DSM Directive implementation update: With one month to go it is clear that the Commission has failed to deliver

wreck
Italian implementation threatens to set a new low
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Today it is exactly one month until the 7th of June, the day on which the EU member states have to have implemented the provisions of the 2019 copyright in the digital single market directive in their national laws. And while the 27 Member States have had more than 2 years to complete their national implementations so far only two of them have managed to fully implement the directive: the Netherlands adopted its implementation law in December of last year and on the 28th of April the Hungarian parliament adopted its implementation law

In addition there are two Member States who have adopted so-called delegation laws that allow them to implement the provisions of the directive via subsequent administrative decrees. France adopted its delegation law in December 2019 and on the 20th of April Italy followed suit and adopted its delegation law. While the French implementation decree (which will include the actual provisions to be included in the copyright act) is still nowhere to be seen, the Italian Comitato Consultivo Permanente per il Diritto D’Autore is discussing a draft version of the Italian Implementation decree (pdf in Italian) today. 

Based on what is contained in the draft the Italian implementation is shaping up to be the worst one yet. The draft fails to implement exceptions that are mandatory under the directive (the fallback exception for out of commerce works in Article 8(2) CDSM), it claims that users can rely on a non-existing parody exception and it also claims (in the text of the law itself) that automated content recognition systems (a.k.a upload filters) can “ascertain clear violations” of copyright (something that literally everyone including the French government agrees that they can’t).

Otherwise, there has been relatively little recent movement in the EU Member States. The German implementation draft is still making its way through parliament. It is now in the final stages of deliberation and the the final vote is expected to take place on the 20th of May. Meanwhile most other Member States seem to be stuck in a holding pattern after having completed public consultations of their draft implementation legislation, shying away from introducing legislation into their parliaments.

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Open letter on Article 17: Is the Commission about to abandon its commitment to protect fundamental rights?

Rinaldo Abandons Armida
Has the CJEU just called the Commissions bluff?
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Civil society groups have placed a lot of hope in the European Commission to limit the dangers to fundamental rights caused by upload filters through the Commission’s Article 17 guidance, which is supposed to help member states implement Article 17 of the DSM directive in a fundamental rights-preserving manner. But with less than two months to go before the implementation deadline, the guidance is still nowhere to be seen. In an open letter published today, twenty user rights organisations are therefore calling on the Commission not to undermine elements of the guidance that would protect users’ fundamental rights by limiting the use of automated upload filters to manifestly infringing content.

Late last week, the CJEU unexpectedly postponed the Advocate General opinion in the Polish case challenging the fundamental rights compliance of Article 17 of the DSM directive by almost three months. Knowing that the upcoming Commission guidance was discussed extensively at the CJEU hearing on the Polish case in November, the postponement could very well mean that the Advocate General wants to see the document before issuing an opinion.

While the Commission has been hinting at the imminent release of the guidance for a few months now, the timing indicates that the Commission precisely wanted to avoid giving the Advocate General time to study the guidance. This does not bode well for the fundamental rights safeguards the Commission is planning to present. Signals are mounting that the delays are the result of intense behind-the-scenes political wrangling aimed at undermining the user rights safeguards to be included in the guidance. 

That’s why, together with 20 other users’ rights organisations who have participated in the EU stakeholder dialogue on the implementation of Article 17, we have sent an open letter to the Commission, raising our concerns about the handling of the final phase of this process. The letter urges the Commission “not to weaken its guidance through open ended exception clauses that seem to benefit particular rightsholders at the expense of users’ fundamental rights” and stresses that “strong ex-ante fundamental rights protections are necessary to meet the obligation of result to protect users’ fundamental rights.” 

The letter further highlights the fact that, by issuing guidance that substantially diverges from the position taken before the CJEU, the Commission would indicate that it is ultimately lacking the political will to ensure that the required fundamental rights protections will be included in national implementations of the directive.

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German government draft on Article 17: Two steps forward, one step back

Rechtvaardigheid (Justitia)
maintaining the balance?
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At the beginning of February, the German Government (the “Bundeskabinett”) adopted the proposal for the implementation of the copyright directive, which opens the path for discussions in Parliament. While the proposal that has been adopted earlier this month has undergone significant changes since the first versions emerged in January 2020 (the provisions dealing the the new neighbouring rights for press publishers and most of the exceptions) and in June 2020 (the provisions dealing with Article 17, Out-of-Commerce Works and the protection of the Public Domain), it still remains one of the most ambitious implementation efforts that we have seen so far.

