Member States adopt negotiation position, side with rightsholders in attack on user rights

Caïn venant de tuer son frère Abel, by Henry Vidal
Will Parliament step up to defend user rights?
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Last Friday the Committee of Permanent representatives of the Council (COREPER) agreed on a negotiating mandate for the proposed Copyright in the Digital Single Market directive. The agreed upon text does not substantially differ from the latest compromise proposals that we have discussed here before. Unfortunately that means that the Member States have agreed on text that fails to address the biggest shortcomings of the Commission’s proposal and in a number of cases actually makes it worse.

The result is a version of the Commission’s proposal that is even more out of balance than the original. The rights-holder lobby has managed to capture the Member States to advance their agenda to the detriment of the interests of internet users in the EU and in complete disregard of the original intention to further harmonise the fragmented EU copyright rules:

  • Over the past one and a half years the Member States, driven by a mediterranean maximalist coalition (France, Italy, Spain and Portugal) have doubled down on the Commission’s highly problematic proposal to impose upload filters for open internet platforms. As we have explained here, the version of Article 13 adopted by the Member States would create a new parallel liability regime that puts the creative expression of platform users at the mercy of a censorship machine run by platform operators in collusion with rightsholders.
  • Driven by the same mediterranean maximalist coalition the Member States have insisted on a narrow, innovation-hostile exception for Text and Data Mining. This approach flies in the face of the EU wide ambition to become an important player in the area of machine learning and artificial intelligence. At the insistence of more forward-looking Member States the Council text also includes an optional exception that allows TDM for a wider set of purposes and beneficiaries, but this comes at the cost of further splintering user rights in the EU.
  • Under intense pressure from Germany the Member States have maintained the introduction of a new ancillary copyright for press publishers against a near-universal academic consensus that such a right will endanger the freedom of information without benefitting press publishers. In a small improvement of the Commission’s proposal the new right would now last for a maximum of 2 years and would not apply retroactively.

There are a few areas where the Member States are proposing improvements to the Commission’s proposal (such as a more streamlined process that would allow cultural heritage institutions to make out-of-commerce works available online, and a new, albeit optional, paragraph providing a legal basis for extended collective licensing) but in general the Member States have missed the opportunity to fix the Commission’s flawed original proposal. Continue reading

Evidence from Spain shows that new rights for publishers become a racketeer tax

chokehold on aggregators
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Coincidence has written a postscript to our yesterday’s post Good news! Quality journalism doesn’t need the snippet levy. A recent tariff on how much linking will be charged for revealed by the Spanish Reproduction Rights Centre (CEDRO) shows that publishers’ appetites are great and likely to ruin online access to content we need and like.

CEDRO decided that per each active user per day it wants to charge a daily rate of € 0,05044854. We can endlessly discuss if this arbitrary rate is a lot or not much per user-day. But this is where the economy of scale of 5 cents is pivotal – Menéame, a Spanish aggregator has an average of 139 thousand unique users accessing their site per day. So 5 cents scales up to a quite substantial 7+ thousand euro per day and that to an astronomic 2,56 million euro per year.

The problem is that this is 20 times as much as Menéame’s annual turnover (125 thousand euro). In short, a piece of legislation aimed at Google chokeholds smaller enterprises while reinforcing the giant’s dominant position.

What is perhaps worse, we have landed in this mess based on false assumptions: whatever affects the traffic to news content (could it be the decreasing quality of the news and proliferation of meaningless clickbait? Hmmm…) it is not the aggregators. As research shows they in fact assist users in optimizing their attention economy and in result sustain the traffic.

Based on these false assumptions the publishers want to racket sums that have nothing to do with the economic situation or the scale of operations of the aggregators in a strive to compensate an imaginary loss by ripping off those who in fact help news readership. By doing so the rightsholders resemble thugs that raid a bar and extort payments only because the bar is in their neighborhood.

Say no to the racketeer tax in EU!

Now, thanks to the European Commission’s copyright directive proposal we are facing the danger of that mess spilling all over Europe. If you feel you’d like to do something about this, write an email to Members of the European Parliament from your country to kick off article 11 from the copyright directive proposal. There is still time to stop this nonsense.

As the European Parliament starts discussing copyright proposal, rightsholders point out they want even worse © rules

Johan de Witt 's nachts op straat aangevallen
Copyright reform: the right to link under attack
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Earlier this week the JURI committee of the EP held the first hearing on the proposed Copyright in the Digital Single Market directive. This hearing officially kicks off the process through which the European Parliament will develop its position on the Commission’s proposal. The parliamentary process is shepherded by MEP Therese Comodini Cachia (EPP, Malta). According to a preliminary timeline published by her, the process will be completed before next year’s summer break.

Wednesday’s hearing (recording) focussed on one of the most controversial issues of proposed Directive, the measures for filtering and blocking user uploaded content contained in article 13. These are supposed to address a so-called “value gap” caused by online platforms that allow users to share content online. The Commission has bought into the rightsholders narrative, although evidence why these measures are necessary is still lacking.

The wrong answer to online creativity: privatised censorship and filtering

As our friends at EDRi have pointed out in painstaking detail, such an obligation to monitor and filter is at odds with other EU laws and with jurisprudence from the Court of Justice of the EU, and would negatively impact the freedom of expression online. Continue reading

CJEU ruling on hyperlinking shows publishers hypocrisy

By now you will have heard about yesterday’s terrible decision by the Court of Justice of the EU on hyperlinking. In its decision the court conceded that under certain circumstances the mere act of hyperlinking to a work that has been published elsewhere – without the consent of the rightsholder – constitutes a copyright infringement. Even without a detailed analysis of the ruling (which others have done here and here) it is clear that this is a very dangerous ruling as it steps away from previous situation that made a clear distinction between the acts of publishing protected works without consent of the rightsholder (copyright infringement) and the act of linking to such works (not copyright infringement). Yesterday’s CEJU introduces a lot of legal uncertainty for anyone who uses links online, and goes directly against a common sense understanding of how the internet works.

This will be welcome news to rightsholders who have been aggressively pushing for such a limitation to the freedom to link in the past as evidenced by amendments to the Reda report. While the EU parliament ultimately rejected these attempts the Court of Justice has partially granted them through the back door via yesterday’s decision.

As Julia Reda has already pointed out the decision is especially worrying in the context that publishers have also aggressively lobbying for the introduction of additional rights. We have repeatedly pointed out that this must be seen as another effort to gain more control over what users can or cannot do online by attacking the freedom to link.

It shows a remarkable amount of hypocrisy that the European Publisher Council refuses allegations that a new publishers right would affect linking…

“Nothing we are asking for would affect the way that our readers access publishers’ content, or share links on social media or via apps and email to friends and family”

…while one of their members has just gotten the highest court of the EU to declare that linking can in fact be illegal. Two weeks before the Commission is expected to propose an ancillary copyright for publishers, yesterday’s CJEU ruling provides us with another piece of evidence that such a right will be used by publishers as another piece in their strategy to limit who information can be accessed and shared online.

Open Letter on the Commission’s flawed Online Platform Consultation

A woman shouting into a man's ear-trumpet. Wood engraving.
Consulting without listening?
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Last week we have pointed out our concerns about a number of copyright related questions buried deep inside the EU commission’s ongoing consultation on the ‘Regulatory environment for platforms, online intermediaries, data and cloud computing and the collaborative economy‘. Our main points were that the consultation does not adequately address the effects of regulatory measures aimed at platforms on EU citizens and that the consultation is designed in such a way that it discourages end users from participating.

Today we have relayed these concerns in letters to First Vice President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans (who is in charge of the better regulation agenda) and Members of the European Parliament. These letters are supported by 29 organisations representing civil society, news publishers, consumers and the digital industry share their concerns regarding the European Commission’s approach in consulting on copyright matters. The letter makes it clear that we are not the only ones who consider the online platforms consultation to be flawed:

The Commission’s “Online Platforms consultation” includes some questions on copyright, which had not previously been the subject of consultation. However, critical questions dealing with the creation of new, controversial copyrights for publishers are only open to right holders to answer, denying European citizens and relevant stakeholders the right to be heard. Further, the Commission is set to adopt a Communication on Copyright on 9th December, which covers these issues, before the end of the consultation and a proper analysis of the contributions received. Continue reading

European Parliament adopts Reda report, fails to demand real copyright reform

Yesterday the European Parliament approved MEP Julia Reda’s evaluation report of the copyright directive. With the report the European Parliament gives a clear signal that the European Copyright rules need to be modernised. This puts the ball in the court of the Commission, which needs to come up with concrete legislative proposals for a copyright reform – which it promised to deliver before the end of the year. Both Commissioners Oettinger and Ansip have reacted positively to the Report, while its author, Pirate Party MEP has expressed the hope that the Commission’s proposal will be more ambitious than the EPs report, which has been watered down considerably through a large number of amendments.

