Article 17 stakeholder dialogue (day 2): Filters, not licenses!

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On Tuesday this week the participants of the stakeholder dialogue on Article 17 of the EU copyright directive convened in Brussels for the second meeting. After a first meeting that focussed on practices in the music, games and software sectors (see our report here), this week’s meeting focussed on the current situation in the audiovisual (AV) and publishing sectors. 

Hollywood: Article 17 is about filtering after all

The meeting kicked off with a long series of statements from the many different rightholders in the AV sector (see the video recording here). The assembled sector representatives made it clear that from their perspective Article 17 is welcome (as it clarifies that online platforms need to obtain licenses for the works uploaded by their users) but that they are not interested in widely licensing AV works to UGC platforms and would instead focus on the blocking and removing of unlicensed content via the upload filtering mechanisms introduced by Article 17. 

This approach is the logical consequence of the predominant business model in the AV sector which relies on exclusive licensing to selected outlets (Cinema, TV, VOD platforms). It directly contradicts the music industries’ narrative from the first meeting that Article 17 is about licensing and not about blocking access – as in the case of music general availability is crucial. Representatives of the AV industry made it very clear that they would fight any attempts at non-voluntary licensing and that they would also fight against effective protection for user rights under exceptions and licensing (see for example the statement issued by the Motion Picture Association starting at 10:41:44 of the video recording). These initial statements make it clear that the AV industry does indeed look at Article 17 as an instrument to limit freedom of expression and reuse and will likely use the stakeholder dialogue to bend the article further in this direction. Continue reading

Article 17 stakeholder dialogue (day 1): Same old, same old

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Article 17(10) of the Copyright in the Digital Single Market directive requires the Commission to “organise stakeholder dialogues to discuss best practices for cooperation between online content-sharing service providers and rightholders”.  Last week Tuesday we took part in the first meeting of the stakeholder dialogue. The dialogue (which will consist of a series of meetings) is supposed to provide the Commission with input for producing guidelines can “balance fundamental rights and the use of exceptions and limitations” with the upload filtering obligations introduced by Article 17 of the directive.

The meeting, which was attended by 80 stakeholders (plus representatives from the 28 Member States), was supposed to focus on “current practices with regard to the cooperation between rightholders and online content sharing service providers” in the music, software and gaming sectors. The day  was kicked off by a short welcome address by Commissioner Maria Gabriel in which she praised the outcome of the copyright reform as an example of Europe taking the lead in developing rules for the digital environment (translation from the original French): 

The new Copyright Directive in the Digital Single Market demonstrates the ability of the European Union to collectively reflect on today’s challenges and to bring about just, innovative and concerted responses. It is another example of a Europe that opens the way and sets an example to the rest of the world.

[…] The new Directive, and in particular Article 17, opens a new era in the regulation of the relationship between copyright and digital services. And this, without touching the fundamentals. It does not challenge the traditional rules of copyright while introducing a new framework that provides essential guarantees to ensure a proper balance between fundamental rights, in the first place freedom of expression on the Internet.

[…] With the adoption of the Copyright Directive, the European Union is leading a global movement to develop a fairer economic model for the production, access and distribution of content in the digital environment. Europe is now a more attractive place to invest in creation and digital.

It should be evident that we do not share this positive assessment of the directive. If the directive was indeed such a balanced piece of legislation as the commissioner claims, then there would not be a need to organize stakeholder dialogue to patch up its worst inconsistencies. Continue reading

Article 17 Stakeholder Dialogue: We’ll Continue to Advocate for Safeguarding User Rights

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Yesterday the European Commission invited COMMUNIA to participate in the “Stakeholder dialogue under Article 17 of the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market” that will kick off in Brussels next week. This invitation comes after we had expressed our interest to participate in response to a call issued by the Commission in September. It is our understanding that COMMUNIA will be one of a small number of civil society participants in the dialogue (the Commission has yet to publish a list of participating organisations). 

Stakeholder dialogue to the rescue!

