A Proposal to leverage Article 17 to build a public repository of Public Domain and openly licensed works.

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Today Open Future and Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte are publishing a white-paper, authored by Julia Reda (GFF) and Paul Keller (Open Future/COMMUNIA) that proposes to build a public repository of Public Domain and openly licensed works. While the idea of creating repositories of Public Domain and openly licensed works is not new as such, the white paper proposes to use Article 17 of the EU copyright directive as leverage to create such a repository. Aside from its very problematic blocking and liability provisions, which we have criticized since the EU copyright directive’s inception, Article 17 also requires certain providers of online content sharing platforms to ensure that the copyright filters that they deploy “shall not result in the prevention of the availability of works or other subject matter uploaded by users, which do not infringe copyright and related rights”. This provision was added later in the negotiations to address widespread criticism from civil society and academia.

As a result these platforms need to prevent uploads containing Public Domain or openly licensed works from being blocked or removed as a result of copyright claims from (alleged) rightholders or face sanctions. For example, the German implementation of Article 17 explicitly requires that “after an abusive blocking request in respect of works in the public domain or works whose use by anyone is authorised free of charge, service providers must ensure, to the best of their ability […], that these works are not blocked again”.

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10 years of COMMUNIA, a decade of copyright reform: how far did we get?

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Last week, on June 15, COMMUNIA celebrated its first 10 years. To mark the event, we decided to revisit the 14 policy recommendations that were issued at the moment of our foundation, and that have been the guiding principles for our advocacy work in the last decade.

We launched a new website, dedicated to reviewing the implementation of these policy recommendations. 10 years on, it is possible to see that half of our recommendations have been implemented – fully or partially -, and the other half remains unfulfilled. Most importantly, almost all of the recommendations are still relevant.

Where victory can be claimed: freeing digital reproductions of public domain works and giving access to orphan works

One of COMMUNIA’s main objectives since its foundation has been to promote and protect the digital public domain. Therefore, when the EU Parliament decided to follow our Recommendation #5 and proposed the introduction of a provision in the new Copyright Directive, preventing Member States from protecting non original reproductions of works of visual arts in the public domain with copyright or related rights, we were exhilarated. Article 14 not only reconfirms the principle that no one should be able to claim exclusive control over works that are in the public domain; it’s also the first EU piece of legislation to expressly refer to the concept of “public domain”.

Getting the “public domain” to enter the EU acquis lexicon was a major victory for user rights, but for sure more measures are needed to effectively protect the Public Domain. Our Recommendation #6, which called for sanctioning false or misleading attempts to misappropriate or claim exclusive rights over public domain material, has not been implemented and is more relevant than ever, particularly on online content sharing platforms. Here, a false ownership claim can easily lead to the false blocking of public domain material, as a result of the use of automated content recognition systems combined with the lack of public databases of ownership rights (that’s why the German legislator has recently adopted measures against this type of abuse, setting a new standard for the protection of the Public Domain).

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The public domain belongs to all and is often defended by no-one: we want to change that

l'Age d'Airain by Rodin. the Age of Bronze by Auguste Rodin 3D
Litigating for the right to our shared culture
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As we approach our 10th anniversary, new ideas as to what role we want COMMUNIA to play in the coming decade are starting to take form. After spending a decade trying to improve policy and legislative processes, we can very much see COMMUNIA embracing other tools of intervention to expand the public domain and strengthen access to knowledge and culture. One of such tools, alongside our advocacy work, is strategic litigation.

Judicial developments are much needed to provide further clarity as to the scope of users rights in Europe. There’s still legal uncertainty as to whether certain public interest activities are permitted under existing exceptions and limitations to copyright,  how users can assert their rights on online platforms, whether (and how) users can enforce their rights against contracts and technological measures, and what’s the status of the public domain. The implementation of the new Copyright Directive, particularly Article 17, will bring further interpretation challenges. 

Whether and how much Communia will be able to engage in strategic litigation in the next decade is still to be determined, but we decided to take the first steps in this realm, by supporting a court proceeding that is aimed at challenging an abusive practice that is eroding the public domain: that of claiming exclusive rights overs tridimensional digitizations of public domain artworks.

The case against Musée Rodin

In 2018, artist and open access activist Cosmo Wenman filed a freedom of information request with the Musée Rodin in Paris to access the 3D scans of Auguste Rodin’s sculptures (all of which are in the public domain). When the museum refused to comply, Mr. Wenman appealed to the French Commission on Access to Administrative Documents (CADA).

In response the CADA confirmed that these 3D scans in question are administrative documents and are subject to public disclosure, under freedom of information laws, and therefore the Musée Rodin is required to give public access to them. 

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The Italian transposition of the CDSM Directive: A missed opportunity?

