As Council & Parliament edge towards finalizing positions, Article 13 remains a mess

Closeup of Art 13 flowchart
Art.13 in 3 flowcharts
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As the summer break draws closer both the European Parliament and the Council are intensifying their efforts to wrap up their positions on the proposed Copyright in the Digital Single Market directive. In both legislative bodies Article 13 (the upload filters for online platforms) remains the main stumbling block and both the Bulgarian Council presidency and the EPs rapporteur (MEP Voss) have have set deadlines this week to wrap up the discussion on Article 13.

Last week (after yet another inconclusive meeting on Article 13) MEP Voss has asked the political groups to provide him their final written comments “on the MAIN and MOST IMPORTANT open issues” by Wednesday the 23rd. On the same date the Bulgarian Council presidency has scheduled an attaché meeting to discuss the latest compromise proposal.

In the light of these (final?) attempts to wrap up the discussion it is important to take another look at how the discussion has evolved since the Commission published its proposal and how the 3 different versions of Article 13 compare to each other. In order to do so we have analysed the internal logic of the Commission proposal, the last Bulgarian compromise proposal and version 6 of the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs committee compromise text and depicted the most important elements in a series of flowcharts (see below). Even a casual glance at these makes it clear that both the Council’s and the Parliament’s changes to the text have resulted in vastly more complex versions.

Commission proposal: Simple language that creates a legal mess with lots of uncertainties.

Compared to the other two versions the Commission’s proposal is a thing of beauty. The article consists of three relatively concise paragraphs which results in a relatively straightforward flowchart: Continue reading

Council: Member States close to adopting a copyright maximalist position

Twee tijgers sluipend door het gras
Danger looming in the Council
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It is still unclear if the Bulgarian Council presidency will manage to get the member states in line to agree on a general negotiation position at the COREPER meeting scheduled for this Thursday. Under pressure from the Bulgarian presidency (or rather those who put pressure on them), the member states seem to be moving towards a common position. Last week’s working group meeting appears to have resolved most of the controversies around Article 3a (optional text and data mining exception) and Article 11 (press publishers rights). Article 13 remains the main sticking point, preventing the member states from agreeing on a negotiation mandate.

So what’s the status with regards to these 3 articles and where do the member states stand on them?

Article 13: Continued divisions over the scope of #censorshipfilters

In spite of the significant doubts that many member states expressed last year regarding measures targeting open online platforms contained in Article 13, the article has survived the subsequent rounds of discussions in the Council nearly intact. This seems mainly due to a pivot by the German government which is now backing censorship filters – even though the coalition agreement that underpins the current government is highly critical of such measures.

While there is agreement in principle, the Member States are still spit on the scope of the article. The maximalist axis of France, Spain, Portugal and Italy is backing a broad implementation of the article, while most other member states (including Germany) seem to be favouring a narrowing down of the scope of the services that would be required to filter. Lack of consensus on the scope of Article 13 seems to be the main obstacle that prevents the Bulgarian presidency from closing the file.

Article 11 map (April 2018)
Member States (in red) supporting the introduction of censorship filters for online platforms (own research)

As we have argued before, rushing Article 13 across the finish line carries substantial risks to the European internet economy and to our freedom of creative expression. Continue reading

Now even the rightsholders agree: Article 13 is dangerous and (and should be deleted)

Aanval van de Giganten op de godenwereld
Article 13 will hurt both users and creators
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Now that the Bulgarian Council presidency seems to have decided that it is time to wrap up the discussions on the DSM proposal and push for a political decision on a negotiation mandate, people are getting nervous. Late last week a whole assortment of organisations representing rights holders from the AV industry (organised in the creativity works! coalition) have sent a letter to Member State ministers and representatives, outlining their concerns with the latest Bulgarian compromise text. The document mainly focuses on Article 13, and what they have to say about that article is rather interesting (and surprisingly in line with positions that we have been arguing all along).

The overriding concern expressed by the rightsholders in their letter is that some of the more recent changes introduced in the council would turn Article 13 from a magic weapon against a few online platforms into a mechanism that threatens to further empower these very platforms in a way that does not benefit rights holders. In response to this, Creativity Works! (CW!) argues for further strengthening some of the most problematic aspects of Article 13.

We have long argued that Article 13 seems to be designed to benefit the big dominant online platforms, as it will entrench their market position. For smaller companies compliance with the filtering obligations will be difficult and costly while the main targets of Article 13 already have filtering systems in place (such as YouTube’s Content ID), and it is a welcome sign to see rights holders waking up to this reality.