Article 17(10) of the Copyright in the Digital Single Market directive requires the Commission to “organise stakeholder dialogues to discuss best practices for cooperation between online content-sharing service providers and rightholders”. Based on the outcome of these dialogues with “content-sharing service providers, rightholders, users’ organisations and other relevant stakeholders” the Commission is expected to “issue guidance on the application of Article 17” that is supposed to “balance fundamental rights and the use of exceptions and limitations” with the upload filtering obligations introduced by Article 17. 

Given that two and a half years of legislative wrangling have failed to produce a balanced (or at least coherent) outcome, it seems rather unlikely that this stakeholder dialogue will be able to achieve such a balance. Still the stakeholder dialogue provides an opportunity to minimise the harm to the freedom of creative expression and the ability for smaller platforms to strive under Article 17. Such an optimistic view of the stakeholder dialogue has been put forward by the German government, which has stated that it

… therefore assumes that this dialogue is based on a spirit of guaranteeing appropriate remuneration for creatives, preventing ‘upload filters’ wherever possible, ensuring freedom of expression and safeguarding user rights. The German Federal Government assumes that uniform implementation throughout the Union will be agreed on in this dialogue, because fragmentary implementation with 27 national variants would not be compatible with the principles of a European Digital Single Market.

Five measures to minimize the harm caused by upload filters

While we have strongly criticised Article 1, mainly because of the filtering obligations it introduces, there are also positive elements in the article. These include mandatory exceptions for quotation and parody, and a number of procedural safeguards intended to ensure that users can exercise the rights they have under these exceptions and limitations.

As part of our contribution to the stakeholder dialogue we will strive to ensure an outcome that minimises the impact and scope of the filtering provisions and that maximises the scope of exceptions and limitations that guarantees meaningful safeguards for users to exercise the rights they have under these exceptions. From our perspective, the following five measures will guide our contribution to the stakeholder dialogue: Continue reading

Open Letter: Implementation Guidance on Article 17 Must Include Public Interest Stakeholders

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On Friday the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market was published in the Official Journal of the European Union, formally kicking off the implementation phase in which the Directive will be transposed into the national laws of the EU Member States. EU Member States will have until 7 June 2021 to adopt the provisions laid down in the directive into their respective copyright laws.

Today Communia and over 40 organisations sent an open letter to the European Commission calling for an inclusive stakeholder dialogue that incorporates the views of human rights, digital rights, and access to knowledge organisations. The letter was organised by the Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties). It focuses on Article 17 (formerly Article 13), the sweeping provision that alters the liability regime for online platforms by requiring licenses for all user generated uploads, and would lead to platforms having to install content filters lest they become liable for copyright infringement for works that aren’t able to be licensed. The adoption of Article 17 will put fundamental freedoms at risk and set a dangerous precedent for user rights, so it’s absolutely critical that in the implementation the article is transposed with care to protect freedom of expression. From our open letter:

Broad and inclusive participation is crucial for ensuring that the national implementations of Article 17 and the day-to-day cooperation between online content-sharing service providers and rightholders respects the Charter of Fundamental Rights by safeguarding citizens’ and creators’ freedom of expression and information, whilst also protecting their privacy. These should be the guiding principles for a harmonized implementation of Article 17 throughout the Digital Single Market.

Over the entirety of the 30-month reform process, Communia has been advocating for changes to improve the situation for users rights and produce a more balanced copyright system. Article 17 sets platforms up for failure because it is impossible to meet the obligations they have under the mitigation measures and to safeguard user rights at the same time. That’s why it’s important that the stakeholder dialogue and consultations on implementation listen closely to the input from human rights, digital rights, and knowledge communities in order to protect user rights and freedom of expression.

DSM directive adopted – implementation in Member States can still make a difference

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Two year implementation period starts now
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Earlier this week, after almost exactly 30 months of legislative wrangling, the EU Member States approved the final compromise of the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. It’s the same text that was approved by the European Parliament at the end of March. This means that the Directive will become law as soon as it is published in the Official Journal of the European Union. Judged against our own ideas about a modern EU copyright framework that facilitates access to cultural and information, strengthens user rights and reduces unnecessary copyright infringement, the outcome of EU copyright reform process is a big disappointment. The directive expands the scope of copyright and instead of harmonising copyright rules across the EU member states, it contains measures that will further fragment and complicate the EU copyright framework. Instead of strengthening public interest exceptions to copyright, the directive relies on voluntary licensing by rightholders, giving them the ability to block users’ access.

