforms to filter all user uploads is such a good idea! Statewatch has just published a document containing written questions from the governments of Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Ireland and the Netherlands to the council legal service regarding article 13 and recital 38.

These questions clearly show that these Member States have serious doubts about the Commission’s repeated assurances that the proposed censorship filters would not affect users’ fundamental rights, do not change the liability exemption of the e-commerce directive, do not constitute a general monitoring obligation and do not change the definition of what it means to make copyrighted works available online.

All of these questions may sound like technical details but they are not. Instead they are at the heart of the discussion about article 13 of the commission’s proposal. Since the commission presented the proposal, a broad coalition of civil society, technology companies and academics has pointed out the problematic relationship between the commission’s proposal and fundamental rights and the principles established by the e-commerce directive.

Member States have serious doubts about legality of upload filters

The music industry organisations are the driving force behind the attempt to censor user uploads and regain control over the ability of millions of online creators to express themselves online. Together with the Commission they have flat out denied that the proposed in article 13 and recital 38 would change existing EU law. The fact that the six member states have formally asked the legal service of the Council (which is independent of the Commission) shows that they are not buying into this narrative. Continue reading

Internal Market Committee took a vote on copyright. Why does it feel like a loss?

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Partial victory, bitter taste
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Politics is full of plot twists and we have witnessed that today during the IMCO Committee vote on its opinion regarding the copyright directive proposal. The new rights for publishers that seemed to be red line for so many Parliamentarians have made their comeback. The upload filtering provisions have been removed—despite some MEPs’ efforts to make them even stronger. If the reform package was actually a coherent vision instead of a wish list of shortsighted interventions, we could be celebrating an entirely different vote.

The upload filter is gone, the e-commerce Directive is intact

In a surprising move, the Committee adopted the EPP proposal to include Article 13 as drafted by LIBE rapporteur Michal Boni into IMCO’s opinion. IMCO rapporteur Catherine Stihler supported these amendments over the compromise she had made with other Parliamentary groups: S&D, ECR, ALDE, GREENS and GUE. Since it was quite clear that the deletion suggested by some Committee Members is not an option for this article, it is seems like one of the best possible outcomes that MEP Boni’s proposal has been picked up by IMCO.

Rapporteur Boni’s take on how platforms should cooperate with rightholders offers a rational distinction between entities falling under the scope of Article 13 and those protected by the e-commerce directive exemptions. It also steers clear of content recognition and technological measures as the go-to solutions for shaping that cooperation regarding MEP Stihler’s compromise amendment.

Red line? What red line?

The big surprise of the IMCO vote is the U-turn it took on the issue of new rights for press publishers (a.k.a “the link tax”). Rapporteur Stihler proposal to delete all of Article 11 had gained some traction in the Committee, which resulted in about a dozen other IMCO Parliamentarians also tabling provisions to remove it. In the vote, however, the amendments to delete were almost entirely rejected. The Commission’s version of Article 11 has been adopted with some tweaks: hyperlinking would not fall under the new right, and the new law would not be applied retroactively.

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Open Letter: Copyright reform proposal is fundamentally broken and won’t make Europe more competitive

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Towards a more ambitious reform agenda
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Yesterday we sent an open letter on copyright reform to the EU Member State ministers attending the Competitiveness Council. We have done so together with more than 60 other civil society and trade associations – representing publishers, libraries, scientific and research institutions, consumers, digital rights groups, start-ups, technology businesses, educational institutions and creator representatives.

The letter reflects our growing concern over the fact that the EU is wasting the long overdue opportunity to reform its outdated copyright framework. And that we are missing a chance to make it fit for purpose in the digital environment. At the root of the problem is the Commission’s backward looking proposal for a copyright in the digital single market directive that was presented in September of last year.

More than half a year later we see the discussion on the reform proposal caught up within the narrow vision that the Commission has presented. While the European Parliament is so far moving in the direction of fixing the biggest flaws of the Commission’s proposal and seems to be willing to introduce some additional positive elements, the Member States are moving in the opposite direction. There is a lot of concern that Member States are attempting to hollow out the positive aspects of the proposal while doubling down on the measures designed to protect the business interests of legacy intermediaries (such as publishers and record companies).

Given this we have joined forces with a diverse group of stakeholders to ask the Member States (and other EU lawmakers) to oppose the most damaging aspects of the proposal and to embrace a more ambitious agenda for positive reform. In particular the open letter is highlighting three key messages: Continue reading