For us it has been clear from the start that Article 13 will not achieve its stated goals. Instead the filtering obligations will cause tremendous harm to the freedom of expression and to open platforms that operate in fields that have nothing to do with the distribution of entertainment products. For this reason we think that the only responsible way to deal with Article 13 is to delete it and start over with a discussion about how we can best ensure that creators can be fairly compensated for their work. (Note that in this discussion most of the members of CW! are likely to be part of the problem rather than the solution as CW! has very little representation from actual creators.)

And while CW! is not joining us in our call to delete Article 13, their letter does illustrate our argument that adjusting general concepts of copyright law in order to address the concerns of specific groups of stakeholders is utterly irresponsible in the light of the big (and often unintended) consequences such an intervention can have.

Case in point: the re-definition of right of communication to the public. We and others critical of Article 13 have long argued that Article 13 would expand the right of communication to the public. Within the Commission’s proposal this aspect of Article 13 was hidden away in a recital, but over the successive drafts it has become more explicit. This seems to have led to the sudden realisation by rights holders that such a re-definition of this important right can also negatively affect them. In their letter they wrote on the last Bulgarian compromise proposal:

It would limit the scope of the right of communication to the public by incompletely applying Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) case law and setting into stone in Article 13 only certain criteria developed by the Court. This approach would roll-back the CJEU’s case law, which has repeatedly confirmed that a broad interpretation of the right of communication to the public (CTTP) is necessary to achieve the main objective of the Copyright Directive, which is to establish a high level of protection for authors and rights holders. CW! recalls that the exclusive right of communication to the public, including the making available right, as enshrined in EU law (and further clarified by the Court), has emerged as the bedrock for the financing, licencing and protection of content, as well as its ultimate delivery to consumers in the online environment. The Court has also emphasised, in its recent judgments, that in order to determine whether there has been a CTTP, several complementary criteria must be taken into account, which are not autonomous, but are interdependent. Any proposals that entail a selective application of the Court’s jurisprudence, or that imply a narrowing of the scope of the right of CTTP, would be contrary to the protection required by current EU and international law.

While we do not agree that the current draft would limit the scope of the CTTP right, this passage illustrates the dangers of carelessly fiddling around with core legal concepts that underpin the EU copyright framework. Continue reading

Article 13: still too broken to fix

Aanval van de Giganten op de godenwereld
Article 13 is an attack on open online platforms
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As we are heading into the final phases of the discussion on article 13 in both the European Parliament and the Council the issue that article 13 has the potential to do substantial damage to the European digital economy is getting more attention from lawmakers. So far the answer to this problem by the proponents of Article 13 is to exempt more and more types of online platforms from the filtering and or licensing requirements established by Article 13. By now the list of services to be excluded contains “Non-for profit online encyclopaedia“, “educational or scientific repositories, where the content is uploaded by the rightholder“, “providers of cloud services for individual use which do not provide access to the public“, “online market places whose main activity is online retail of physical goods” (European Parliament draft), “non-for-profit open source software developing platforms” and “internet access service providers” (Council compromise proposal).

Generally speaking it is a good indication that a policy is bad if there is a need to make a large number of exceptions to prevent it from doing lots of unintended harm. This principle is on full display in the discussion about article 13. As we (and many others) have argued before, article 13 is broken so badly that it cannot be fixed and should be deleted. The key problem with article 13 is that the music industry is employing its old weapon of choice (copyright law) in an attempt to reign in behaviour of a very small group of online platforms that is perceived as problematic by the music industry. By using copyright law as a trigger for the licensing and filtering obligations contained in article 13, the article inevitably effects every other online platform that deals with copyrighted contents (i.e pretty much all online platforms).

It is not surprising that other platforms that operate in completely different markets (like GitHub which has nothing to do with uploading music) have started to realise that article 13 is a threat to their businesses and are demanding to be excluded from the scope of article 13. While excluding such platforms seems like an obvious choice to prevent some of the worst side effects of the provisions contained in article 13, it will not fix the underlying problem: In an age where copyright touches almost every online business model, copyright law is not a suitable regulatory instrument to adjust the bargaining positions of specific industries anymore. In order to make sure that article 13 has no negative side effects it would need to come with a list of exceptions that excludes every single business model that it is not targeted at. Continue reading

Join us for the European Copyright Action Days 19-21 march in Brussels

Banquet at the Crossbowmen’s Guild in Celebration of the Treaty of Münster
Join us in Brussels to #fixcopyright
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This spring the ongoing effort to modernize the outdated copyright rules enters into the decisive fase. It is widely expected that both the European Parliament and the EU Member states will their position on the proposed Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive. Right now things are not looking good: instead of a much needed update of the copyright framework that would enable new uses driven by technological innovation, policy makers in Brussels are working towards new restrictions that would would limit how information and creativity can be shared and enjoyed online.

