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This week MEP Julia Reda shared an unpublished report of a study examining the effects of copyright infringement on sales of creative works.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

Anatomische les van professor Paaw
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

Updated position paper: Article 13 remains a terrible idea and needs to be deleted

Zeeslag voor Gibraltar
Article 13 is an attack on the open internet
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Today we are publishing an updated version of our position paper on Article 13 of the European Commission’s proposal for a directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. Since we have published our original position paper in January of this year, Article 13 has generated an enormous amount of discussion and has emerged as the most contested part of the Commission’s proposal. The discussions within the parliament and among the Member States are still ongoing and so far there is no clear indication where these talks will end.

In the updated policy paper we re-iterate our concerns (a few of them have recently been taken up by a group of Member States in a set of questions to the legal services of the Council), analyse proposals for amending the Commission’s proposal that have been adopted in the European Parliament, and provide a set of recommendations. Our key recommendation remains to delete article 13 from the proposal as it addresses a problem that lacks empirical evidence confirming its existence. Article 13, as drafted by the Commission, would limit the freedom of expression of online users and create legal uncertainty that has the potential to undermine the entire EU online economy. As such it is unworthy of being included in a Directive proposal that is intended to modernize the aging EU copyright framework.

Read the updated position paper below. If you are familiar with the issues at hand and/or the previous version you may want to jump straight to the updated part.

Position paper: EU copyright should protect users’ rights and prevent content filtering

Article 13 of the European Commission’s proposal for a Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market attempts to address the alleged disparity in revenues generated by rightsholders and platforms from online uses of protected content (the so called “value gap”). The proposed article attempts to do this by introducing an obligation for “Information society service providers that store and provide to the public access to large amounts of works” to filter user uploads. It would also require these providers to set up licensing agreements with rightsholders.

These proposed measures are highly problematic as they violate fundamental rights of users, contradict the rules established by the E-Commerce Directive, and go against CJEU case law. The measures proposed in the Commission’s proposal stem from an unbalanced vision of copyright as an issue between rightsholders and infringers. The proposal chooses to ignore limitations and exceptions to copyright, fundamental freedoms, and existing users’ practices. In addition, the proposal fails to establish clear rules with regard to how citizens can use protected works in transformative ways—such as remixes and other forms of so-called “user-generated content” (UGC). As a result, a system of this kind would greatly restrict the way Europeans create, share, and communicate online. Continue reading

EU Council: divided on more rights for press publishers, but backs censorship filters

Karikatuur van Franse censoren
A step towards mandatory upload filters
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Summer is definitely over in Brussels and in member states – everyone seems to be back to work, which means in our case back to the copyright discussion. Yesterday Statewatch published a first compromise proposal by the Estonian Presidency. The document refers only to parts of the Commission’s draft directive, namely Articles 1, 2, and 10 to 16. From the very beginning we have been involved in the discussions on ancillary copyright for press publishers (Art. 11) and the upload filter (Art. 13). On both of these issues the Estonian proposal contains two different approaches, each a fact which further highlights how divisive these provisions are among the member states on article 11. One of the versions somewhat improves the Commission’s proposal while the other one makes it much worse. On article 13 both versions would make the Commission’s already terrible proposal even worse.

Ancillary copyright for press publishers – to be or not to be?

On the issue of new rights for press publishers the Estonian compromise proposal does not really present a compromise. The two versions mark different sides of the spectrum. On the one hand a version that would enact a massive expansion of the rights of publishers that goes well beyond the Commission’s proposal that dealt with rights in digital uses of press publication only. On the other hand, we have a version that does not create new rights while still giving publishers tools to act against infringement.

The first option (which can probably be attributed to France) expands the original bad European Commission’s proposal if it comes to the scope of the ancillary copyright from digital publications to publications published in any media, including on paper (in the proposal the article would also apply to videos and photos). What is even worse, hyperlinking is explicitly included in the scope, as long as such links constitute a communication to the public (in the absence of clear guidance this would open a whole new can of worms). This version would be a clear win for big publishers, and a major restraint for free flaw of information online. Continue reading

EU research committee wants to gift publishers new rights to restrict access to scientific research

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Publishers attack open access publishing
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Last week the Culture and Education Committee (CULT) and the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) voted on their final opinions on the Commission’s Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. As our friends at EDRi have highlighted, both committees voted for measures that would make the Commission’s already bad proposal even worse. The ITRE and CULT (not published yet) opinions are particularly bad regarding the question of new rights for publishers.

The introduction of a new right for press publishers (aka the “link tax”) to extract fees from search engines for incorporating short snippets of – or even linking to – their content in article 11 is one of the most controversial issues of the proposed directive. Adopting this type of ancillary right at the EU level would have a strong negative impact on all stakeholders, including publishers, authors, journalists, researchers, online service providers, and readers.