This post will take a closer look at the provisions implementing Article 17 of the Directive into German law. As we had noted in our analysis of the original discussion draft from June last year, the German legislator is proposing to implement these provisions into a new act that is separate from the copyright act: the “Act on the Copyright Liability of Online Sharing Content Service Providers”. By now the proposal for this act has undergone two public revisions. After the first discussion draft in June, the Ministry of Justice published a revised draft (“Referentenentwurf“) in October of last year. This revised version maintained the core user rights safeguards underpinning the original proposal (a new remunerated exception for minor use and the ability for uploaders to flag uploads as legitimate) while making a few changes to the way the pre-flagging mechanism works

A step back for user rights

Just as the original discussion draft, the Referentenentwurf drew massive criticism from rightsholders that was primarily directed at the user rights safeguards contained in the proposal. Unfortunately the Ministry of Justice has now caved in to some of these demands and as a result  the user rights safeguards have been further cut back in the final proposal adopted by the government (“Regierungsentwurf“).

The most substantial change in the Regierungsentwurf concerns the legal mechanism for ensuring that user rights are protected in line with the requirements of paragraph 17(7). The original proposal relied on a new exception that legalised minor uses of copyrighted works (any use consisting of less than 20 seconds of audio or video, 1000 characters of text or images smaller than 250Kb) and would have prevented platforms from blocking such uses. 

In the updated proposal this exception is gone and has been replaced by a more limited construction of “uses presumably authorised by law” which cannot be blocked automatically. For a use to be “presumably authorised by law” it needs to fulfil the following cumulative criteria:

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France once more fails to demonstrate support for its interpretation of Article 17

Paye qui Tombe
Ex-post redress is still not good enough
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Last week the French Ministry of Culture held a virtual event to present the second report on content recognition tools on digital sharing platforms commissioned by the Conseil Supérieur de la Propriété Littéraire et Artistique (High Council for literary and artistic property – CSPLA). The new CSPLA report, authored by Jean-Philippe Mochon (who had also authored the previous report on content recognition tools), focuses on “proposals for the implementation of Article 17 of the EU copyright directive”. The report consists of three parts: 

The first part contains a “review of existing best practices” of the use of content recognition tools. Here, the authors argue that such tools “must be given their rightful place in the implementation of Article 17 of the Directive”. The second part of the report focuses on the “balance between the fundamental rights set out in Article 17”. The third and concluding part of the report contains a number of recommendations for implementing Article 17 in France (and beyond). 

The central argument that is woven throughout the CSPLA report is that automated content recognition technologies already play an important role in managing copyright on digital sharing platforms, that Article 17 provides for sufficient fundamental rights protection through the complaint and redress mechanism alone, and that temporary restrictions on freedom of expression are considered acceptable to achieve the goal of stronger protection of intellectual property rights. A more detailed critique of some of the core arguments contained in the middle part can be found in this post on the Kluwer Copyright Blog

To mark the occasion of the publication of the CSPLA report, the French permanent representation in Brussels hosted a (virtual) event that was clearly intended to demonstrate additional support for the French position in the discussion about the implementation of Article 17. 

For the presentation of the report the organizers had invited the authors of the report and three external speakers, representing the European co-legislators: MEP Axel Voss (the European Parliament’s rapporteur for the DSM directive), Marco Giorello (the head of the Copyright Unit of the European Commission) and Ricardo Castanheira (representing the Portugese Council Presidency). If the organizers of the event had hoped that these speakers would express support for the French position in the Article 17 implementation discussion, then they must have been quite disappointed: None of the three respondents came forward with unqualified support for French interpretation of Article 17. As expected, Marco Giorello made it clear once more that the Commission does not agree with the French position that there is no need for ex-ante user rights safeguards in national implementations of Article 17:

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DSM Directive implementation update: more proposals to protect users’ rights

Gennaro
Five months to go ...
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The implementation deadline for the Copyright in the Digital Single Market is a mere five months ahead of us. On the 7th of June, the EU Member States are expected to have implemented the 2019 update of the EU copyright rules. With less than half a year to go, it is looking increasingly unlikely that more than a small handful of Member States will manage to implement the new provisions by the deadline. In this post, we are taking stock of the implementation process focussing on what has changed since our update from a month ago

While the past month included the holiday break, there have still been some significant developments. This included the first member state to have completed the implementation process (the Netherlands) and the first Member state to throw in the towel and officially announce that the implementation process will only be concluded after the implementation deadline (Denmark). But before we look at these developments in more detail, let’s first have a look at the discussions surrounding the implementation of Article 17.

