Academic statement on safeguarding user freedoms in implementing Article 17

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51 academics say: if in doubt - don't filter
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Yesterday 51 leading European copyright scholars published a statement on “Safeguarding User Freedoms in Implementing Article 17 of the Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive“. The statement is intended as input into the ongoing stakeholder dialogue. It focuses on the interplay between user rights and the filtering obligations established by Article 17. From the Kluwer Copyright blog:

Against this backdrop, a group of European academics (including the author of this post) has drafted a document with recommendations on user freedoms and safeguards included in Article 17 of the DSM Directive – namely in its paragraphs (7) and (9), to be read in the context of the aforementioned stakeholder dialogues. The recommendations are divided into three sections: on promoting licensing and limiting preventive measures; on exceptions and limitations in Article 17 (user freedoms); and on minimizing the risks of broad filtering and over-blocking (user safeguards). Despite the controversial nature of the topic, the recommendation has already been endorsed by around 50 European academics in this area, which is a testament to its balanced approach. Our intention is that these recommendations and interpretative guidelines are taken into consideration by the Commission, stakeholders, and Member States in their discussions on national implementations of Article 17 DSM Directive.

Based on a close reading of paragraphs 17(7) and 17(9), the academics show that Article 17 requires online platforms (OCSSPs in the language of the directive) to prioritise protecting users rights over blocking content. This statement provides strong support for our positions in the stakeholder dialogueContinue 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

The Transposition Bootcamp – we continue working towards better copyright

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We’re happy to have you on board
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Few months have already passed since The Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market was adopted in April this year. We did our best to use this time wisely to evaluate risks and opportunities for users’ rights and public domain created in the new legal framework and one thing is certain for us – we need a strong access to knowledge movement engagement also during transpositions in all member states – there is still a lot to be done.

Alongside with our members (Wikimedia, Creative Commons and Centrum Cyfrowe Foundation) we want to make sure that local communities in as many countries as possible participate in the national legislative process and provide input on how to shape national rules to ensure user rights and access to knowledge are strengthened, not weakened.  

In order to build capacity we have organized a Transportation Bootcamp – an opportunity for activists to meet, share experiences, learn about the challenges related to transposition, think about arguments and tactics. For this 35 people from various communities (Wikimedia, Creative Commons, digital rights activists and GLAM experts) gathered in Warsaw, from October 11 to 13, to share and learn. 

At the Bootcamp we explained the (soon to be published) suite of documents with implementation guidelines prepared by a group of legal experts. We  also invited experts and policy makers that have been active on this reform over the past years to provide insight to activists. We started planning national activities with communities. We got to know each other. And we realized (once again) how many question marks these directive leave for national legislators to decide – and how much is still to be done. 

The Member States have until 7 June 2021 to transpose the Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive into their national laws. This once-in-a-decade change in copyright rules is a reason we have decided to work with activists in Member States on their national transposition (publishing position papers, organising events, contacting lawmakers, coalition building, etc.). If you feel like participating in this process in order to support access to knowledge, feel free to contact us: transposition@communia-association.org – we’re happy to have you on board with our project! 

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

The Netherlands leads way with implementation of the new educational exception

Dutch Ship
Simple implementation, without the license override mechanism
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Just one month after the new Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive went into force, the Dutch government has shared their proposal for its implementation, through an amendment of their existing copyright law. The proposal is currently in a public consultation phase.

We would like to provide here an overview of the Dutch proposal to implement locally the new EU educational exception (article 5 in the final version of the Directive). This is the beginning of our effort to track how countries across Europe will implement, over the coming two years, this mandatory exception to copyright for educational purposes.

We are in particular interested in three issues that have been our concern during the legislative debate on this exception:

  • Are Member States introducing the controversial article 5(2), through which they have the option to make the exception no longer applicable and available to educational establishments if “suitable licenses are easily available on the market (what we call the issue of “license priority”);
  • What is the scope of the exception:
    • How are educational institutions and staff defined?
    • Will the educational community be able to rely on email, cloud services and other password-protected environments, or will these not be considered “secured electronic environments” under the exception?
    • Will Member States define a priori the extent to which a work can be used, leading to different quantity limits in different countries, or will they let practice and courts (relying on the three-step test) define what is balanced in a given situation?

Choices made on these issues will determine, how broadly – or narrowly – can the exception be depended on. Taken together, they will also create either a harmonized or fragmented legal landscape for teachers and learners across the Union.

  • Are Member States changing remuneration rules for educational uses? Currently, 17 Member States do not remunerate most or all of the used permitted under their existing education exceptions – will this change with the new exception?

