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
Back in January of this year, we noted how both the Netherlands and France (at that point the only Member States that had presented proposals to implement Article 17) had proposed selective implementations of Article 17 that ignored crucial user rights safeguards. A lot has happened since January, but yesterday both Member States took further steps in their national implementations. And this time the two Member States are moving in opposite directions:
While the Dutch government has reacted to criticism from civil society and members of Parliament by fixing some of the most obvious shortcomings of its implementation law, the 2nd chamber of the French Parliament has adopted a law that gives the French government the power to implement Article 17 (and the rest of the provisions of the DSM directive) however it sees fit.
Netherlands: a course correction
Back in July of 2019, the Netherlands were the first country to propose an implementation law of the DSM directive. Somewhat surprisingly (the Netherlands had been one of the most vocal opponents of Article 17 in the Council) the proposed implementation law did not make any efforts to protect user rights and omitted most of the user rights safeguards contained in the final version of Article 17. After the proposal was sent to Parliament in June this year, together with Bits of Freedom and others we pointed out these shortcomings to the members of the legal affairs committee. Yesterday, in response to questions from members of the legal affairs committee, the government conceded that its original implementation proposal was incomplete and added the missing user rights safeguards to the proposal for an implementation law. Continue reading
Yesterday Politico published the response submitted by the French Government to the Commission’s stakeholder consultation on the article 17 implementation guidance. For anyone who has followed the French position in the debate about Article 17, the response (see here for an english language “courtesy translation”) will not be very surprising. The French reaction rejects the majority of what the Commission is proposing and questions and accuses the Commission of reversing the progress that (according to the French government) has been made with the adoption of Article 17 in early 2019. This position is largely aligned with the grievances expressed by a coalition of rightholders organisations in their recent letter to Commissioner Breton and it is consistent with the way France is implementing Article 17 in its national law (next week the Assemblée nationale will vote on a law that will authorise the French Government to implement the provisions of the DSM directive by decree).
Unfortunately, it is also based on a flawed understanding of the issue at hand. Since the French authorities note in their reaction that they “will carefully consider stakeholders’ responses and are open to continued discussions so that future guidance may play their concrete technical role with regards to the correct application of article 17”, it is necessary to clear up some of the misunderstandings here.
Misrepresenting Article 17
The constant references, on the side of rightholders and from the French government, to the “original objective”, “goal” or “spirit” of the directive try to mask the fact that the actual text of the directive is not as clear-cut as rightsholders and the French government would like it to be. The fact is that, in between its introduction (as Article 13) in 2016 and its adoption (as Article 17) in 2019, the provisions dealing with the “Use of protected content by online content-sharing service providers” have undergone substantial changes.
What was proposed as a relatively simple intervention to strengthen the position of rightholders vis-à-vis content sharing platforms by changing the liability position of said platforms, has – following intense criticism from academia, civil society and internet users – been transformed into a convoluted legal regime that serves a number of conflicting objectives. Article 17 now includes strong language that establishes new user rights and provides meaningful safeguards for preserving these rights. These additions to the article were essential in securing its adoption by the EU legislator. As a result, in the final version of the article, the original objective of strengthening the position of rightholders is just one of a number of objectives.
By now it seems clear that in their fierce determination to get the new copyright directive adopted, many of the supporters of the original proposal have failed to notice that the final legislative compromise had morphed into an article that is fundamentally different from what was originally proposed. In supporting the final compromise of Article 17, rightholders and the French government have in fact supported provisions that go against their long established positions. Continue reading
Last month, we held the first edition of our Copyright Directive Webinars, aimed at explaining the different provisions of the new Copyright Directive and making suggestions on what to advocate for during the implementation process of those provisions at a national level, to expand and strengthen user rights. We’ve now released the presentations and video recordings of the webinars.
As you know, many countries are now speeding up with the process of implementation of the Directive – you can find below a short summary of what’s going on.
EU implementation – country updates from last weeks
Germany’s Ministry of Justice unveiled its proposal to implement Article 17 of the new Copyright Directive. The discussion draft sets an example for the other Member States on how to make the user rights safeguards in Article 17 operative, and we strongly suggest that you look into the detailed analysis that we published in our blog. This is what is being proposed, in sum:
- Making it easier for platforms to comply with the “best efforts” obligation to obtain authorization to publish their users’ uploads;
- Introducing a new exception covering minor uses of copyrighted content, which works as a fallback mechanism in the absence of authorization;
- Allowing users to override blocking/removal actions, by pre-flagging lawful uses;
- Allowing lawful content to stay up until human review and pausing the liability of platforms until a decision has been made;
- Sanctioning abusive behavior by platforms, rightholders, and users.