There has been no further progress on the Commission’s Article 17 implementation guidance. Originally expected to be presented in the second half of 2020, there is no sign of them yet. So far the Commission has not even managed to publish the responses to the consultation that was concluded in September 2020.

More Member States commit to protecting users’ rights.

With no clear timeline for the Commission guidelines, more and more Member States have given up waiting and are presenting their implementation ideas for Article 17. In early December the Austrian Ministry of Justice circulated a first proposal for implementing Article 17 among stakeholders for feedback (see our joint response with epicenter.works and SaveTheInternet Austria here). This proposal takes up a number of key elements of the previous German proposals (direct remuneration right for creators, the ability to pre-flag uploads as legitimate, a threshold that protects minor uses from automated blocking, and the ability for users’ organizations to act against structural overblocking) and fits them into a more traditional approach: Where the German legislator proposes to implement the Article 17 provisions in a separate law, the Austrian proposal would integrate the provisions into the body of the existing copyright act. 

In Germany, the discussion about the implementation proposal is still ongoing: Seemingly in response to pressure from the rightsholders and platforms (channeled via other ministries controlled by the CDU) the Ministry of Justice has retracted one of the most controversial elements of its implementation proposal: A new leaked version of the proposal (dated 22 November) is missing the controversial “de minimis” exception that would have legalized uses of works shorter than 20 seconds of audio or video or 1000 characters of text. However, the same thresholds are now part of a new mechanism that protects “presumably legitimate uses” as long as they do not exceed 50% of an original work and combine the matched work with other material. While much weaker than a standalone exception, this mechanism would still ensure that many forms of user-uploaded creative expression could not be automatically blocked. 

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Finnish Article 17 implementation proposal prohibits the use of automated upload filters

Putti spelen op een wip
No upload filters after all?
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On Monday, the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture held a public hearing on the implementation of Article 17 of the Copyright Directive. As part of this meeting, the Ministry outlined its proposal for a user rights-preserving “blocking procedure” that substantially deviates from all other implementation proposals that we have seen so far. 

The procedure presents a radical departure from the approach that is underpinning other user rights-preserving implementation proposals (such as the Austrian and German proposals) and the Commission’s proposed (and much delayed) Article 17 implementation guidance. Instead of limiting the use of automated filters to a subset of uploads where there is a high likelihood that the use is infringing, the Finnish proposal does away with automated blocking of user uploads entirely, but not with automated detection of potential infringements. 

The Finnish proposal relies on mandatory use of content recognition technology by platforms and the rapid notification of rightsholders of uploads that match works for which rightsholders have provided them with reference information. However, platforms are only required to disable access to uploaded content after rightsholders have provided them with a properly justified request to block a particular upload:

While this approach bans automated filtering of user uploads, it still heavily relies on automated content recognition technology. The proposed “blocking procedure” requires that all platforms covered by Article 17 would need to have technology in place that can match uploads to reference information provided by rightsholders so that rightsholders can be directly notified when matching content is uploaded. Notifications sent to rightsholders also include the justifications that uploaders have provided at the time of upload as to why they consider a use of third-party content to be legitimate. 

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Austrian Article 17 proposal: The high road towards implementation?

Berglandschap met mensen op een weg
Reconciling the internal contradictions of Art. 17
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So far there we have seen two different approaches to implementing Article 17 into national copyright legislation. On the one hand, we have countries like France, the Netherlands, or Croatia who have presented implementation proposals that stick as closely as possible to the language and the structure of Article 17 while implementing its provisions within the structure of their existing copyright acts. In doing so these implementations essentially kick the can down the road with regards to figuring out how the conflicting requirements to filter (17(4)) and requirements to ensure that legal uploads are not filtered out (17(7)) can be reconciled. In the end, none of these implementation proposals offer a convincing mechanism for ensuring that creators get remunerated and that users’ rights are not violated.

On the other hand, we have the German approach that proposes to implement Article 17 via a separate “copyright-service-provider law” (“Urgeberrechts Diensteanbieter Gesetz”) that substantially departs from the language in an attempt to capture the structure and effet utile of the directive.