The Dutch proposal is a simple amendment that adds two paragraphs to the existing educational exception (article 16 of the Dutch Copyright Law). In relation to our issues of particular concern, we note that the Dutch government:

  • decided not to use the article 5(2) backdoor to hack the new educational exception and make it partially or fully not applicable in the Netherlands, which we applaud (because we believe – along with the CJUE – that users should have the right to benefit from the copyright exceptions that were created for their benefit at all times, and not only when there are no market options for them to get a license for those minimum uses that are protected by the exception);
  • could do more to provide as broad a scope for the exception as possible, within the boundaries set by the Directive;
  • has proposed not to change its approach to remuneration – use of content under the exception requires fair compensation (art. 16.1.5°).

Additionally, the proposal includes an explicit provision against contractual override (art. 16.6), which implements another important element of the new EU educational exception.

We will be working with our Dutch partners in the consultation phase, both to provide feedback on the government’s proposal, and to monitor other responses to the proposal. The consultations are open until 2 September 2019.

SCCR/38: Communia General Statement on Exceptions and Limitations

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Minimum access and use rights should be defined by public rules
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In our capacity of permanent observers of the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR), we are attending the 38th session of the Committee, which is taking place in Geneva from 1 to 5 April 2019.

The following is the general statement made today by Teresa Nobre on Limitations and Exceptions (Agenda Items 7 and 8):

I’m speaking on behalf of COMMUNIA, an international association that works to protect and strengthen the public domain and users’ rights.

We believe that there is a minimum set of access and use rights that should be defined by public rules, since they are justified by public interests. If copyright laws do not grant to the education and research communities, the cultural heritage institutions, and the persons with disabilities the same level of protection that is granted to rightsholders, and defer to private agreements the regulation of all uses of copyrighted materials, they perpetuate an unbalanced power structure and let rightsholders weaken or undermine what should be a public policy decision.

Private agreements are important in any market, but they should coexist with – and not replace – exceptions. Agreements are not appropriate to harmonize the legal framework for uses of copyrighted works, because the terms and conditions of licenses vary widely, and they are not available for every material in every country. There are countless copyrighted works in existence and the large majority of creators is not interested in licensing their works (only a small class of professional creators is offering their works for licensing). Thus, it is impossible to offer meaningful solutions to users through private agreements only.

In order to have a minimum set of rules that are applied uniformly by every Member State and have a cross-border effect we need an international law.

The ongoing reform in the European Union should be enough for this forum to understand that agreeing on minimum standards is possible, while still taking into account local specificities.

Thank you.

Continue reading

The education exception was gutted during the Trilogues

A dragon devouring the companions of Cadmus
Article 4: attacked through the recitals
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When the European Commission proposed to grant the same minimum rights for digital educational activities in every EU Member State, we applauded the initiative. The proposal had flaws, but there was room for public discussion at the European Parliament, which could have led to an improvement of the proposal. Unfortunately, the improvements introduced by the Parliament were gutted during the trilogue debates, which were conducted behind closed doors.

Let’s recall the improvements introduced by the Parliament: (i) on the issue of licensing, where the EC proposed to allow the exception to be switched off if unilateral licensing offers were made available to schools, the EP suggested to give priority only to bilateral licensing agreements that the schools had agreed on; (ii) on the issue of beneficiaries, where the EC proposed to cover only the activities run by formal educational establishments, the EP suggested to include museums and other cultural heritage institutions as beneficiaries of the exception; (iii) on the issue of contractual overrides, where the EC had done nothing to protect the exception against contracts, the EP proposed to prevent contractual overrides of the education exception, and (iv) on the issue of technologies, where the EC proposed to make the exception function only on the school’s closed networks, the EP attempted to cover more means of communication by replacing the word “networks” with “environments”.

Unfortunately, the European Council did not engage in the same type of public discussions with regard to new European law proposals and, maybe because of that, it’s version of Article 4 did not include similar improvements. What is worse: it made the prospects of having an improved and harmonized landscape for educational activities in Europe even less likely.

For several months, the Commission, the Council and the Parliament discussed, behind closed doors, the fate of the new Directive, and as far as we are aware there was little interest in discussing the education exception because there were other pressing issues that required their attention. As a result, the positive amendments contained in the Parliament version were not retained in the Trilogues.

Below, we explain three negative changes made to the text of the educational exception in this final phase of the legislative process. Changes made without public consultation, transparency or due review of evidence. These include denying teachers the right to benefit from the exception when there are licenses available in the market for them to buy; excluding the educational programs run by museums and libraries from the scope of the exception; and allowing Member States to fragment the exception, by defining different proportions to which a work can be used.Continue reading

A “compromise” that fails to deliver – our overall assessment of the directive remains negative

Overall DSM directive assessment: bad for the peopleLicentie

On Wednesday the Council formally approved the trilogue compromise text of the DSM directive with only 5 Member States voting against the compromise. In a joint statement the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Finland, Italy and Poland sharply criticised the compromise:

We believe that the Directive in its current form is a step back for the Digital Single Market rather than a step forward.

