Before the Civil Liberties Committee vote: will reason win?

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Will LIBE kill the filter?
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After a few postponements, the vote at the LIBE Committee on their opinion on content filtering article is finally happening today. Given the variety of amendments tabled by its members, it is understandable that the MEPs took their time in negotiating common ground. Unfortunately the deletion of article 13 was not an option for the Civil Liberties Committee. So what would be the next best outcome of the vote?

The peculiar fate of LIBE’s draft opinion

LIBE was the last Committee to be granted a right to release an opinion on the current copyright dossier. Following the Committee mandate, it will only opine on article 13 and corresponding recitals as the ones having implications on fundamental rights and privacy of users. In his decent draft opinion, rapporteur Michal Boni stepped away from the content filtering obligations and tried to clean up the mess the European Commission had left MEPs to deal with regarding intermediary liability.

That probably didn’t help him make more friends within the European People’s Party, his own group that in part supports the filtering obligation. However, in a surprising twist of events, Boni’s draft was adopted as part of the final opinion of the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee, instead of the compromise language proposed by rapporteur Catherine Stihler and some truly horrific alternative ideas on how to make filtering great again authored by some Committee members.

A compromise by popular demand

This move gave some prominence to the draft, probably a bit more than it needed from the perspective of the LIBE Committee workflow. We can only suspect that the backers of content filtering as the go-to solution to enforcing copyright did not like the fact that a proposal deprived of it gained traction in the Committee where the rapporteur has a seat during JURI Shadows’ meetings. It is quite possible that the rescheduling of the vote had to do with the fact that the draft opinion has as many fans as it has enemies. Continue reading

Paradigm lost? How creativity is weaponized against us

Time Clipping Cupid's Wings
Does creative industry support creativity?
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This post is based on the talk Anna gave during CopyCamp 2017 “Paradigm Lost? How Our Freedoms are Weaponized Against Us and What We Can Do About It”. A video of the talk is available here.

How do you lobby for a great copyright in the post-political world? With difficulty, since it is also a post-factual world: politicians seem to care more about marketing than evidence. Perhaps when the facts are not important we should then look for a better propaganda?

Copyright beyond the bubble

This “better propaganda” should not be populist or based on lies. Digital rights organizations need a better, compelling narrative to convince people to care more. We need to test new approaches because European citizens do not realize that they are bound by the copyright framework every time they access news, knowledge or entertainment on the internet.

We also need to find more compelling ways to talk about rights in the digital environment because these days everybody is a creator and the only difference is that some of us identify as such and many of us don’t. Those of us who don’t, also don’t think that our small acts of creativity such as memes or photos we post online are serious enough to give us this status, but this does not change the fact that we are indeed creators.

From creativity to celebrity

In both cases creativity is crucial for self-expression, and self-expression is key to one’s identity. Today all three: creativity, self-expression and identity become market commodities, increasingly so via social media. So what happens when they enter the market?

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Bending over backwards – ALDE wants to ensure online is like the offline

Vergaan van het schip de Vrijheid
Protect online freedom     of expression
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Despite ambitious planning, the JURI Committee vote on the Copyright in the Digital Market directive seems increasingly unlikely to happen in 2017. Meanwhile, following the lead of the EPP, ALDE (The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) published a new position paper on Copyright in the Digital Single Market earlier this month. ALDE seems to be deeply split when it comes to the question of copyright policy. Perhaps this is why the paper offers a very blurred perspective on how the group’s MEPs will vote in the upcoming votes in the Civil Liberties (LIBE) and Legal Affairs (JURI) committees in the European Parliament.

A blurred compromise to keep everyone happy

While many liberal MEPs are traditionally supportive of less restrictive copyright rules and value the protection of individual freedoms, ALDE’s official spokesperson for the copyright file, MEP Cavada is one of the most outspoken proponents of stronger copyright protection in the European Parliament.

Positions of the political groups in JURI with respect to selected elements of the DSM directive proposal [Source].

The new position paper seems to be an attempt to bridge both positions. Following a somewhat rambling introduction that extensively highlights the need to fight online piracy (which technically is not included in the scope of the DSM directive), the position paper states that attempts to protect copyright online should not infringe users’, consumers’ and citizens’ rights:

ALDE wants to protect copyright online because we need to ensure that creators are fairly remunerated for their creations. In taking measures to ensure this, however, ALDE is not ready to go as far as to infringe users’, consumers’ and citizens’ rights to exercise their freedom of expression online. Just as in working against any unlawful behaviour, online or offline, ALDE will do as much as possible, while maintaining a fair balance of fundamental rights, such as the right of information and the right of free expression.

Unfortunately the position paper leaves it unclear what this would mean for ALDEs position towards article 13 of the Commission’s proposal (which require upload filters for online platforms). Continue reading

A couple of ways EPP can go against their own line on copyright with article 13

The Rape of Europa
Copyright gone wrong
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For those watching the copyright debate in the European Parliament it is no mystery that European People’s Party is the key power to influence the future of the Digital Single Market in this area. The largest Parliamentary group, whose representatives hold crucial positions on the dossier, has adopted a group line on copyright. While both the LIBE and JURI Committees debate their compromise under EPP rapporteurs, what could possibly go wrong?

