COMMUNIA salon on the role of ex-ante user rights safeguards in implementing Article 17

the role of ex-ante user rights safeguardsLicentie

On the 26th of January at 1530 (CET) we are hosting the first COMMUNIA salon of 2021. This edition will focus on the most controversial question of the discussions surrounding the implementation of Article 17: the need to introduce ex-ante user rights safeguards in national implementations of the directive, to ensure that legitimate uses of third party works cannot be automatically blocked. 

In the discussions over the past year the need for ex-ante user right protections has become apparent. In its targeted consultation, the Commission has made it clear “that it is not enough […] to only restore legitimate content ex post” and, in the CJEU hearing in Case C-401/19, the Commission and the Council have argued that the requirement not to prevent the availability of legitimate uploads takes precedence over the requirement to make best efforts to prevent the availability of works that rightsholders want to keep off a platform. 

By now three Member States have made implementation proposals that include such ex-ante safeguards. Germany and Austria have put forward draft laws that introduce “minor use” thresholds and allow users to pre-flag legitimate uploads. Finland has proposed a “blocking mechanism” that would require rightsholders to review uploads containing their works before they can issue a blocking request. 

During the upcoming COMMUNIA salon, we will be discussing these proposals with Julia Reda (former MEP and project lead at GFF), Viveca Still (Senior Copyright Advisor, Ministry of Culture, Finland), Marco Giorello (Head of Copyright Unit, European Commission) and Tobias Holzmüller (General Counsel, GEMA). The Salon will be moderated by Alek Tarkowski (COMMUNIA/Open Future). 

The presentations will be followed by an informal question and answer session and concluding remarks by Paul Keller (COMMUNIA/Open Future).

This event is open for everyone to attend and will be held on Zoom. In order to ensure smooth participation we request participants to register beforehand. Registered participants will receive login information ahead of the event.

DSM Directive implementation update: more proposals to protect users’ rights

Gennaro
Five months to go ...
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The implementation deadline for the Copyright in the Digital Single Market is a mere five months ahead of us. On the 7th of June, the EU Member States are expected to have implemented the 2019 update of the EU copyright rules. With less than half a year to go, it is looking increasingly unlikely that more than a small handful of Member States will manage to implement the new provisions by the deadline. In this post, we are taking stock of the implementation process focussing on what has changed since our update from a month ago

While the past month included the holiday break, there have still been some significant developments. This included the first member state to have completed the implementation process (the Netherlands) and the first Member state to throw in the towel and officially announce that the implementation process will only be concluded after the implementation deadline (Denmark). But before we look at these developments in more detail, let’s first have a look at the discussions surrounding the implementation of Article 17.

There has been no further progress on the Commission’s Article 17 implementation guidance. Originally expected to be presented in the second half of 2020, there is no sign of them yet. So far the Commission has not even managed to publish the responses to the consultation that was concluded in September 2020.

More Member States commit to protecting users’ rights.

With no clear timeline for the Commission guidelines, more and more Member States have given up waiting and are presenting their implementation ideas for Article 17. In early December the Austrian Ministry of Justice circulated a first proposal for implementing Article 17 among stakeholders for feedback (see our joint response with epicenter.works and SaveTheInternet Austria here). This proposal takes up a number of key elements of the previous German proposals (direct remuneration right for creators, the ability to pre-flag uploads as legitimate, a threshold that protects minor uses from automated blocking, and the ability for users’ organizations to act against structural overblocking) and fits them into a more traditional approach: Where the German legislator proposes to implement the Article 17 provisions in a separate law, the Austrian proposal would integrate the provisions into the body of the existing copyright act. 

In Germany, the discussion about the implementation proposal is still ongoing: Seemingly in response to pressure from the rightsholders and platforms (channeled via other ministries controlled by the CDU) the Ministry of Justice has retracted one of the most controversial elements of its implementation proposal: A new leaked version of the proposal (dated 22 November) is missing the controversial “de minimis” exception that would have legalized uses of works shorter than 20 seconds of audio or video or 1000 characters of text. However, the same thresholds are now part of a new mechanism that protects “presumably legitimate uses” as long as they do not exceed 50% of an original work and combine the matched work with other material. While much weaker than a standalone exception, this mechanism would still ensure that many forms of user-uploaded creative expression could not be automatically blocked. 