We know that previous experiments with ancillary copyright in Spain and Germany have failed, a fact that was already known to the Commission because it is acknowledged in its impact assessment leading up to the release of the original proposal. We’ve argued that a new right for press publishers would undermine the intention of authors who wish to share without additional strings attached, especially creators that use Creative Commons licenses to share their works. We urged that the provision be removed from the directive.

In recent months there seemed to be an increasing focus on neutralizing this contentious provision. MEPs such as IMCO Rapporteur Catherine Stihler and former Legal Affairs Committee Rapporteur Therese Comodini had gathered support for deleting the press publishers right. Despite of this, last month the new right was retained in the opinion of the IMCO Committee. The opinion removes the clause of the Commission’s proposal which would retroactively apply the publishers right to anything published in the last twenty years. Continue reading

Five easy ways for CULT MEPs to help fix EU copyright

Parlement van vogels
Vote to #FixCopyright
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Tomorrow the Members of the Culture and Education Committee of the European Parliament (CULT) will vote on their position on the proposal on Copyright in the Digital Single Market directive. This will be the second vote in the European parliament after last month’s vote in the IMCO committee. While the CULT committee is nominally responsible for Culture and Education it seems rather likely that tomorrow’s vote will result in an one sided opinion that would  support the key elements of the flawed directive, making them worse in many areas. Below is a quick rundown of what is on the table during tomorrow’s vote. We have listed  voting recommendations for CULT MEPs interested in enacting real copyright reform that will foster Europe’s cultural and educational sectors:

Expand the scope of the text and data mining exception

We have argued many times that Text and Data mining should not be covered by copyright at all. A TDM exception such as the one proposed by the Commission would then be unnecessary. Any TDM exceptions enacted in spite of this would need to be as broad as possible both in terms of beneficiaries and in terms of purpose. Unfortunately the compromise amendment on the issue does nothing to broaden the scope of the proposed exception and merely reaffirms the Commission’s backwards looking proposal. MEPs should reject the compromise amendment and vote for AMs 337, 356, 360, 362 and 364 Instead.

Broaden the education exception to fit the needs of education in the 21st century

On the proposed education exception the Culture and Education committee seems intent to abandon the needs of 21st century educators. Instead of improving the Commission’s half-baked proposal, the compromise amendment reaffirms or worsens the most problematic elements of the proposal: Continue reading

What educators need from copyright reform

Marietje Schaake and Lisette Kalshoven
Sharing the voice of the practicioner
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Last Wednesday, June 21st, COMMUNIA organised an event in the European Parliament, hosted by MEP Marietje Schaake (ALDE) on copyright reform for education. We wanted to share one important voice often overlooked in the copyright reform, that of the educator. What is the type of copyright exception that we need to support 21st century education? We heard from practitioners, experts and policymakers during the event.

After an introduction by Marietje Schaake and moderator Lisette Kalshoven, we officially presented the results of the RIGHTCOPYRIGHT campaign to MEP Schaake. As Alek Tarkowski noted:

“In the copyright reform debate, we tend to see copyright as a core issue. For educators, copyright is a tool – or a barrier – to attaining educational goals. We should not forget this.”

Over 4800 people have supported the petition for a better copyright reform for education to date, and we hope MEP’s will listen to their demands.

What we can’t let educators share

Next we heard from Hans deFour, founder of KlasCement a very successful online educational resources platform in Belgium. More than 70.000 educators from Flanders are members, which means almost 50% of educators in primary, secondary and special education. Continue reading

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

Vrouw schrijft een brief in een interieur
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

Romanian Parliament to European Commission: Copyright reform does more harm than good

The parliament of birds
Entire © reform proposal should be rejected
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While the European Parliament is in the middle of its discussions about the European Commission’s proposal for a Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, similar discussions are taking place in a number of Member State parliaments. The results of these conversations will influence the position that Member States take in the discussions in the Council.

A particularly interesting discussion has been unfolding over the past month in the Romanian Parliament, where on the 15th of March the IT&C Committee of the Chamber of Deputies organized a debate on the proposed directive, in order to collect the views of different stakeholders. After the event, the IT&C Committee produced an opinion addressed to the European Affairs Committee of the Chamber of Deputies, which is the group responsible for drafting the final report of the Parliament on the package proposal. The members of the IT&C Committee unanimously voted against the European Commission’s proposal and advised to withdraw it in its entirety.

While this is not a heavyweight vote and as such not likely to be taken over as the Romanian Government’s position, it represents the first entirely negative advice issued by national policy makers in a Member State. It is therefore interesting to take a closer look at the arguments for rejection. Continue reading