Against this backdrop we are organising European Copyright Action Days on 19-21 march in Brussels. During these days we want to highlight the broad opposition of civil society, libraries, the users industry and many others concerning the restrictive aspects of the copyright reform proposal. During these days activists will convene in Brussels to discuss with lawmakers and advocate for a more future proof reform and to raise attention for the dangers of the proposed measures. Continue reading

MEP Voss sells out freedom of expression, doubles down on protecting Big Content

Cadmus doodt de draak
The fight for keeping the internet open is on!
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After more than a year of discussions MEP Axel Voss has finally come forward with his ideas about one of the most controversial aspects of the EU copyright reform proposal. On Wednesday he shared his compromise proposals for Article 13 of the proposed copyright in the DSM directive, that deals with filtering measures aimed at online platforms. The “compromises” drafted by MEP Voss make it clear that with regards to article 13 he has chosen to do the bidding of the music industry at the expense of users, open platforms and pretty much the rest of the internet.

Let’s focus on two main aspects of the approach that Voss is backing (for a more comprehensive analysis of his compromise see Julia Reda’s excellent write-up here). What would the new rules mean for users sharing materials via platforms, and what would the new rules mean for online platforms?

Online platforms: License or cease to exist!

In the version supported by MEP Voss, article 13 establishes two different obligations for online platforms that allow user uploads. In a first step, all platforms are required to obtain licenses from rightsholders. Those platforms that hold “significant amounts” of content also need to take “appropriate and proportionate measures to ensure the functioning of these agreements”. In the case that platforms do not have licensing agreements with rightsholders they need to take “appropriate and proportionate measures to prevent the availability on their services of works or other subject-matter”.

These rules would effectively end the current situation in which online platforms are not directly responsible for content that their users upload. The new rules would mean that all online platforms “that store and provide access to the public to copyright protected works or other subject-matter uploaded by their users” (which means pretty much all platforms) will be directly responsible for the content uploaded by their users and must obtain licenses from (unspecified) rightsholders. If they don’t (which is a strange condition given that all platforms must do so) they must implement filtering rules that prevent all copyrighted works from becoming available on their services. In other words, platforms must obtain licenses from rightsholders or they must cease to exist (as it is somewhat hard to make a business case for a platform on which nothing is available). Continue reading

Open Letter challenges Portuguese Government’s position on art. 13

Today, a group of Portuguese organizations, including an important innovation acceleration hub, software companies, free culture and users rights advocates, and the Portuguese association of librarians, archivists and documentalists, sent an open letter to the Portuguese Government asking to the Government to reconsider its position in relation to art. 13 (the proposal to require online platforms to filter all uploads by their users).

As we have noted before, Portugal is, along with France and Spain, one of the countries that supports the Commission’s plan to force online platforms to install upload filters that would prevent any uses of copyright protected not explicitly approved by rightsholders. Portugal has also been pushing forward amendments proposed by the French Government that would significantly change the way online platforms operate. Under the rules proposed by the French, operating open platforms would only be possible with permission from rights holders.

Portugal can still make it right!

The signatories of the letter acknowledge the negative impact that such proposals would have on the fundamental rights of the Portuguese citizens and on the booming Portuguese ecosystem of startups and entrepreneurs, which is as important to the Portuguese economy as the tourism industry. They, thus, ask to the Portuguese Government to depart from its initial position, which privileges the interests of a small class of commercial copyright holders, and to embrace the future of digital innovation instead.

This open letter is yet another reminder that copyright policy cannot be based on the interests of commercial rightsholders alone and a reminder that it is important to challenge the positions of national governments on this important issue (see this helpful overview by MEP Julia Reda for other governments that need to be reminded that we need copyright rules that embrace the future instead of the past).

Stop the #censorshipmachine now!

Today the Copyright working group of the Council is meeting for the first time under the new Bulgarian presidency. The agenda consist of discussions about articles 11 (press publishers right) and article 13 (upload filters for online platforms) and it appears that the Bulgarian Presidency is planning to push ahead on both of them in line with the one sided approach taken by the Estonian presidency. In the light of this meeting Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda has released a video featuring a number of MEPs from across the political spectrum speaking out against mandatory filtering of user uploaded content:

In the video the MEPs make it clear that filtering technology that would be mandated under article 13 will be used to limit the free expression of internet users in the EU. They also point out that it is highly problematic to require large corporations to install filtering technology that they will then operate outside of any public oversight and without any ability for meaningful recurse by normal users.