As a result the final directive does not live up to the “Digital Single Market” label that it carries in its title. The adopted text does very little to harmonise an already complex set of rules among the Member States. Instead, the directive creates additional rules to the system that have been designed to further the (perceived) interests for specific classes of rightholders—most notably the music industry and press publishers. Once the directive has been implemented in the Member States, the EU copyright system will likely be more complex, and thus more difficult and costly to navigate for users and European businesses.

In this regard the provisions of Article 17 (formerly Article 13) remain the most problematic in the entire directive. The article is a legislative monstrosity that will most likely achieve the opposite of what it was intended to accomplish. Instead of establishing clear rules that require commercial content sharing platforms to adequately remunerate the creators of the works that they distribute, it will impose substantial regulatory burdens and create legal uncertainties for years to come. The most likely benefactors of this outcome will be large rightholders and the incumbent dominant platforms. The existing intermediaries within the creative value chain will have the means to navigate the uncertainties and conclude complex licensing arrangements, but users and independent creators at the edges of these value chains will suffer the consequences: They will be presented with fewer distribution platforms to choose from, and they will have less freedom of creative expression.

Implementation can make a difference

With the directive formally adopted by both the Parliament and Council, the fight for a better EU copyright enters into a new phase. The EU Member States will soon have two years to implement the rules established by the directive into their national copyright laws. While such implementations will have to include all the problematic aspects of the directive, there is some room for meaningful improvements, and some measures can be taken to mitigate the worst provisions of the directive. Continue reading

After 30 months, EU legislators agree to sell out users and creators to big platforms and big content.

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European users and creators deserve better
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After yesterday’s agreement between the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission on a compromise text, the EU copyright reform process has entered into its final phase. The good news is that after yesterday’s compromise the text cannot get any worse: it will either be adopted or it will be rejected. The bad news is that the text that was agreed on yesterday is **the worst version that we have seen yet**. After three days of negotiations, the negotiators have agreed on a text that would benefit big corporate rightsholders, Google and other dominant platforms at the expense of users, creators and the rest of the European internet economy.

To understand what has happened during the negotiations, it is illustrative to look at the differences between the final compromise and the text that had been agreed among the EU member states last week (which was the result of horse trading between the French and German governments).

A win for dominant platforms…

Yesterday’s compromise text is largely in line with the French-German deal. This includes a terrible version of Article 13 that will severely limit users ability to express themselves online. It will also further consolidate the power of dominant platforms, as smaller platforms will struggle with implementing expensive filtering technology and supporting the increased costs for dealing with increased liability.

It also introduces a EU-wide neighbouring right for press publishers that will have very similar effects. It benefits dominant platforms who can afford compliance while creating additional costs and risks for smaller players. As a result, users will likely end up with less access to information and the diversity of information available online will likely suffer. Under these conditions it remains to be seen if rightsholders will indeed manage to extract more value from the large intermediaries.    

…at the expense of users and creators

As if this would not be bad enough, the negotiators have introduced last minute changes to the text that further weaken provisions that were intended to protect the rights of users and individual creators. The French/German deal did not (at least not clearly) include a UGC exception for users of every online platform, but it used language that at least applied to  user-generated content uploaded to the platforms covered by Article 13. The final compromise has adopted questionable language that may or may not  provide a meaningful protection for users of platforms covered by Article 13, depending on whether Member States are obliged to fully implement the existing quotation and parody exceptions provided in the InfoSoc Directive, and make them applicable to user-generated content, which is not evident from the text. Continue reading

To block or not to block? Commission’s vague “non-paper” does not meet our minimal standard

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Commission non-paper would support filtering
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This week, Politico.eu has shared a “non-paper” prepared by the European Commission on article 13, ahead of the next trilogue on 13 December. The Commission has been tasked during the recent trilogue meeting with proposing a compromise solution on the issue of “mitigation of liability in the absence of a license”, in face of diverging views between the European Parliament and the Council.

In general, any direction on this piece of regulation seems to be lost, with actors participating in the trialogue willing to treat the article like a puzzle, in which puzzles can be rearranged in any way possible – beyond the scope of any previously negotiated and legitimized mandate. The process once again proves to be obscure and lacking with regard to basic rules of participatory policymaking.

The Commission was given several guidelines. These include an assumption that platforms do communicate to the public and need to obtain licenses or that automatic blocking should be “avoided as much as possible”, but is also not forbidden.

Earlier this week, we published four principles, based on which we plan to evaluate the proposed language for article 13. We believe that any version of Article 13 that does not take these four principles into account will need to be rejected in the final vote taken by the European Parliament.

We decided to check the Commission’s proposal, included in the non-paper against our principles. This has been made difficult by the fact that what is proposed in the non-paper is in many ways vague. Once it becomes more substantial, we will be able to make a definitive judgement. But even now, lack of details on some issues – such as protection of content fitting copyright exceptions from overfiltering – is telling. Continue reading

The European Commission’s new proposal for re-use of public sector information: improving but some fixes still required

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PSI Directive proposal: some fixes still required
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Today, Communia sent feedback to the European Commission on its proposal to amend the Directive on the re-use of public sector information. This is the second time the Commission has proposed to update the legal framework for access to and re-use of Public Sector Information (PSI) since the Directive was adopted in 2003. The most important changes from the previous amendment (2013) was the introduction of a genuine right to re-use by making  all content that can be accessed under national access to documents laws reusable, and expanding the scope of the Directive to cover libraries, museums, and archives.

This time, the European Commission has proposed to make more research data available, extends the scope to public undertakings (including transportation data), and further limits the scenarios in which public entities may charge for data. This proposal was preceded by public consultations (see COMMUNIA’s response).

We support the proposal to amend Directive, but at the same time we want to draw attention to some issues where the proposal should be improved. Below are our recommendations.Continue reading

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

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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

Database Directive Study: Options for Neutralising the Sui Generis Right

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Finally a way out of the database rights maze?
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A few weeks ago the European Commission published a study on the ongoing evaluation of the Database Directive. The report was led by the Joint Institute for Innovation Policy, and contains an analysis of last year’s public consultation, as well as information from expert interviews and a stakeholders’ workshop.

The Commission’s evaluation study confirms some of our suspicions that the sui generis right is doing little to increase the production of databases in the EU. The report notes, “the effectiveness of the sui generis right, as a means to stimulate investment on databases, remains unproven and still highly contested” (p. ii). Perhaps not surprisingly, the report shows a split between the views of database producers and users. Whereas users argue that the confusion and overall ineffectiveness of the sui generis right means it should be repealed, some database makers take the opposite view, claiming that the sui generis right “is an effective means to protect databases which is often used alongside other means of protection, such as contractual terms, copyright and technological measures” (p. ii).

The evaluation of the Database Directive

To recap the issue, the study is about Directive 96/9/EC on the legal protection of databases (Database Directive). The Directive came into force on 27 March 1996. It attempted to harmonise the copyright rules that applied to original databases, and also created a new sui generis right to protect non-original databases on which major investments have been made by database makers.

Last year the Commission launched a public consultation on the application and impact of the Database Directive. Communia responded to the consultation, and published a policy paper with recommendations for the future of the Database Directive. We argued that even though the Directive has successfully harmonised the legal protection of databases with regard to copyright, there is no clear evidence that the sui generis right has improved the interests of businesses or improved EU competitiveness by increasing the production of databases. And the introduction of the sui generis right has increased the complexity and confusion for database producers as well as users.

Our recommendations included the following:

  • repeal the sui generis database right;
  • harmonize the limitations and exceptions provided in the Database Directive with the Infosoc Directive and make them mandatory;
  • if it is not possible to fully revoke the sui generis right, the Commission should amend the Database Directive to introduce a system whereby producers of databases must register to receive protection under the sui generis right; and
  • set a maximum term so that there cannot be perpetual extensions of database protection.

Continue reading