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Finnish Article 17 implementation proposal prohibits the use of automated upload filters

Putti spelen op een wip
No upload filters after all?
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On Monday, the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture held a public hearing on the implementation of Article 17 of the Copyright Directive. As part of this meeting, the Ministry outlined its proposal for a user rights-preserving “blocking procedure” that substantially deviates from all other implementation proposals that we have seen so far. 

The procedure presents a radical departure from the approach that is underpinning other user rights-preserving implementation proposals (such as the Austrian and German proposals) and the Commission’s proposed (and much delayed) Article 17 implementation guidance. Instead of limiting the use of automated filters to a subset of uploads where there is a high likelihood that the use is infringing, the Finnish proposal does away with automated blocking of user uploads entirely, but not with automated detection of potential infringements. 

The Finnish proposal relies on mandatory use of content recognition technology by platforms and the rapid notification of rightsholders of uploads that match works for which rightsholders have provided them with reference information. However, platforms are only required to disable access to uploaded content after rightsholders have provided them with a properly justified request to block a particular upload:

While this approach bans automated filtering of user uploads, it still heavily relies on automated content recognition technology. The proposed “blocking procedure” requires that all platforms covered by Article 17 would need to have technology in place that can match uploads to reference information provided by rightsholders so that rightsholders can be directly notified when matching content is uploaded. Notifications sent to rightsholders also include the justifications that uploaders have provided at the time of upload as to why they consider a use of third-party content to be legitimate. 

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Austrian Article 17 proposal: The high road towards implementation?

Berglandschap met mensen op een weg
Reconciling the internal contradictions of Art. 17
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So far there we have seen two different approaches to implementing Article 17 into national copyright legislation. On the one hand, we have countries like France, the Netherlands, or Croatia who have presented implementation proposals that stick as closely as possible to the language and the structure of Article 17 while implementing its provisions within the structure of their existing copyright acts. In doing so these implementations essentially kick the can down the road with regards to figuring out how the conflicting requirements to filter (17(4)) and requirements to ensure that legal uploads are not filtered out (17(7)) can be reconciled. In the end, none of these implementation proposals offer a convincing mechanism for ensuring that creators get remunerated and that users’ rights are not violated.

On the other hand, we have the German approach that proposes to implement Article 17 via a separate “copyright-service-provider law” (“Urgeberrechts Diensteanbieter Gesetz”) that substantially departs from the language in an attempt to capture the structure and effet utile of the directive.

The German implementation proposal focuses on using the room for legislative discretion left by the directive to give practical meaning to the abstract requirements to protect user rights contained in the directive. It also adds measures aimed at ensuring that individual creators directly benefit from the new rules. As a result, the German implementation proposal is much closer to the legislative compromise struck by Article 17 than any of the more literal implementation proposals that have emerged so far.

Over the past few months, the German implementation proposal has come under intense pressure from exclusive rightsholders and some platforms who argue that the proposed approach does not adequately reflect the provisions of Article 17. Besides, rightsholders have also claimed that it violates national and international copyright law in multiple ways. A central argument of the opponents of the German implementation proposal is the claim that it strays too far from the text of the directive.

Given this background, it is interesting to see the first Austrian implementation proposal (that was circulated to stakeholders for feedback earlier this week) take a middle road between the two existing approaches. The Austrian implementation proposal does integrate the provisions from Article 17 directly into the text of the existing Austrian copyright act, thus deviating from the structure of Article 17, but mostly stays very close to the text of the directive. At the same time, it takes up key elements first introduced in the German approach: The non-waivable direct remuneration right for authors and performers, the protection of minor uses from automated filters, the ability for users to flag uploads as legitimate, and the ability for users’ organizations to act against platforms that engage in structural over-blocking. The result is a proposal that (similar to the German one) focuses on strengthening the position of creators and users, instead of leaving it up to platforms and large corporate rightsholders to set their own rules.

The Austrian proposal in more detail.

So let’s look at the Austrian proposal in more detail: Similar to the German proposal it introduces a direct remuneration right for authors and performers that will ensure that independent of existing contractual arrangements with publishers and other intermediaries, creators will be remunerated for the use of their works on platforms. As in the German proposal, this direct remuneration right can only be exercised via collective management organizations, which means that it will primarily benefit creators in sectors with existing collective management structures. In the German discussion this direct remuneration right has been strongly criticized by both platforms, who would prefer not to pay for obvious reasons) and by intermediary rightsholders, who prefer to control how much (or rather little) of their licensing revenue should go to the actual creators. Given that the need to make sure that creators benefit from the use of their works on platforms was the main argument for getting Article 17 in the first place, the fact that rightsholders are now trying to undermine the proposed direct remuneration right is more than a little bit hypocritical. Continue reading

DSM Directive implementation update: six months to go and no end in sight

December
MS still tying to make sense out of Art 17
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According to Article 26 of the Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive, Member States have until the 7th of June 2021 to implement the provisions of the Directive into their national laws. This leaves member states exactly 6 months to implement the directive and so it is time to take stock of the implementation status in various Member States. 

So far not a single EU Member State has fully implemented the provisions of the Directive and only two Member States have implemented parts of it (In 2019 France implemented the new press publishers’ right and in June of this year Hungary implemented the exception for online educational use). In most of the EU Member States implementing legislation still needs to be introduced into parliament. In the meantime, the European Commission is still working on the implementation guidance for Article 17 that it is required to publish, and the Polish government’s request to annul parts of Article 17 is still under deliberation in the Court of Justice of the European Union (the Advocate General will publish its opinion on the 22nd of April 2021 less than two months before the end of the implementation deadline). All in all it looks increasingly unlikely that most Member States will implement the Directive in time. So let’s take a more detailed look at where the implementation process stands in key Member States. 

Commission’s Guidance

The European Commission closed its targeted consultation on the implementation guidance in September and is currently working on a final version of its guidance that is not expected to be adopted before early next year. The Commission has made it clear that it does not expect key elements of the guidance to substantially change from its earlier draft, which is designed to limit the use of automated filters and requires that user uploads remain available while they are under dispute It seems that the Commission is unwilling to bow to the considerable pressure from some Member States and from rightholders to change key elements of the draft guidance. Continue reading

CJEU hearing in the Polish challenge to Article 17: Not even the supporters of the provision agree on how it should work

Echtpaar bij de dorpsrechtbank van Puiterveen
Will the CJEU strike down Article 17?
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On Tuesday, November 10, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) heard case C-401/19. This case is a request by the Polish government to annul the filtering obligation contained in Article 17 of the Copyright in the Digital Single Market (DSM) Directive on the grounds that it will lead to censorship and will limit the freedom of expression and the freedom to receive and impart information guaranteed in Article 13 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (Charter).

The defendants in this case are the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. In addition, the European Commission and the governments of France and Spain intervened in the case on the side of the defendants. Advocate General Saugmandsgaard Øe was also present at the hearing.

Even for astute followers of the discussions around the implementation of Article 17, the hearing contained a number of surprises. While several Member States have been soldiering on with their national implementation proposals with little regard for the fundamental rights implications of Article 17, the hearing showed that the Court is taking Poland’s complaint very seriously and that the compliance of the contested provisions of Article 17 with the Charter is far from evident. Frequent reference was made during the hearing to the recent opinion of Advocate General Saugmandsgaard Øe in the YouTube and Cyando cases, which is highly critical of extensive obligations on platforms to police the copyright infringements of their users.

On the face of it, the case is about Poland’s request to annul Articles 17(4)(b) and (c) of the DSM directive. Poland argued its case, which essentially rests on the observation that while not explicitly mandating them, Article 17(4)(b) and (c) effectively require platforms to implement upload filters because there are no other effective means to comply with the obligations contained therein. Poland argues that this will lead to censorship and will limit the freedom of information of the users of online platforms.

According to Poland, the key problem with the directive is the move away from active participation of rightholders (as initiators of removal requests in the context of notice and takedown procedures) and instead handing the responsibility of removing infringing uploads over to platforms who will have to develop private enforcement systems to avoid liability for copyright infringement. Because they are not facing any comparable risk when they limit user rights by blocking access to legal content, this creates strong incentives for over-blocking. This in turn will result in censorship and violation of the fundamental rights to freedom of expression and information under the Charter. Consequently, the problematic parts of Article 17 should be annulled by the Court.

All other parties intervening in the case objected to this line of argument and stated that in their view Article 17 does not violate any fundamental rights. However, they presented strikingly contradictory interpretations of what Article 17 actually requires of platforms. There are two distinct lines of argument: The Commission, the Council and the European Parliament argued that that Article 17 contains enough internal safeguards to prevent users’ fundamental rights from being unduly limited. On the other hand, France and Spain argued that some limitations of fundamental freedoms are justified by the objective that Article 17 seeks to achieve. Continue reading

Taming the upload filters: Pre-flagging vs. match and flag

Raderboot
How to limit the damage filters can do
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One of the most important elements of any implementation of Article 17 will be how platforms can reconcile the use of automated content filtering with the requirement not to prevent the availability of legitimate uploads. While most implementation proposals that we have seen so far are silent on this crucial question, both the German discussion proposal and the Commission’s consultation proposal contain specific mechanisms that are intended to ensure that automated content filters do not block legitimate uploads, and that uploads are subject to human review if they are not obviously/likely infringing. 

In order to achieve this objective, the German discussion draft published in June relies on the idea of “pre-flagging”: users would be allowed to flag uploads containing third party works as legitimate. Platforms would then be prevented from automatically blocking pre-flagged uploads unless they determine that the flag is incorrect because the upload is “obviously infringing”. 

By contrast, the Commission’s implementation guidance consultation proposes a “match-and-flag” mechanism: if upload filters detect the presence of a third party work in an upload and the use is not deemed to be “likely infringing”, then the uploader is notified and given the ability to state that the use is legitimate. If the user flags the upload as legitimate, the platform will have to initiate a human review of the upload, which remains available from the moment of upload until the review has been concluded. This type of mechanism was first suggested by a group of copyright academics in October of last year. It is also at the core of the proposal that we had presented during the last meeting of the stakeholder dialogue.

Both approaches provide a mechanism that limits the application of fully automated upload filters (while implicitly acknowledging the fact that many platforms will deploy upload filters). In the Commission’s proposal, filters are limited to making a pre-selection (“is the upload likely infringing?”); in the German proposal, they can only operate on unflagged content and to filter out “obviously incorrect” pre-flags.

Convergence on “match-and-flag”?

Both approaches have been criticised by rightholders, who claim that they undermine the “original objective of the directive” without providing alternative proposals on how automated filtering can be reconciled with the requirement not to block legitimate uploads. In addition, the German discussion proposal has also been criticised by platforms such as Google and Facebook. The platforms are arguing that giving users the ability to pre-flag every single upload would be impractical and would likely lead to substantial numbers of unnecessary (where the content in question is already licensed) or unjustified (users making excessive use of the pre-flagging tool) pre-flags, which would make such a system impractical to operate at scale. Continue reading

Implementation update: French Parliament gives carte blanche, while the Netherlands correct course.

Le Francois L'Hollandois
Dutch parliament strengthens user rights
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Back in January of this year, we noted how both the Netherlands and France (at that point the only Member States that had presented proposals to implement Article 17) had proposed selective implementations of Article 17 that ignored crucial user rights safeguards. A lot has happened since January, but yesterday both Member States took further steps in their national implementations. And this time the two Member States are moving in opposite directions: 

While the Dutch government has reacted to criticism from civil society and members of Parliament by fixing some of the most obvious shortcomings of its implementation law, the 2nd chamber of the French Parliament has adopted a law that gives the French government the power to implement Article 17 (and the rest of the provisions of the DSM directive) however it sees fit. 

Netherlands: a course correction

Back in July of 2019, the Netherlands were the first country to propose an implementation law of the DSM directive. Somewhat surprisingly (the Netherlands had been one of the most vocal opponents of Article 17 in the Council) the proposed implementation law did not make any efforts to protect user rights and omitted most of the user rights safeguards contained in the final version of Article 17. After the proposal was sent to Parliament in June this year, together with Bits of Freedom and others we pointed out these shortcomings to the members of the legal affairs committee. Yesterday, in response to questions from members of the legal affairs committee, the government conceded that its original implementation proposal was incomplete and added the missing user rights safeguards to the proposal for an implementation law. Continue reading

Article 17 guidance: Don’t shoot the messenger / ne pas tirer sur le messager!

David geeft opdracht om de man te doden die Saul de genadestoot gaf Sauls dootslager gestraft
Strengthening user rights is part of Article 17
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Yesterday Politico published the response submitted by the French Government to the Commission’s stakeholder consultation on the article 17 implementation guidance. For anyone who has followed the French position in the debate about Article 17, the response (see here for an english language “courtesy translation”) will not be very surprising. The French reaction rejects the majority of what the Commission is proposing and questions and accuses the Commission of reversing the progress that (according to the French government) has been made with the adoption of Article 17 in early 2019. This position is largely aligned with the grievances expressed by a coalition of rightholders organisations in their recent letter to Commissioner Breton and it is consistent with the way France is implementing Article 17 in its national law (next week the Assemblée nationale will vote on a law that will authorise the French Government to implement the provisions of the DSM directive by decree). 

Unfortunately, it is also based on a flawed understanding of the issue at hand. Since the French authorities note in their reaction that they “will carefully consider stakeholders’ responses and are open to continued discussions so that future guidance may play their concrete technical role with regards to the correct application of article 17”, it is necessary to clear up some of the misunderstandings here.

Misrepresenting Article 17

The constant references, on the side of rightholders and from the French government, to the “original objective”, “goal” or “spirit” of the directive try to mask the fact that the actual text of the directive is not as clear-cut as rightsholders and the French government would like it to be. The fact is that, in between its introduction (as Article 13) in 2016 and its adoption (as Article 17) in 2019, the provisions dealing with the “Use of protected content by online content-sharing service providers” have undergone substantial changes. 

What was proposed as a relatively simple intervention to strengthen the position of rightholders vis-à-vis content sharing platforms by changing the liability position of said platforms, has – following intense criticism from academia, civil society and internet users – been transformed into a convoluted legal regime that serves a number of conflicting objectives. Article 17 now includes strong language that establishes new user rights and provides meaningful safeguards for preserving these rights. These additions to the article were essential in securing its adoption by the EU legislator. As a result, in the final version of the article, the original objective of strengthening the position of rightholders is just one of a number of objectives. 

By now it seems clear that in their fierce determination to get the new copyright directive adopted, many of the supporters of the original proposal have failed to notice that the final legislative compromise had morphed into an article that is fundamentally different from what was originally proposed. In supporting the final compromise of Article 17, rightholders and the French government have in fact supported provisions that go against their long established positions. Continue reading

Civil Society letter on the Article 17 implementation guidance

De briefschrijfster
Guidance must aim to protect users' rights!
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Earlier today 27 (update 17-09-2020: 32) civil society organisations sent a joint letter to Commissioner Breton summarising our responses to the Article 17 guidance consultation that closed last week. In addition to organisations participating in the stakeholder dialogue, the letter has also received support from a broad coalition of digital and human rights organisations from across Europe. 

The letter expresses concerns that the proposed Article 17 guidance endorses the use of automated content blocking by online services even though it is clear that this will lead to the violation of fundamental rights. It also warns that implementations of Article 17 based on the proposed guidance will violate established principles of EU law.

In this context the letter highlights the need for meaningful safeguards for legitimate uses of content uploaded to online platforms, and stresses the need for a robust redress mechanism for users. Summarising the consultation responses submitted by the various signatories, the letter highlights the importance of ensuring that uploads that are not manifestly infringing must remain online until a human review has taken place. The letter further stresses the importance of involving users’ organisations when setting technical parameters that are used to determine if an upload is manifestly infringing or not. 

The letter further highlights the need for full transparency of (automated) content removals and the ability for users (and user organisations on their behalf) to take actions against the abuse of the measures introduced by Article 17 of the DSM directive.

Finally, the letter also expresses support for the Commission’s clarification that Article 17 constitutes a “lex specialis” to the provisions of the InfoSoc Directive which provides Member States with maximum flexibility to include user rights preserving authorisation mechanisms in their national legislation.

You can read the full letter including the list of signatories here.