EU-Mercosur trade agreement is poor copyright policymaking conducted in the dark

Journal des Dames et des Modes, Costumes Parisiens, fevrier
Users' rights must be expanded
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This week Creative Commons published an analysis of some of the copyright-related provisions contained in the trade agreement currently being negotiated between the European Union and the Mercosur bloc. The EU and this South American sub-regional group of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay have been in talks about the free trade agreement (FTA) since 2000. The EU-Mercosur negotiations are situation during a time when several of the affected countries—including Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and of course the EU—are involved in a review of their own copyright legal frameworks.

Tabled copyright rules protect powerful stakeholders, ignore public interest

As expected, the copyright provisions of the intellectual property chapter are nothing to write home about. The CC analysis shows that the policy direction suggested by the negotiators would be detrimental to the public domain, creativity and sharing, and user rights in the digital age.

For example, the draft IP chapter recommends a copyright term extension for those countries that don’t already follow the life + 70 term. It upholds more than adequate measures for protection and enforcement of rights, but doesn’t include similar safeguards to protect users rights and balanced approach to copyright. The draft IPR chapter includes prohibitions to circumventing technological protection measures to gain access to a work, as well as  a provision that would prohibit the creation and sharing of technologies that could enable a user to circumvent technological protection measures. You can read the full policy analysis here. 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

Zeeslag voor Gibraltar
Article 13 is an attack on the open internet
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Today we are publishing an updated version of our position paper on Article 13 of the European Commission’s proposal for a directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. Since we have published our original position paper in January of this year, Article 13 has generated an enormous amount of discussion and has emerged as the most contested part of the Commission’s proposal. The discussions within the parliament and among the Member States are still ongoing and so far there is no clear indication where these talks will end.

In the updated policy paper we re-iterate our concerns (a few of them have recently been taken up by a group of Member States in a set of questions to the legal services of the Council), analyse proposals for amending the Commission’s proposal that have been adopted in the European Parliament, and provide a set of recommendations. Our key recommendation remains to delete article 13 from the proposal as it addresses a problem that lacks empirical evidence confirming its existence. Article 13, as drafted by the Commission, would limit the freedom of expression of online users and create legal uncertainty that has the potential to undermine the entire EU online economy. As such it is unworthy of being included in a Directive proposal that is intended to modernize the aging EU copyright framework.

Read the updated position paper below. If you are familiar with the issues at hand and/or the previous version you may want to jump straight to the updated part.

Position paper: EU copyright should protect users’ rights and prevent content filtering

Article 13 of the European Commission’s proposal for a Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market attempts to address the alleged disparity in revenues generated by rightsholders and platforms from online uses of protected content (the so called “value gap”). The proposed article attempts to do this by introducing an obligation for “Information society service providers that store and provide to the public access to large amounts of works” to filter user uploads. It would also require these providers to set up licensing agreements with rightsholders.

These proposed measures are highly problematic as they violate fundamental rights of users, contradict the rules established by the E-Commerce Directive, and go against CJEU case law. The measures proposed in the Commission’s proposal stem from an unbalanced vision of copyright as an issue between rightsholders and infringers. The proposal chooses to ignore limitations and exceptions to copyright, fundamental freedoms, and existing users’ practices. In addition, the proposal fails to establish clear rules with regard to how citizens can use protected works in transformative ways—such as remixes and other forms of so-called “user-generated content” (UGC). As a result, a system of this kind would greatly restrict the way Europeans create, share, and communicate online. Continue reading

What educators need from copyright reform

Marietje Schaake and Lisette Kalshoven
Sharing the voice of the practicioner
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Last Wednesday, June 21st, COMMUNIA organised an event in the European Parliament, hosted by MEP Marietje Schaake (ALDE) on copyright reform for education. We wanted to share one important voice often overlooked in the copyright reform, that of the educator. What is the type of copyright exception that we need to support 21st century education? We heard from practitioners, experts and policymakers during the event.

After an introduction by Marietje Schaake and moderator Lisette Kalshoven, we officially presented the results of the RIGHTCOPYRIGHT campaign to MEP Schaake. As Alek Tarkowski noted:

“In the copyright reform debate, we tend to see copyright as a core issue. For educators, copyright is a tool – or a barrier – to attaining educational goals. We should not forget this.”

Over 4800 people have supported the petition for a better copyright reform for education to date, and we hope MEP’s will listen to their demands.

What we can’t let educators share

Next we heard from Hans deFour, founder of KlasCement a very successful online educational resources platform in Belgium. More than 70.000 educators from Flanders are members, which means almost 50% of educators in primary, secondary and special education. Continue reading

Internal Market Committee took a vote on copyright. Why does it feel like a loss?

Contitution of may 3, 1791
Partial victory, bitter taste
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Politics is full of plot twists and we have witnessed that today during the IMCO Committee vote on its opinion regarding the copyright directive proposal. The new rights for publishers that seemed to be red line for so many Parliamentarians have made their comeback. The upload filtering provisions have been removed—despite some MEPs’ efforts to make them even stronger. If the reform package was actually a coherent vision instead of a wish list of shortsighted interventions, we could be celebrating an entirely different vote.

The upload filter is gone, the e-commerce Directive is intact

In a surprising move, the Committee adopted the EPP proposal to include Article 13 as drafted by LIBE rapporteur Michal Boni into IMCO’s opinion. IMCO rapporteur Catherine Stihler supported these amendments over the compromise she had made with other Parliamentary groups: S&D, ECR, ALDE, GREENS and GUE. Since it was quite clear that the deletion suggested by some Committee Members is not an option for this article, it is seems like one of the best possible outcomes that MEP Boni’s proposal has been picked up by IMCO.

