Germany to Commission: Article 13 endangers the competitiveness of European enterprises

A woman shouting into a man's ear-trumpet. Wood engraving.
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

Member States to Commission: We don’t trust your claims that censorship filters are in line with EU law

A woman shouting into a man's ear-trumpet. Wood engraving.
Are upload filters even legal?
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Hot on the heels of last week’s leak of a (rather depressing) Estonian council compromise proposal that contained two bad proposals for the upload filter comes another leak of a council document. Apparently not all EU Member States are convinced that the Commission’s plans to require online platforms to filter all user uploads is such a good idea! Statewatch has just published a document containing written questions from the governments of Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Ireland and the Netherlands to the council legal service regarding article 13 and recital 38.

These questions clearly show that these Member States have serious doubts about the Commission’s repeated assurances that the proposed censorship filters would not affect users’ fundamental rights, do not change the liability exemption of the e-commerce directive, do not constitute a general monitoring obligation and do not change the definition of what it means to make copyrighted works available online.

All of these questions may sound like technical details but they are not. Instead they are at the heart of the discussion about article 13 of the commission’s proposal. Since the commission presented the proposal, a broad coalition of civil society, technology companies and academics has pointed out the problematic relationship between the commission’s proposal and fundamental rights and the principles established by the e-commerce directive.

Member States have serious doubts about legality of upload filters

The music industry organisations are the driving force behind the attempt to censor user uploads and regain control over the ability of millions of online creators to express themselves online. Together with the Commission they have flat out denied that the proposed in article 13 and recital 38 would change existing EU law. The fact that the six member states have formally asked the legal service of the Council (which is independent of the Commission) shows that they are not buying into this narrative. 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

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

Legal Affairs Committee’s leading MEP tries to diffuse the content filter bomb

Victor Frankenstein becoming disgusted at his creation. Illustration from the frontispiece of the 1831 edition
Making the monster a little bit prettier
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Again we are witnessing an attempt to make the Frankenstein’s monster, article 13, a bit prettier as the Legal Affairs Committee’s (JURI) report has been officially published. Instead of killing it altogether with its recitals, MEP Therese Comodini Cachia tries to save the numbering of the proposal and at the same time to diffuse the bomb the European Commission set against users’ rights.

Filtering is kind of gone

The reading of the proposed article 13 text leaves no doubt that the intent is to remove the upload filter. The reference to “preventing the availability” of content uploaded by users who have no ownership over it is gone from article 13 paragraph 1. The emphasis is on effective and proportionate measures that the information society service providers need to take to ensure that the agreements they conclude with rightsholders are functioning well.

At first sight the amendments proposed for article 13 seem good. What kind of measures should be carried out is left open. It can be really anything that parties decide would work for them, be it some compensation or a share in the revenues the content users upload generates when there are ads on display. Unfortunately, looking into the recitals, it gets more complicated. Ms Comodini proposes no rewrite to recital 39 that would change the fact that the content recognition remains a go-to technology in terms of assessing the rights to uploaded content.

What are the consequences of that? It means that effectively the ISSPs and rightsholders are not encouraged to look beyond tech solutions to address any perceived disparities of income. Rather, the directive legally validates the existing market practice of employing tech such as Content ID to sort out ownership of the content. With her concept Ms Comodini may have closed the gate to filtering uploads but she left the path leading to it basically intact.

Another consequence is that if article 13 had ever meant to make Youtube weaker, by constant relying on tech solutions in settling human disputes, it equips the tech giant with an enormous competitive advantage. After all they already have Content ID.

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Rapporteur Stihler wants to protect users from content filtering

Vue du théatre taillé dans le roc, près du jardins de la maison de plaisance d'Hellenbrunn (!) pris du dehors.
The filter must go, and so should article 13
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Catherine Stihler, Rapporteur of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) released her draft opinion on the proposed Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive. In this opinion, Stihler rightly states that article 13, which proposes to implement content filter mechanisms that would block some of users’ uploads, fails to achieve its purpose. She tries to make sure rightsholders and creators would receive a fair and balanced compensation for the exploitation of their work without negatively impacting the digital economy or internet freedoms of consumers. Acting on this, Stihler tries to fix article 13. However, we believe that the only appropriate response is to delete it altogether.

The filter must go

It is commendable that in her opinion MEP Stihler explicitly says that any attempt to address the value gap cannot be enforced if it has a negative impact on fundamental rights and internet freedoms of consumers. This is something the potential beneficiaries of the proposed article seem to ignore.

Explaining why the upload filter must be removed, MEP Stihler states that filter machines are not capable nor suitable to take into account user rights such as exceptions and limitations. This is something all the opponents of the upload filter, including COMMUNIA, have pointed out before. Therefore in her amendments she rightfully removes all references to the ‘effective’ recognition technologies, which would make the Directive text more technology neutral and future-proof. Continue reading

Rapporteur CULT preserves upload filters in draft opinion

Experiment met luchtledige bol, Valentine Green, after Joseph Wright of Derby, 1768
upload filters should be removed from the proposal
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Marc Joulaud, the rapporteur for the Culture and Education Committee of the European Parliament, points out in his draft opinion issued last week that the Commission’s copyright proposal ignores many of the most pressing concerns of internet users. At the same time, he fails to deliver adequate solutions to these problems. In this post we discuss his proposed amendments concerning the exception for user-generated content (UGC), and Article 13. The inclusion of a UGC exception is a step in the right direction. But the proposed amendments to Article 13, the section which introduces a filtering obligation for online platforms that allow users to upload content, make the already-harmful article even worse for users.

Adding a vague definition of ‘digital content platforms’

Joulaud recognizes that the scope of services potentially affected by Article 13 is quite unclear.

It is the Rapporteur’s opinion that the proposal does not define with enough precision the scope of services falling under the requirements of Article 13 of this Directive, creating legal uncertainty and a potential broader effect.

However, the solutions he proposes do not strengthen the legal certainty for those entities who might be covered under the article; they make it worse. Joulaud proposes a new definition of entities obliged to use upload filters called ‘digital content platforms’. This definition is aimed to center around the principle purpose of services instead of the activity of storing. The draft opinion is unclear regarding which information society service providers would count as ‘digital content platforms’, and it’s also uncertain whether these platforms would still receive the protection of the liability limitations of the eCommerce Directive. Just like the Commission’s proposal—which remains vague on how it will affect the safe harbor protection—Joulaud’s suggested amendment doesn’t provide any more clarity to the situation.

Upload filters don’t—and can’t—respect user rights

The most important flaw of the draft opinion is that even though Joulaud seems aware of the importance of user rights, he still tries to reconcile ‘effective’ content recognition technologies with user rights, including exceptions and limitations and freedom of expression. This is an impossible task. Continue reading

The Copyright Reform – a Guide for the Perplexed

Bible Reading
Copyright so complicated
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The debate whether the copyright reform in a proposed shape would be beneficial for Europe or not is now a key topic for digital rights organizations. But what do measures suggested by the European Commission actually mean? COMMUNIA and EDRi have jointly developed a Copyright reform guideline to the “legalese” of the draft directive. We present key issues and solutions that should be taken into consideration by the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) who will soon discuss the proposal.

We believe that the current reform is a chance to empower users across Europe to access culture in ways that have been proved not to undermine authors’ revenues. This would boost the creation of new business models that will support authors, creators and journalists, and not only powerful intermediaries such as book publishers and record companies.

The copyright reform should also safeguard freedom of expression and privacy by curbing the surveillance capacity of filtering technologies. The Commission’s proposal fails to take advantage of these opportunities to secure a better future for Europe and European culture.

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