We have organized a webinar on this topic, which you can watch here.
Former MEP Julia Reda has published a two-part comment on this on the Kluwer Copyright Blog, including a discussion of the strengths and fragilities of this proposal, which is the first one to actually attempt to avoid over-blocking of content. (Part 1, Part 2)
At the beginning of July we heard that the French Government would try to pass the implementation of Article 17 via an administrative decree as part of a law that implements various EU directives (Ddadue law), to speed up its adoption (and sidestepping substantial discussion in Parliament). On July 8th the first reading of the Ddadue law took place in the French Senate, and the proposed amendment to grant the Government the power to implement the provisions of the Copyright Directive by way of ordonnance (Amendment 23) was unanimously supported (in the adopted text article 24bs is the one authorizing the French Government to implement the Copyright Directive). The executive orders to transpose Articles 2 to 6 and 17 to 23 of the Copyright Directive will have to be issued within six months of the adoption of the law, and the executive orders for the remaining provision have to be issued within 12 months. The National Assembly still needs to approve the Ddadue law. The law was forwarded to the Assemblee Nationale for adoption. Continue reading
As of January 2020 there are two Member States that have published legislative proposals for the implementation of Article 17 CDSM. In July the Netherlands published a proposal for an implementation law for public consultation that implemented all provisions of the CDSM directive. Then, in early December, France published the proposal for a project for a law on audiovisual communication and cultural sovereignty in the digital era that implements some of the CDSM directive provisions, including Article 17 (see a first analysis of the French proposal by Julia Reda here).
These first implementation proposals are coming from a main proponent of Article 17 (France) and one of the most vocal opponents (Netherlands), and allow us to get a first impression of how Member States across the EU are likely going to deal with this controversial article. Irrespective of the different positions by France and the Netherlands during the directive negotiations, the implementation proposed by both Member States do not diverge much from each other.
Both the laws stay very close to the text of the directive: The French implementation largely follows the order of the different sections of the directive via two nearly identical articles, one dealing with copyright (L137) and the other dealing with related rights (L219). The Dutch implementation law follows its own structure and introduces 3 articles (29c, 29d and 29e) that deal with copyright and one article (19b) that declares these articles to also apply to neighbouring rights.
The general approach chosen by both legislators is to transpose the text of Article 17 (paragraphs 1-6 and 8 and the definition of online content-sharing service providers (OCSSP) from article 2(6)) as closely as possible into their national law.
Neither of the legislators transposes paragraph 17(7) (that introduces crucial safeguards protecting uses under exceptions and limitations) and both only transpose parts of paragraph 17(9) (that imposes an obligation on OCSSPs to operate a complaint and redress mechanisms for users in the event of disputes over the takedown and staydown procedures). None of the legislators provide any further guidance on how platforms are supposed to meet the requirement to make “best efforts to obtain authorisation” from rightholders. Continue reading
Lately we have written so much about ourselves, human rights organisations, academics (1|2) and member states (1|2) criticising the upload filters proposed in article 13 of the proposed DSM directive that one could almost forget that there are indeed powerful forces who are pushing for these filters to become a reality.
A new set of documents leaked by Statewatch presents an (un)welcome reminder of of the fact that the idea of upload filters has powerful supporters outside of the music industry and that they wield considerable influence on the discussions in the council. The set of documents consists of a document containing “amendments to recitals 37, 38, 39 and Article 13” proposed by the French, Spanish and Portuguese delegations (dating from 2 october) and a document by the Estonian Council Presidency containing the questions raised to the Member States during 17-18 October meeting of the Council Working Party on Intellectual Property, which echoes the tone set by the amendments proposed by the three member states.
The amendments proposed by France, Spain and Portugal offer the clearest view yet on what the proponents of article 13 want to achieve. In their eyes article 13 is not about vague and ill defined “measures to ensure the functioning of agreements concluded” between rightsholders and online platforms but about creating a complete change of the legal status of open online platforms. The amendments proposed make an attempt to (a) re-define the activities of online platforms as communication to the public undertaken by those platforms and to (b) remove online platforms that allow uploads by their users from the protections afforded to them by the e-commerce directive.