The German implementation proposal focuses on using the room for legislative discretion left by the directive to give practical meaning to the abstract requirements to protect user rights contained in the directive. It also adds measures aimed at ensuring that individual creators directly benefit from the new rules. As a result, the German implementation proposal is much closer to the legislative compromise struck by Article 17 than any of the more literal implementation proposals that have emerged so far.

Over the past few months, the German implementation proposal has come under intense pressure from exclusive rightsholders and some platforms who argue that the proposed approach does not adequately reflect the provisions of Article 17. Besides, rightsholders have also claimed that it violates national and international copyright law in multiple ways. A central argument of the opponents of the German implementation proposal is the claim that it strays too far from the text of the directive.

Given this background, it is interesting to see the first Austrian implementation proposal (that was circulated to stakeholders for feedback earlier this week) take a middle road between the two existing approaches. The Austrian implementation proposal does integrate the provisions from Article 17 directly into the text of the existing Austrian copyright act, thus deviating from the structure of Article 17, but mostly stays very close to the text of the directive. At the same time, it takes up key elements first introduced in the German approach: The non-waivable direct remuneration right for authors and performers, the protection of minor uses from automated filters, the ability for users to flag uploads as legitimate, and the ability for users’ organizations to act against platforms that engage in structural over-blocking. The result is a proposal that (similar to the German one) focuses on strengthening the position of creators and users, instead of leaving it up to platforms and large corporate rightsholders to set their own rules.

The Austrian proposal in more detail.

So let’s look at the Austrian proposal in more detail: Similar to the German proposal it introduces a direct remuneration right for authors and performers that will ensure that independent of existing contractual arrangements with publishers and other intermediaries, creators will be remunerated for the use of their works on platforms. As in the German proposal, this direct remuneration right can only be exercised via collective management organizations, which means that it will primarily benefit creators in sectors with existing collective management structures. In the German discussion this direct remuneration right has been strongly criticized by both platforms, who would prefer not to pay for obvious reasons) and by intermediary rightsholders, who prefer to control how much (or rather little) of their licensing revenue should go to the actual creators. Given that the need to make sure that creators benefit from the use of their works on platforms was the main argument for getting Article 17 in the first place, the fact that rightsholders are now trying to undermine the proposed direct remuneration right is more than a little bit hypocritical. Continue reading

DSM Directive implementation update: six months to go and no end in sight

December
MS still tying to make sense out of Art 17
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According to Article 26 of the Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive, Member States have until the 7th of June 2021 to implement the provisions of the Directive into their national laws. This leaves member states exactly 6 months to implement the directive and so it is time to take stock of the implementation status in various Member States. 

So far not a single EU Member State has fully implemented the provisions of the Directive and only two Member States have implemented parts of it (In 2019 France implemented the new press publishers’ right and in June of this year Hungary implemented the exception for online educational use). In most of the EU Member States implementing legislation still needs to be introduced into parliament. In the meantime, the European Commission is still working on the implementation guidance for Article 17 that it is required to publish, and the Polish government’s request to annul parts of Article 17 is still under deliberation in the Court of Justice of the European Union (the Advocate General will publish its opinion on the 22nd of April 2021 less than two months before the end of the implementation deadline). All in all it looks increasingly unlikely that most Member States will implement the Directive in time. So let’s take a more detailed look at where the implementation process stands in key Member States. 

Commission’s Guidance

The European Commission closed its targeted consultation on the implementation guidance in September and is currently working on a final version of its guidance that is not expected to be adopted before early next year. The Commission has made it clear that it does not expect key elements of the guidance to substantially change from its earlier draft, which is designed to limit the use of automated filters and requires that user uploads remain available while they are under dispute It seems that the Commission is unwilling to bow to the considerable pressure from some Member States and from rightholders to change key elements of the draft guidance. Continue reading

CJEU hearing in the Polish challenge to Article 17: Not even the supporters of the provision agree on how it should work

Echtpaar bij de dorpsrechtbank van Puiterveen
Will the CJEU strike down Article 17?
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On Tuesday, November 10, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) heard case C-401/19. This case is a request by the Polish government to annul the filtering obligation contained in Article 17 of the Copyright in the Digital Single Market (DSM) Directive on the grounds that it will lead to censorship and will limit the freedom of expression and the freedom to receive and impart information guaranteed in Article 13 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (Charter).