The examples provided by the MEPs in the video are a welcome reminder that it will not be enough to prevent upload filters from becoming mandatory by deleting article 13 from the proposed DSM directive, but that we we need to regulate the application of existing filtering technology and that that we finally need to positively define what rights users have when it comes to re-using existing works to express themselves online.

The time to stop the #censorshipmachine is now and you can contribute to this by sharing Julia Reda’s video or the excellent explainer video produced by the Create.Refresh campaign.

Seven ways to save the EU copyright reform effort in 2018

Vuurwerk ter ere van de kroning van Willem III en Maria II tot koning en koningin van Groot-Brittannië
Its 2018! Time to finally #fixcopyright
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With the arrival of 2018 the discussions of the Proposed Copyright in the Digital single Market Directive enters into its third year. After more than a year of discussions in both the Parliament and the Council, it is likely that 2018 will at the minimum see final positions from both institutions. Depending on how quickly these positions will be established we may even see the adoption of the directive in 2018. To get everybody up to speed here is a quick refresher of what is at stake in 2018:

1. The publishers right must die!

Form the start the idea of granting press publishers a neighbouring right (an extra layer of copyright) in their publications has been one of the most controversial parts of the Commission’s proposal. The idea, based on laws that have failed in both Germany and Spain, is so deeply flawed that there is almost no one from the academic community who is willing to argue in favor (there are of course lots of academics who oppose it). Even worse, in the course of 2017 it has become clear that both the European Parliament and the European Commission have tried to lock away self-commissioned studies that clearly show that the new right not only would be ineffective at directing views (thus, funds) back to publishers, it would also harm media pluralism and access to information.

In spite of the overwhelming amount of evidence speaking against it, and even though its original sponsor (Commissioner Oettinger) is no longer in charge of the dossier, the idea of granting press publishers more rights in order to economically strengthen them refuses to die. It is time that MEPs and the Member states realize that adopting laws based on wishful thinking is the opposite of evidence based policy making, and refuse to create additional rights for publishers. This should be easy as there is an alternative proposal that would strengthen the legal position of press publishers without threatening the freedom to link.

2. Real legal certainty for Text and Data mining!

One of the core problems of copyright systems without a flexible exception (like fair use) is that everything not specifically permitted in the text of the copyright law will be deemed an infringement. This has resulted in an unclear legal status regarding Text and Data mining (letting computers read and interpret texts and other data). Since most forms of text and data mining require the making of copies, rights holders argue that text and data mining needs to be licensed, even if the entity engaging in TDM has legal access to the text and/or data to be mined. Continue reading

The copyright reform proposal is a threat to fundamental rights, the economy, education and creativity!

A woman shouting into a man's ear-trumpet. Wood engraving.
Time to stop the #CensorshipMachine
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It has been well over a year since the European Commission has presented its proposal for adapting the EU copyright rules to the realities of the digital age. The proposed changes (as flawed as they may be) are part of an agenda to make Europe more competitive and to stimulate economic growth.

The proposal continues to be debated in the European parliament with no real end in sight. In this situation we have taken today’s meeting of the EU Competitiveness Council (which brings together the ministers responsible for trade, economy, industry, research and innovation, and space from the 28 EU member states, as an occasion to write yet another open letter.

Given that at this stage pretty much everything that can be said about the dangers and shortcomings of the Commission’s proposal has been said, our letter which has been signed by an unprecedented coalition of more than 80 civil society and human rights organisations limits itself to pointing out this very fact:

We write to you to share our respectful but serious concerns that discussions in the Council and European Commission on the Copyright Directive are on the verge of causing irreparable damage to our fundamental rights and freedoms, our economy and competitiveness, our education and research, our innovation and competition, our creativity and our culture. We refer you to the numerous letters and analyses sent previously from a broad spectrum of European stakeholders and experts for more details (see attached).

Attached to the letter are 29 different opinions, studies, open letters and reports that have been addressed at the EU legislators since the publication of the reform proposal. These include a recommendation co-signed by over 50 respected academics on measures to safeguard fundamental rights and the open Internet in the framework of the EU copyright reform, which points out that:

Article 13 (…) is disproportionate and irreconcilable with the fundamental rights guarantees in the Charter [of Fundamental Rights of the EU]

An open letter from over 50 NGOs representing human rights and media freedom asking the EU legislators to delete Article 13:

Article 13 appears to provoke such legal uncertainty that online services will have no other option than to monitor, filter and block EU citizens’ communications if they are to have any chance of staying in business. Article 13 contradicts existing rules and the case law of the Court of Justice.

Continue reading