So while the report is a clear signal that MEPs want to see a modernisation of the EU copyright rules that date back to 2001, it is much less clear what shape these modernised rules should take. Most of the report is based on compromises that MEP Reda has brokered between all major political groups represented in the EP. As a result, the report does not outline a clear plan for reforming copyright. Still, it is possible to distill from it a number of things that MEPs clearly both want and don’t want to see in the reform proposal. It is also clear that pressure from civil society – related to such issues as Freedom of of Panorama, hyperlinking or ancillary copyright, helped avert worst amendments to the report.

MEPs do not want to see further limitations of user rights.

Attempts have  been made to include language that would limit the rights of end users. Fortunately all of these attempts failed. The majority of MEPs is clearly unwilling to further limit the ability of citizens and other users to interact with copyright protected material. Continue reading

Don’t mess with the right to link: Savethelink.org

(Hyper)links are the fundamental building blocks of the web, but the practice of linking has come under attack over the last few years. If copyright holders are able to censor or control links to legitimate content, it could disrupt the free flow of information online and hurt access to crucial news and resources on the web.

While many internet users may take for granted that no one requires permission or is forced to pay a fee to link to another place online. But this isn’t the case everywhere. Copyrighted content holders (including news organizations, media, and entertainment sites) around the world are working to remove the right to free and open linking, and the threat is more present than you may think.

Today a coalition of over 50 organizations (including COMMUNIA) from 21 countries are launching Savethelink.org. The campaign aims to raise awareness about the issue and prompt action to urge decision makers to protect the practice of free and open linking online.

StL banner _800

COMMUNIA representative Lisette Kalshoven, Kennisland Advisor on copyright, heritage and open education, said, “Europe is in danger of limiting access to culture and knowledge by undermining the right to link.”Continue reading

Reda report: the 10 worst and the 5 best amendments

In January MEP Julia Reda presented a draft report on the implementation of Directive 2001/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 May 2001 on the harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and related rights in the information society (a.k.a the Copyright Directive). This draft report has proven to be hugely controversial and as a result 556 amendments (1,2) have been tabled in the Legal Affairs committee (JURI) alone. A helpful overview of the full parliamentary process can be found over at edri.org.

communia_worst_amendments

While the JURI committee is trying to arrive at compromise amendments ahead of the vote on 6 May we thought that it would be useful to highlight the best and worst amendments that have been tabled in reaction to the report. The main criteria for identifying the best/worst amendments are our 2011 policy recommendations and our recent position paper on the on the review of the EU copyright laws. As the vast majority of the amendments are attempting to reverse the positions expressed in Reda’s draft report, the 15 amendments highlighted below can only offer a glimpse of what is at stake. So while we are recommending to vote against the 10 worst amendments listed below, this is by no means a complete voting list as there are many others which are just as bad (and some that are slightly better).

The ten worst amendments…

#1 We don’t care for the Public Domain

AMs 252-257 Constance Le Grip, József Szájer (2x), Angel Dzhambazki, Sajjad Karim, Axel Voss, Therese Comodini Cachia, Eva Paunova, Pavel Svoboda, Marc Joulaud, Giovanni Toti, Luis de Grandes Pascual, Rosa Estaràs Ferragut, Sabine Verheyen
6. Calls on the Commission to safeguard public domain works, which are by definition not subject to copyright protection and should therefore be able to be used and re-used without technical or contractual barriers; also calls on the Commission to recognise the freedom of rightholders to voluntarily relinquish their rights and dedicate their works to the public domain;
delete

Easily the worst amendment (or rather set of amendments, since there are multiple identical versions of this one) is AM 252 that proposes to delete Paragraph 6 of the draft report.This paragraph calls on the Commission to safeguard the Public Domain and to recognise the freedom of rights holders to voluntarily relinquish their rights and dedicate works to the Public Domain. At least the first part of the original paragraph should be something that every participant in the discussion about the future of the EU copyright rules can agree with, unless there are really people who want to ensure that all culture and information is privately owned. Continue reading