The defendants in this case are the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. In addition, the European Commission and the governments of France and Spain intervened in the case on the side of the defendants. Advocate General Saugmandsgaard Øe was also present at the hearing.

Even for astute followers of the discussions around the implementation of Article 17, the hearing contained a number of surprises. While several Member States have been soldiering on with their national implementation proposals with little regard for the fundamental rights implications of Article 17, the hearing showed that the Court is taking Poland’s complaint very seriously and that the compliance of the contested provisions of Article 17 with the Charter is far from evident. Frequent reference was made during the hearing to the recent opinion of Advocate General Saugmandsgaard Øe in the YouTube and Cyando cases, which is highly critical of extensive obligations on platforms to police the copyright infringements of their users.

On the face of it, the case is about Poland’s request to annul Articles 17(4)(b) and (c) of the DSM directive. Poland argued its case, which essentially rests on the observation that while not explicitly mandating them, Article 17(4)(b) and (c) effectively require platforms to implement upload filters because there are no other effective means to comply with the obligations contained therein. Poland argues that this will lead to censorship and will limit the freedom of information of the users of online platforms.

According to Poland, the key problem with the directive is the move away from active participation of rightholders (as initiators of removal requests in the context of notice and takedown procedures) and instead handing the responsibility of removing infringing uploads over to platforms who will have to develop private enforcement systems to avoid liability for copyright infringement. Because they are not facing any comparable risk when they limit user rights by blocking access to legal content, this creates strong incentives for over-blocking. This in turn will result in censorship and violation of the fundamental rights to freedom of expression and information under the Charter. Consequently, the problematic parts of Article 17 should be annulled by the Court.

All other parties intervening in the case objected to this line of argument and stated that in their view Article 17 does not violate any fundamental rights. However, they presented strikingly contradictory interpretations of what Article 17 actually requires of platforms. There are two distinct lines of argument: The Commission, the Council and the European Parliament argued that that Article 17 contains enough internal safeguards to prevent users’ fundamental rights from being unduly limited. On the other hand, France and Spain argued that some limitations of fundamental freedoms are justified by the objective that Article 17 seeks to achieve. Continue reading

Taming the upload filters: Pre-flagging vs. match and flag

Raderboot
How to limit the damage filters can do
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One of the most important elements of any implementation of Article 17 will be how platforms can reconcile the use of automated content filtering with the requirement not to prevent the availability of legitimate uploads. While most implementation proposals that we have seen so far are silent on this crucial question, both the German discussion proposal and the Commission’s consultation proposal contain specific mechanisms that are intended to ensure that automated content filters do not block legitimate uploads, and that uploads are subject to human review if they are not obviously/likely infringing. 

In order to achieve this objective, the German discussion draft published in June relies on the idea of “pre-flagging”: users would be allowed to flag uploads containing third party works as legitimate. Platforms would then be prevented from automatically blocking pre-flagged uploads unless they determine that the flag is incorrect because the upload is “obviously infringing”. 

By contrast, the Commission’s implementation guidance consultation proposes a “match-and-flag” mechanism: if upload filters detect the presence of a third party work in an upload and the use is not deemed to be “likely infringing”, then the uploader is notified and given the ability to state that the use is legitimate. If the user flags the upload as legitimate, the platform will have to initiate a human review of the upload, which remains available from the moment of upload until the review has been concluded. This type of mechanism was first suggested by a group of copyright academics in October of last year. It is also at the core of the proposal that we had presented during the last meeting of the stakeholder dialogue.

Both approaches provide a mechanism that limits the application of fully automated upload filters (while implicitly acknowledging the fact that many platforms will deploy upload filters). In the Commission’s proposal, filters are limited to making a pre-selection (“is the upload likely infringing?”); in the German proposal, they can only operate on unflagged content and to filter out “obviously incorrect” pre-flags.

Convergence on “match-and-flag”?

Both approaches have been criticised by rightholders, who claim that they undermine the “original objective of the directive” without providing alternative proposals on how automated filtering can be reconciled with the requirement not to block legitimate uploads. In addition, the German discussion proposal has also been criticised by platforms such as Google and Facebook. The platforms are arguing that giving users the ability to pre-flag every single upload would be impractical and would likely lead to substantial numbers of unnecessary (where the content in question is already licensed) or unjustified (users making excessive use of the pre-flagging tool) pre-flags, which would make such a system impractical to operate at scale. Continue reading