Most notably we regret that the Directive does not strike the right balance between the protection of right holders and the interests of EU citizens and companies. It therefore risks to hinder innovation rather than promote it and to have a negative impact the competitiveness of the European Digital Single Market.

Furthermore, we feel that the Directive lacks legal clarity, will lead to legal uncertainty for many stakeholders concerned and may encroach upon EU citizens’ rights.

These criticisms are very much in line with our own assessment of the directive and it is unfortunate that the rest of the Member States have chosen to ignore them. After this week’s approval by the Member States it is now up to the European Parliament to prevent the directive (or its most harmful element, Article 13) from being passed into law. There is no date for the final plenary vote yet, but the final showdown is widely expected to take place anytime between mid-March and mid-April.

Internet is should be for the people

In the light of this we have now updated our overall analysis of the directive (which we had first published in January) to reflect the final compromise text. The final trilogue negotiations have resulted in changes to the text related to the Text and Data mining exception, the publishers right, the fair remuneration right and — most notably — Article 13. By and large the changes to the text have been minor and in line with our expectations, and as a result our overall assessment of the directive as a whole remains negative. The finals text will do a lot of harm to internet users and needs to be blocked from becoming law. Continue reading

2019 will be a busy year for user rights’ advocates at WIPO

Public interest advocates at WIPO SCCR/38, Geneva, November 2018
We are ready for another year, fighting the good fight!
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In the age of connectivity, it is not enough to fight for better copyright laws for users in certain regions of the world. We need to advocate for baseline international standards that allow cross-border uses of copyrighted materials, for purposes such as access to knowledge and education, in each and every country of the world. That is why public interest advocates, Communia included, keep investing their energies in the international discussions on copyright exceptions, using their capacities of permanent observers of the WIPO’s Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR).

The SCCR has a mandate to discuss, among other things, limitations and exceptions to copyright for libraries, museums, archives, persons with disabilities, and for educational and research activities. In June 2018, the Committee adopted Action Plans on Limitations and Exceptions, which include a series of events dedicated to analyze the situation of libraries, archives, museums, education and research, and to identify “areas for action with respect to the limitations and exceptions regime”. If planned correctly, with the main purpose to assess the needs of the potential beneficiaries of the exceptions, these events could advance the international agenda on copyright exceptions.

2019: regional seminars on copyright exceptions  

In order to fulfil the Action Plan on L&E, and in addition to the two bi-annual meetings (Geneva, 1-5 April and 21-25 October), the SCCR will host in 2019 a) three regional seminars on limitations and exceptions in Asia-Pacific (Singapore, 29-30 April, to be announced), Africa (Kenya, 12-13 June, TBA) and Latin-America (Dominican Republic, 4-5 July, TBA); and b) an international conference on exceptions and limitations (Geneva, 17-18 October). Continue reading

Ahead of last trilogue: on balance the directive is bad for users and creators in Europe

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Today we are launching a new minisite called “Internet is for the people” that provides an overall assessment of the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. Our assessment takes into consideration all the key parts of the Directive.

Our aim, with this project, is to present how the Directive  will either empower or hurt users and creators in the digital age. The rules that regulate creativity and sharing must be fair and take into account contemporary online activities and digital practices. Essentially, the internet needs to be for the people, and key legislation needs to be based on this principle.

In order to do this, we analysed nine different issues that are included (or have not been included) in the proposal for the Directive: Upload Filters, the Press Publishers Right, Text and Data mining, access to Cultural Heritage, Education, the protection of the Public Domain, a Right to Remix, Freedom of Panorama and Fair Remuneration for Authors and Performers. Each issue was then scored, allowing us to provide an overall score of the Directive based on an understanding of all elements of the proposal.

Too often, the Directive is reduced just to a few controversial issues: content filtering or a new right for publishers. These are clearly crucial issues, but it is important to understand that the Directive includes other rules that can also have massive effects on Europe’s research and science, education, cultural, or AI industry–just to name a few.

We decided to analyse the Directive through a particular lens: of the potential to either empower or hurt users and creators in the digital age. We are critical of views that the Directive simply attempts to regulate business relationships between two sectors, and that therefore the policy debate should be left to them. The Directive will have tremendous impact on all European citizens, who depend in all aspects of their lives on communication systems and digital tools that copyright law regulates.

The internet needs to be for the people. This means that core policies, like copyright law, need to be “for the people” by design. As our analysis shows, the final proposal for the Directive will likely be a legislative mixed bag. A range of positive developments concerning exceptions and limitations – rules that grant people the freedoms to use content for personal needs or public interest goals – are offered alongside other regulatory proposals that will have extremely adverse effects across all spheres of European society.

On Monday policy makers will have one more chance to fix some of the shortcomings of the proposed directive. Based on the current state of affairs it seems extremely unlikely that this will fundamentally alter the our negative overall assessment of the directive: Seen as a whole, the proposed Directive is bad, and will not make the internet work for European citizens.