Rapporteur Boni’s take on how platforms should cooperate with rightholders offers a rational distinction between entities falling under the scope of Article 13 and those protected by the e-commerce directive exemptions. It also steers clear of content recognition and technological measures as the go-to solutions for shaping that cooperation regarding MEP Stihler’s compromise amendment.

Red line? What red line?

The big surprise of the IMCO vote is the U-turn it took on the issue of new rights for press publishers (a.k.a “the link tax”). Rapporteur Stihler proposal to delete all of Article 11 had gained some traction in the Committee, which resulted in about a dozen other IMCO Parliamentarians also tabling provisions to remove it. In the vote, however, the amendments to delete were almost entirely rejected. The Commission’s version of Article 11 has been adopted with some tweaks: hyperlinking would not fall under the new right, and the new law would not be applied retroactively.

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Worst version of the EU copyright reform proposal yet, thinly veiled as a “compromise”

Persiflage op de censuur
Stop the attack on open internet platforms!
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Earlier today MEP Julia Reda has published two documents containing “EPP alternative compromise amendments” to the IMCO draft opinion on Copyright in the Digital Single Market directive. These documents propose alternative “compromise” AMs on the proposed publishers rights (article 11) and on the so called “value gap” (article 13). Both documents have been drawn up by MEP Pascal Arimont, the EPPs shadow rapporteur in IMCO and contain the most brazen attempt so far to push through a rightsholder agenda that goes even further than the commission’s flawed proposal. While it is unclear how much support these amendments have it is very clear that they express extremist positions rather than “compromises”.

Press publishers über alles

The first set of “compromise” amendments deals with article 11 and the associated recitals and represents an unprecedented land grab on behalf of press publishers. As part of this “compromise” proposal MEP Arimont wants to extend the term of protection for the new publishers right from 20 years (as proposed by the Commission) to 50 years. In addition he proposes to extend the right to include academic publications (which were explicitly excluded from the commission’s proposal) and also applies it to analogue uses.

This massive extension of the publisher’s rights will still be very unlikely to generate new income streams for publishers, not to mention delivering on  the promise to ensure journalists get an “appropriate share of the remuneration”. Instead, it will cause substantial collateral damage. Libraries and other cultural heritage institutions will suddenly see themselves confronted with a new class of rightsholders who can make claims for publications that have been published many decades ago. As a result libraries will likely need to take archival collections off line and spend additional resources on clearing rights.

The EPP proposals will also introduce massive uncertainties for anyone linking to press publications online. According to the proposed language any hyperlink that contains “the key information which was to be conveyed” would be infringing. The proposed standard is as ridiculous as it is impractical. Unfortunately this does not seem to register with the EPP MEPs responsible for these “compromises” who are clearly willing to throw everyone else under the bus in their attempts to grant press publishers new exclusive rights. Continue reading

Last EP Committee opinion on copyright reform balances civil liberties with political reality

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Sad political reality wins
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We were hoping that the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) rapporteur Michal Boni would make use of the Committee mandate to suggest deletion of entire article 13 from the proposed Directive on Copyright in Digital Single Market. That didn’t happen. The justification of the report reflects a hope that the idea to regulate agreements between platforms and rightholders can be sustained while respecting fundamental rights of users. But do the LIBE amendments meet that goal?

Looking beyond technology

The very good news is that Rapporteur Boni proposes to remove content recognition and all references to the use of technology as a default option from the directive. MEP Boni also explicitly says in his report that the implementation of the agreements should not impose any general monitoring obligations.

Here the report builds nicely on theapproach paved by the JURI’s rapporteur MEP Comodini in her report. The removal of references to technology opens the path to looking for a variety of solutions in negotiating the division of revenues between service providers and rightholders. No doubt that technologies will be employed to verify if content is uploaded legally. But the EU copyright legislation should not require a direct connection between the business discussion on who the revenue should go to and the surveillance of users uploading stuff on a platform. Continue reading

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

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

Filtering is kind of gone

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

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

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

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

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Copyright law does not have to criminalise users

The Abduction of the Sabine Women
Better copyright in two steps
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Sharing cultural works online is a familiar part of life for hundreds of millions of people. Many of them share to satisfy a sincere desire to empower and inform their communities, to self-affirm and self-create in the virtual world. But under the law much of this sharing infringes copyrights and neighbouring rights, which means that rightholders are entitled to seek compensation. So how can we adjust the law to the realities lived by millions online and still be fair to authors?

Looking for more balance

A proper solution for these problems needs to introduce a space of legal safety for natural persons who use copyrighted works for noncommercial purposes as well as provide for a fair and transparent scheme for remunerating rightsholders. It could build upon users’ willingness to pay for on-line sharing, as shown by some studies.

However, putting those ideals into practice and translating them into the word of law is not easy. It is because any regulation of exclusive rights of authors should comply with strict requirements formulated in the international and EU copyright regime. The starting point is that generally a copyright holder’s consent is necessary for any use of a work. Traditionally, there have also been some uses of copyrighted works not requiring consent. In the EU such uses are usually called “exceptions and limitations”.

Noncommercial sharing exception

Can noncommercial sharing be covered by an exception? Well, current exceptions and limitations are listed in the INFOSOC Directive. This is a closed list, so although the idea is appealing, the Member States are not free to add new exceptions on their own. Hence a need for the activity at the EU level.

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