The hard line and the blurred line

The Parliamentarians affiliated with EPP have not presented a unified line in the reform debate, especially if it comes to content filtering (article 13 of the proposal). Their positions across various committees have ranged from hardliners such as Angelika Niebler’s, supporters of closing the value gap like Axel Voss, the current rapporteur at JURI, through the balanced position of Therese Comodini, Voss’ predecessor; to rapporteur Michał Boni’s decent draft report at LIBE or Róża Thun’s proposal for deletion tabled at IMCO.

In these circumstances EPP’s attempt to create a common ground is understandable – it is a way to preserve group unity. On the other hand, the exercise can only prove effective if it shaves off the extremist positions: of making the EC proposal even more troublesome for platforms and users as well as of deleting the article.

Positions of the political groups in JURI with respect to selected elements of the DSM directive proposal [Source].

The EPP group line adopted in July 2017 tries to reconcile a need to close the perceived value gap with some arguments protecting fundamental rights. The vision for EPP’s ideal article 13 is to ensure platforms enter into licensing agreements with rightholders to secure a better revenue for the latter.

Harming e-commerce, taking it easy on the filtering?

Similarly to the governments of France, Portugal and Spain, EPP is determined to change the interpretation of safe harbour that shields hosting providers and online platforms from liability for infringements committed by their users. In their words: Continue reading

France, Spain and Portugal: We must adapt the internet to the reality of copyright (not the other way around)

La liberté guidant le peuple
Vive le ©, mort aux plates-formes ouvertes!
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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

More academics speak out against upload filters for online platforms

Man met een brief
Article 13 is incompatible with fundamental rights
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It seems like it is open letter writing season in Brussels right now. In the absence of any real legislative progress the directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, experts and other stakeholders are seizing the opportunity to make their voices heard. After more than 50 civil society organisations including Human Rights Watch, Reporters sans Frontiers and the Freedom of the Press Foundation issued a statement opposing the online filtering provisions proposed in article 13 of the Commission’s proposal, a group of more than 50 high profile copyright scholars has come forward with yet another statement opposing article 13.

In their paper “The Recommendation on Measures to Safeguard Fundamental Rights and the Open Internet in the Framework of the EU Copyright Reform” published on SSRC statement, the academics led by Professor Martin Senftleben (VU Amsterdam) restates the main problems posed by article 13 and recital 39:

The measures contemplated in Article 13 DSMD can hardly be deemed compatible with the fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed under Articles 8 (protection of personal data), 11 (freedom of expression) and 16 (freedom to conduct a business) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. The application of filtering systems that would result from the adoption of Article 13 DSMD would place a disproportionate burden on platform providers, in particular small and medium-sized operators, and lead to the systematic screening of personal data, even in cases where no infringing content is uploaded. The filtering systems would also deprive users of the room for freedom of expression that follows from statutory copyright exceptions, in particular the quotation right and the right to parody.

The adoption of Recital 38 DSMD would moreover lead to a remarkable restriction of eligibility for the liability privilege following from Article 14 of the E-Commerce Directive. Recital 38 DSMD does not adequately reflect the current status quo in the area of the safe harbour for hosting laid down by Article 14 E-Commerce Directive. […] The general requirement of “knowledge of, or control over” infringing user-generated content is missing. In the absence of any reference to this central requirement, Recital 38 DSMD is incomplete and fails to draw an accurate picture of the current conceptual contours of the safe harbour for hosting. […] Because of the ambiguous wording of Recital 38 DSMD, there is a real risk of modifying the notion of “communication to the public” considerably.

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Strong voice of civil liberties organisations against censorship in copyright framework

Don't censor the internetLicentie

Anyone following copyright debate may have an impression it is all about “money, money, money” (Abba). In COMMUNIA we believe that such an approach shows deep misunderstanding about the function of copyright. Copyright is just one angle of approaching more broader challenge, namely providing a just framework for to access to knowledge, information and culture. A well balanced copyright system is one of the fundamental underpinnings of a knowledge-based society.

Possibly the strongest challenge to such as system is are the proposals for forcing online platforms to filter all content uploaded by their users, put down in article 13 of the proposed Directive on copyright in the Digital Single Market. We have underlined many times before that proposed regulation will have a chilling effect on sharing content, access to information and the the ability to operate open platforms online.

Today, over 50 NGOs (including COMMUNIA) representing human rights and media freedom have send today an open letter to the European Commission President, the European Parliament and the Council asking them to delete the content filter mechanism. This letter comes ahead of a crucial vote in the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties committee, in which the MEPs tasked with upholding our fundamental freedoms will give their opinion on the upload filters that the Commission wants to introduce through article 13. The signatories of the letter, which include many prominent human rights organisations like the Freedom of the Press Foundation, Human Rights Watch and Reporters without Borders, believe that the mechanism introduced through article 13:

  • would violate the freedom of expression set out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights;
  • provokes such legal uncertainty that online services will have no other option than to monitor, filter and block EU citizens’ communications.; and,
  • includes obligations on internet companies that would be impossible to respect without the imposition of excessive restrictions on citizens’ fundamental rights.

If the European Union decides to approve the European Commission’s proposal, this would constitute an unprecedented step towards building an online censorship infrastructure. Similar filtering obligation have previously been rejected in the context of preventing terrorism and hate speech. Continue reading

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

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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