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Italian implementation must include Article 14!
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On April 20, 2021, the Senate of the Italian Republic gave its final approval to the Law which authorises the transposition of the 2019 Copyright in the Digital Single Market (CDSM) Directive in the Italian Law. In this Guest Article Deborah De Angelis (Creative Commons Italy) and Federico Leva (Wikimedia Italy) recap the Italian process of transposition so far, outlining the next steps of the procedure and taking a closer look at the implementation of the public domain provisions (Article 14) of the Directive.

What has happened so far?

The freshly approved European Delegation Law is a legislative act that authorises and guides the Italian Government to transpose EU Directives and framework decisions into the Italian National Law. Such a Delegation Law must be proposed by the Government at the beginning of each year, with the approval of the European Delegation Law by both the Senate of the Republic and the Chamber of Deputies often taking a long time and occasionally exceeding a year.

Once the Delegation Law is approved, the Government can issue the related Legislative Decrees in order to change the existing laws and adapt them to the European rules. Since the approval of the delegation law and until the adoption of the Legislative Decrees, no change in law actually happens. Such Legislative Decrees are very quick to set into motion, as the Parliament has a few days only to object them; however, sometimes it happens that the Government waits a long time before issuing the Decrees, or it even neglects to issue any of them, forcing the  Parliament to reiterate the Delegation Law  a year later.

Between April 28, 2020 and June 8, 2020, various stakeholder organizations  were listened by the 14th Standing Committee (European Union Policies) during a series of informal hearings, and the related documents and proposals were published by the Senate.

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SCCR/40: COMMUNIA Statement on the Protection of Broadcasting Organizations

Parisiens en train d'etudier la question turque
No perpetual rights, no rights without exceptions!
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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 40th session of the Committee, which is taking place in a hybrid format of in-person and online participation from 16 to 20 November 2020.

The following is the statement made on behalf of Communia on the protection of broadcasting organizations (Agenda Item 5):

We understand that the draft of the Broadcasting Treaty gives broadcasters perpetual rights over public domain and freely licensed content, which is extremely problematic for users. 

Without this extra layer of rights, these works can be used without restriction, and this freedom should be maintained. 

In addition, we are concerned that the current proposal for exceptions only gives countries the option to extend already existing exceptions to broadcasting signals. Obviously, countries can choose not to exercise that option, and if they opt not to, the Treaty will be creating new obstacles to access to culture and information. 

Exceptions are essential to achieve a balance between the interests of the broadcasting organizations and the public interest. The vision that supra-national instruments should only mandate the introduction of new rights, without imposing adequate exceptions, is outdated and turns a blind eye to the fact that copyright can prevent the exercise of fundamental freedoms. 

It is about time for this Committee to align itself with the knowledge produced by its academics and by its courts, which have over and over again referred to the need for a balanced view of copyright.

The Treaty should include a broad provision like the one contained in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, which makes it mandatory for each Party to provide an appropriate balance in its copyright system, including by means of exceptions for legitimate purposes. In addition, it should have a minimum set of mandatory exceptions, namely for the uses already required by other copyright treaties.

Thank you.

The German Model to Protect User Rights when implementing Article 17

Rechtvaardigheid (Justitia)
Finding balance with exceptions, pre-flagging and abuse sanctioning
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Last week, Germany’s Ministry of Justice unveiled its proposal to implement Article 17 of the new Copyright Directive. In this post, we will look into the draft implementation in more detail, to understand how this proposal aims to protect user rights by:

  • 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 behaviour by platforms, rightholders and users.

Complying with the “best efforts” obligation to obtain authorization

Under Article 17, platforms are deemed to carry out a copyright-restricted act when they give public access to copyrighted content uploaded by their users and, as a consequence, they must make “best efforts” to obtain an authorization to perform such acts. That authorization can hypothetically be granted through various means:

  • directly by the copyright owners via individual licensing agreements (as mentioned in Article 17(1) second para.,) or
  • by collective management organizations via collective license agreements, or
  • by operation of law, if the national lawmakers decide e.g. to turn this exclusive right into an exception or limitation to copyright subject to compensation.

The implementation proposals that we have seen so far in other countries have limited themselves to the traditional individual licensing mechanism. This is of course problematic because individual licenses alone cannot cover the countless protected materials in existence and user rights will be at greater risk if the platforms have to block content at upload than if they obtain authorization to have that content uploaded to their platforms.

Germany had stated, when the Directive was approved, that it would explore further legal mechanisms (e.g. exceptions and limitations and collective licenses) to grant those permissions to platforms. The draft text now published delivers on those promises and introduces some welcoming innovation.

The proposed text starts by saying that the platforms need to make “alle Anstrengungen” (“every effort”) to acquire those rights by contract. The use of the wording “every effort” shall not, however, be interpreted as meaning anything else other than “best efforts”, according to the explanatory memorandum. In fact such obligation is considered to be fulfilled when the platform accepts a licensing offer made by a rightholder or when licenses are available through a domestic collective management organization (§4/1). Such contractual offers or collective licenses must apply to works typically uploaded to the platform, comprise a representative repertoire, cover the territory of Germany, and enable the use on appropriate conditions (§4/2).

A new de minimis exception that applies to the acts of platforms and noncommercial users

When, despite making the above-mentioned effort, the platform was not able to obtain an authorization, the draft text provides a fallback mechanism: it partially turns the new exclusive right into a remunerated exception, which covers minor uses of copyrighted content (§6 and §7/2). Continue reading

Implementing the new EU provision that protects the public domain

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Last week, we launched our Guidelines for the Implementation of the DSM Directive. This is part of a series of blogposts dedicated to the various provisions analysed in our guidelines. Today we give a quick explanation of the mandatory provision in the new Copyright Directive that ensures that faithful reproductions of public domain works of visual art cannot be subject to exclusive rights.

For a detailed analysis, please read Communia’s guide on Article 14, authored by Paul Keller, Teresa Nobre and Dimitar Dimitrov.Continue reading

Our Guidelines for the Implementation of the DSM Directive

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We are thrilled to release our Guidelines for Implementation of the DSM Directive.

These guidelines explain different provisions of the new Copyright Directive and make suggestions on what to advocate for during the implementation process of those provisions in the EU Member States. They are aimed at local advocates and national policy makers, and have the general objective of expanding and strengthening user rights at a national level beyond what is strictly prescribed by the new Directive. 

Communia partnered with LIBER (Articles 3 and 4), IFLA (Article 6) and Europeana (Articles 8 to 11) for the creation of these guidelines. The guidelines are part of a wider implementation project of COMMUNIA and its members Centrum Cyfrowe and Wikimedia, which includes a range of activities (including our transposition bootcamp) to make sure that local communities in as many Member States as possible participate in their national legislative processes.  

There is room for improvement in the DSM Directive

The two and a half years of public discussions of the new Copyright Directive were largely centred on a small number of problematic clauses (the press publishers right and the upload filters). However, the Directive also includes a number of provisions that improve the existing EU copyright rules (a number of new copyright exceptions and protections for the public domain).

While the national implementations will have to include all the problematic aspects of the new Copyright Directive, there is some room for meaningful improvements, and some measures can be taken to mitigate the worst provisions of the Directive. The EU Member States have until 7 June 2021 to implement the Directive into their national laws. 

Expanding and strengthening user rights

Our detailed proposals try to achieve the general objective of expanding and strengthening user rights by suggesting that, during the national implementation process, Member States make use of the following flexibilities: Continue reading

Implementing the Copyright Directive: Protecting the Public Domain with Article 14

The Doctor's Dream
Ending the appropriation of Public Domain works
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Article 14 – Works of visual art in the public domain – is one of the very few unambiguously good provisions of the new EU copyright directive. The article is intended to ensure that (digital) reproductions of public domain works cannot be protected by exclusive rights, and as a result, taken out of the public domain. This legislative intervention comes in response to the relatively widespread practice of museums in claiming exclusive rights of digital reproductions of public domain works that they have in their collections and which they make available to the public. In practice this has already led to Spanish Museums claiming copyright over paintings by Dutch masters who have been dead for 350 years, and German museums suing Wikipedia for hosting reproductions of public domain works as part of Wikimedia Commons

What is in the public domain in analogue form is [not always] in the public domain in digital form

While at first glance it seems counterintuitive that a museum should be able to control the rights for artworks of long dead artists, such claims do have a basis in existing law. In general, for a work to be protected under copyright it needs to show “the author’s own intellectual creation.” However, there is another category of copyright-like rights (also called “related rights”) that exist in a number of EU Member States. These related rights schemes grant exclusive rights to the creators of photographic works that do not meet the originality criterion necessary to receive copyright protection (See this 2015 study by Thomas Margoni for more details). Related rights arise even when a reproduction is nothing more than an exact photographic copy of a work. Where copyright protects original artworks, these related rights protect simple copies. 

As museums have started to make works in their collections available online, the practice of relying on related rights to restrict the re-use of non-original reproductions of public domain works has become controversial. Both the Public Domain Manifesto and the Europeana Public Domain Charter demanded that what is in the public domain in analogue form must stay in the public domain in digital form (as does our own policy recommendation #5). While the overall majority of museums have always acted in the spirit of expanding the public domain, and have made reproductions of public domain works available without any restrictions on re-use, a small number of museums from Member States that allow the protection of non-original reproductions of public domain works continue to claim rights over such reproductions. 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