Legal uncertainty exists as regards the conditions under which the provision of access by information society service providers allowing users to upload content can be considered as an act of communication to the public. This affects rightholders’ possibilities to determine whether, and under which conditions, their works and other subject-matter are used as well as their possibilities to get an appropriate remuneration for it. The present directive clarifies the conditions under which such information society service providers can be considered to perform an act of communication to the public and therefore do not fall in the scope of Article 14 of the Directive 2000/31/EC. (recital 37, additions by FR/ES/PT in bold)
While the proposed Copyright in the Digital Single Market directive is seen by most stakeholders as an attempt to adapt the copyright rules to the evolving realities of the digital economy, the French (and their Portuguese and Spanish supporters) are clearly of the opinion that it should be the other way around: according to them the realities of the digital world must be adapted to the principles of copyright orthodoxy (i.e to a legal constructs established in the late 19th century). Continue reading
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
Now that most of the committees have published their draft opinions on the Commission’s Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, it’s time to hear their members presenting their initial views. JURI hosted a meeting on 22 March where MEPs voiced a range of opinions on various aspects of the copyright reform proposal. The divide between the MEPs seems to run deeper than mere disagreements on definitions; instead, they underscore a fundamental schism in the MEPs’ understanding of the world we live in.
Some MEPs reacted to the copyright reform proposal using a 20th century ordering of the world, where mass-scale creative industries emerged and eventually were consolidated. For MEPS such as Jean-Marie Cavada (ALDE, France) or Angelika Niebler (EPP, Germany) the world has not changed all that much in terms of where important stuff happens. Cavada and Niebler think publishers and other rightsholders produce all the real value, while the internet and new sharing technologies is like a portable TV that that main purpose of is to constantly rip them off.
Seeing the world like that, it’s no wonder that they mostly approve of the European Commission’s original proposal, and oppose reforms that champion users’ rights, which for the most part they see as legitimizing tech-enabled theft. There is no coincidence that many of those creative industry backers are from France and Germany, countries that built their considerable entertainment industries well before the digital era.
Last week we saw another Advocate General (AG) opinion published that deals with the position of cultural heritage institutions within the EU copyright framework. Hot on the heels of AG Szpunar’s opinion on e-lending, AG Wathelet weighed in on the question of whether the French system for making out-of-print books available online is aligned with the EU copyright directive. His opinion in the case C‑301/15 Soulier en Doke is that the French scheme, which assigns the digital reproduction and performance rights for out-of-print books to a collecting society that then licenses them, is incompatible with the InfoSoc directive. Such an opinion effectively undermines the idea that Extended Collective Licensing (ECL) can serve as a solution for the copyright problems created by mass digitisation of cultural heritage collections.
This opinion comes at a crucial time when the EU Commission is finalising its copyright reform proposal, which is scheduled to be published in September. As part of this proposal the Commission has promised to propose measures that will “make it easier to digitise out-of-commerce works and make them available”. While the Commission has so far been silent on the mechanism that it would propose to achieve this goal, it is generally understood that there are two different approaches on the table:
The Death of Extended Collective Licensing?
While AG Wathelet’s opinion only concerns the specific question referred to the CJEU by the French court, it has much wider-ranging consequences. Should the CJEU rule in agreement with the opinion (note that a decision is not expected until after the September publication of the Commission’s proposal), then Extended Collective Licensing is effectively dead as a solution for the copyright problems created by mass digitisation. In this sense, this opinion supports the position expressed by cultural heritage institutions that the only real solution for their issues is an update of the relevant exceptions in the InfoSoc directive. Continue reading
With the Best Case Scenarios for Copyright series we have proved that copyright has a brighter side for users. For satire and critique, in teaching, research and journalism, even while preserving memories of beautiful spaces – copyright exceptions help artists, audiences, students, and tourists alike benefit from access to culture and education.
What is important, the copyright exceptions do not break creative markets and don’t put creators out of business. On the contrary – which poet wouldn’t want her poems to be translated in class? Which architect wouldn’t want his building to become a landmark everybody recognizes? Such a massive spread of cultural tropes is possible through the exceptions we have presented: freedom of panorama in Portugal, parody in France, education in Estonia and quotation in Finland.
So what are the mechanisms and tricks that make exceptions great? Any copyright exception needs to balance legitimate interests of both the users and the rights holders. When that balance is achieved we can have more than 4 best case scenarios for copyright.
We have identified 6 magic ingredients that make copyright exceptions and limitations great. Here is how to mix them to #fixcopyright: