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

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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

Civil Society letter on the Article 17 implementation guidance

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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.

Commission consultation on Article 17 guidance: User rights must be protected at upload

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Legitimate uses must be considered at all times
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At the end of July the Commission published a long awaited “targeted consultation addressed to the participants to the stakeholder dialogue on Article 17 of the CDSM Directive“. With this consultation the Commission makes good on its (pre-covid) promise to “share initial views on the content of the Article 17 guidance” with the participants of the stakeholder dialogue. Nestled in-between 18 questions, the consultation document provides a detailed outline of what the Commission’s guidance could look like once it is finalised.

While we have been rather sceptical after the end of the six meetings of the stakeholder dialogue meetings, we are pleased to see that the initial views shared by the Commission express a genuine attempt to find a balance between the protection of user rights and the interests of creators and other rightholders, which reflects the complex balance of the provisions introduced by Article 17 after a long legislative fight.

In the remainder of this post we will take a first, high level, look at the Commission’s proposal for the Article 17 guidance, what it would mean for national implementations and how it would affect user rights.

Two welcome clarifications

With the consultation document the Commission takes a clear position on two issues that were central to the discussions in the stakeholder dialogue and that have important implications for national implementation of Article 17.

The first one concerns the nature of the right at the core of Article 17. Is Article 17 a mere clarification of the existing right of communication to the public, as rightholders have argued, or is it a special or sui generis right, as academics and civil society groups have argued? In the consultation document the Commission makes it clear that it considers Article 17 to be a special right (“lex specialis”) to the right of communication to the public, as defined in Article 3 of the 2001 InfoSoc Directive, and the limited liability regime for hosting providers of the E-commerce Directive. 

What sounds like a fairly technical discussion has wide ranging consequences for Member States implementing the Directive. As explained by João Quintais and Martin Husovec, now that it is clear that Article 17 is not a mere clarification of existing law, Member States have considerably more freedom in deciding how online platforms can obtain authorisation for making available the works uploaded by their users. This should mean that they are not constrained by the InfoSoc Directive. Therefore, mechanisms like the remunerated “de-minimis” exception proposed by the German Ministry of Justice that would legalise the use of short snippets of existing works are permitted and covered by the concept of “authorisation” introduced by Article 17. Continue reading

Video recording of the COMMUNIA Salon on the German proposal to implement Article 17

Last week on Thursday we held the third virtual edition of our COMMUNIA Salon. This edition focussed on the recent German proposal to implement Article 17 of the DSM Directive and included contributions by John Henrik Weitzmann (Wikimedia Deutschland), Julia Reda (Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte), Martin Husovec (London School of Economics) and Paul Keller (COMMUNIA). If you have missed the event you can watch a recording of the presentations and the subsequent discussion here:

COMMUNIA Salon 2020/3: The German proposal to implement Article 17 – A broken promise or a way forward?

COMMUNIA Salon 2020/3: The German proposal to implement Article 17Licentie

On Thursday, the 2nd of July, we will be organising the next edition of our virtual COMMUNIA Salon to discuss the new German implementation proposal for Article 17 of the DSM directive. For this event we will be joined by Julia Reda (Project lead control © at the GFF and former MEP), John Hendrik Weitzmann (General Counsel at Wikimedia Deutschland) and Dr. Martin Husovec (Assistant Professor, Department of Law, London School of Economics). 

As we have written in our initial reaction, the German proposal is the first serious attempt by a member state to implement Article 17 of the directive in a way that preserves the precarious balance between the rights of users and creators. Where previous implementation proposals have limited themselves to (selectively) transposing the provisions of the directive, the German Ministry of Justice has presented a proposal that adds a number of interesting (and potentially controversial) additional provisions, which seem to be designed to strengthen the position of both users and individual creators. These include the addition of a remunerated de-minimis exception intended to safeguard common types of so-called “user generated content”, the ability for uploaders to “pre-flag” legitimate uses of protected works in their uploads, and the addition of a direct remuneration rights intended to ensure that individual creators benefit from the new legal regime.

With this proposal the German government presents an alternative vision for how Article 17 could work in practice, which could serve as a model for other member states when implementing the directive. During our Salon we will hear first reactions from civil society stakeholders and analyse the legal underpinnings of the more innovative elements of the proposal, such as the proposed de-minimis exception. The presentations will be followed by an informal question and answer session.

The Salon is open for everyone to attend and will be held on Zoom. Join us on Thursday, the 2 of July, at 1530 CET, by registering here. Registered participants will receive login information ahead of the event.

Article 17 implementation: German proposal strengthens the right of user and creators

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A more balanced way to implement Article 17
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It speaks to the complexity of the discussion about Article 17 of the Copyright in the Digital Single Market directive that the new German implementation proposal is at the same time a broken promise and something that sets a positive example for the other Member States. The measures to implement Article 17 unveiled today as part of a wider proposal for implementing a second set of provisions of the directive (which we will discuss in a follow up post), do not manage to keep the earlier promise to avoid the use of upload filters and instead embrace their use within certain limits. This will almost certainly be a major point of political controversy within Germany.

But seen from the other 26 EU member states this broken promise will likely be overshadowed by the fact that the German government is setting an example for fully using the room for legislative discretion left by the directive to include a number of significant protections for users together with measures aimed at ensuring that individual creators directly benefit from the new provisions. In doing so the German implementation proposal is the first proposal that does not limit itself to (selectively) transposing the provisions of the directive into national law. As a result of this, the German implementation proposal is much closer to the legislative compromise struck by Article 17 than any of the other implementations that we have seen so far.

The implementation proposal (which represents the position of the Ministry of Justice and still needs to be endorsed by the government as a whole) proposes to implement Article 17 in a new law that is separate from the main Copyright Act. This new “Gesetz über die urheberrechtliche Verantwortlichkeit von Diensteanbietern für das Teilen von Online-Inhalten” (UrhDaG) follows the overall logic of Article 17 in making OCSSPs first liable for infringements by their users and then requiring them to either license or take measures to prevent the availability of infringing works to limit their liability.

To ensure the balance of the resulting provision the proposal adds a number of provisions aimed at safeguarding the ability of users to freely share and receive information and for creators to be remunerated for such uses of their works. These measures include: Continue reading

Video recording of the COMMUNIA salon on 18 June 2020

Last week on Thursday we held the second virtual edition of our COMMUNIA Salon. This edition focussed on the role of flexible exceptions in the context of Article 17 of the Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive and the role that a broad interpretation of the concept of pastiche can play in preserving users’ freedom of creative expression. If you have missed the event you can watch a recording of the presentations and the subsequent discussion here:

The salon was kicked off by Teresa Nobre who discussed the importance of flexible copyright exceptions and highlighted the recent developments in the jurisprudence of the CJEU that has gradually started to recognise exceptions as expressions of certain fundamental rights. In the following presentation Paul Keller discussed the tension between mandatory exceptions and de-facto mandatory filters in Article 17 and highlighted that the provisions dealing with exceptions remain at the center of the discussion in the Commission’s stakeholder dialogue on the implementation of Article 17.

In the second part of the event Prof. Martin Senftleben talked about Article 17, Pastiche and Money for Creators. As part of his presentation Prof. Senftleben reminded the audience about the original objective of Article 17 to make large online platforms pay for so-called “user generated content” in order to improve the income position of creators and other rightholders. According to Prof. Senftleben, the licensing based approach introduced by Article 17 will fail to achieve this objective since it inherently favours large rightholders who have the means to negotiate with large platforms. Article 17 as such does not ensure that individual creators benefit from any additional revenues secured by creative industry intermediaries. Continue reading

COMMUNIA Salon 2020/2: protecting freedom of expression via the pastiche exception

COMMUNIA Salon 2020/2: Protecting freedom of expression via the pastiche exceptionLicentie

After the success of our first virtual COMMUNIA salon last month we will be holding a follow-up event on Thursday, the 18th of June, from 1530 to 1700h CET. This time we will be focussing on the role of the now mandatory exceptions and limitations for quotation, criticism, review, caricature, parody and pastiche in the context of the implementation of Article 17 of the DSM directive. We will pay special attention to the role of the pastiche exception and examine how a broad conception of pastiche can provide a legal basis for a wide range of transformative uses of protected works on online platforms.

In the context of the discussion on the implementation of Article 17, scholars have argued that the concept of pastiche (“a musical, literary, or artistic composition made up of selections from different works“) provides a legal basis for safeguarding transformative uses that are commonly referred to as User Generated Content. During the upcoming COMMUNIA salon we will explore this possibility and discuss how Member States can best make use of the room provided by the pastiche exception when implementing Article 17 of the DSM directive.

After introductory presentations by Teresa Nobre (on the importance of flexible exceptions to copyright) and Paul Keller (on the tension between filtering obligations and the obligation to safeguard users rights in the context of Article 17), we will be joined by Professor Martin Senftleben from the Institute for Information Law, who will focus on the role of the pastiche exception. Prof. Senftleben has recently published a paper on the role of the pastiche exception in the context of institutionalised algorithmic enforcement and is one of the co-authors of the European Copyright Society’s comment on Article 17 of the DSM directive, which recommends “cultivating the concept of pastiche” to ensure that Article 17 does not limit freedom of expression.

The presentations will be followed by an informal question and answer session.

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.

A better way to implement Article 17? New German proposal to avoid overblocking

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A step-by-step concept against overblocking
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Back in April 2019, at the occasion of the final vote on the DSM Directive in the Council, the German Federal Government issued a statement, announcing that it intended to implement Article 17 with a focus on “preventing ‘upload filters’ wherever possible, ensuring freedom of expression and safeguarding user rights”. While the German Government has yet to produce an implementation proposal for Article 17, we may now have gotten a first insight in what such an implementation might look like. Late last month, the Kölner Forschungsstelle für Medienrecht at the University of Applied Sciences in Cologne, published a step-by-step concept for implementing Article 17 of the DSM Directive (“Stufenkonzept gegen Overblocking durch Uploadfilter“). 

The paper authored by Prof. Dr. Rolf Schwartmann and Prof. Dr. Christian-Henner Hentsch consists of an implementation proposal in the form of concrete legislative language. The objective of the authors seems to be to stay as close as possible to the objectives formulated in the German statement to the Council. What makes this proposal remarkable is that it is the first proposal (although not an official one) for implementing the Article 17 of the new Copyright Directive that does not consist of more or less literal transposition of Article 17 into national law (as it is the case in the French, Dutch and Belgian legislative proposals). In order to achieve the stated objective of preventing over-blocking by upload filters, the concept proposes a combination of Article 17 with Article 12 of the DSM Directive (which provides Member States the option to introduce Extended Collective Licenses). 

The implementation proposal contains modifications of three different acts: the Copyright Act (Urheberrechtsgesetz – UrhG), the Tele Media Act (Telemediengesetz – TMG) and the Collective Management Organisations Act (Verwertungsgesellschaftengesetz – VGG). Specifically the authors propose the following modifications: 

In the Copyright Act, they propose to add a new section to the article (§ 19a UrhG) that defines the act of communication to the public. The purpose of this addition is to include acts of giving the public access to copyright-protected user uploaded works by Online Content Service Providers (OCSSPs) in the definition of the existing making available to the public right. This establishes that, in principle, OCSSPs need authorisation from rightholders for such acts. The added section also includes the definition of OCSSPs, which is a literal transposition of the definition used in the DSM directive. 

The second addition to the Copyright Act is a new exception covering uses for the purpose of caricature, parody or pastiche by users of OCSSPs (§ 51a UrhG). Notably, this exception only applies in the context of sharing works via OCSSPs (which is highly unusual as copyright exceptions are usually not limited to specific services) and is conditional on remuneration to rightholders via collective management organisations. Continue reading

Article 17 Stakeholder dialogue: COMMUNIA input paper

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Our principles for the the Commission guidelines
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Given the ongoing health emergency, the European Commission’s stakeholder dialogue on the implementation of Article 17 of the Copyright Directive is currently suspended. The 7th meeting of the stakeholder dialogue, which was originally scheduled for Monday of this week and where the Commission was expected to “share initial views on the content of the guidelines”, has been cancelled and it is currently unclear how and when the stakeholder dialogue will be resumed. In the meanwhile, the European Commission is continuing its work on the guidelines.

While we are waiting for news on the future of the stakeholder dialogue we have produced an input paper for the Commission (pdf) that summarises our observations from the stakeholder dialogue so far and formulates a number of principles that the Commission should take into account when drafting its guidelines. In line with our initial principles, the input paper focuses on licensing, transparency and procedural safeguards for users’ rights. The paper builds on the model that we had presented during the last meeting of the stakeholder dialogue

Specifically, we are asking the Commission to include the following in the Article 17 implementation guidelines: 

  • Recommend to national lawmakers to fully explore all legal mechanisms (including collective licensing with extended effect, mandatory collective management schemes and other non-voluntary licensing schemes) for granting OCSSPs authorisation to have in their platforms copyright-protected works and other subject matter uploaded by their users.
  • Require that all ownership claims made in the context of the measures required by Article 17 must be made fully transparent to allow public scrutiny and prevent unjustified removals or blocking by rightholders claiming ownership of works that they do not own.
  • Require that OCSSPs publish statistical information on the number of removal/blocking actions as well as the number of complaints and the resolution of complaints arising as the result of such actions.
  • Requires that in cases other than obvious infringement and in order to prevent automated measures from affecting lawful uses, users must have the ability to override all automated actions before the blocking/removal takes effect.
  • Require that in case of obvious (“prima facie”) infringement uploaded content can be automatically blocked/removed under the condition that uploaders have the ability to easily and effectively challenge such blocks/removals.
  • Require that users must be able to rely on all existing exceptions as grounds for challenging removal/blocking actions and must be able to dispute the ownership claims on which an action is based.

Continue reading