EU Copyright Directive Update: Fresh (But Slim) Hope Of Stopping Link Taxes And Upload Filters
from the and-ways-to-make-them-less-awful-if-we-can't dept
The awful EU Copyright Directive is not done and dusted. As Techdirt reported last month, the European Parliament may have failed to do its duty and protect the EU Internet for the region’s citizens, but the proposed law has not yet passed. Instead, it has entered the so-called “trilogue” discussions. Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda explains:
In this series of closed-door meetings, the European Parliament and the Council (representing the member state governments) hammer out a final text acceptable to both institutions. It’s the last chance to make changes before the Directive gets adopted. Meetings are currently scheduled until Christmas, although whether the process will be concluded by then is up in the air.
A recent decision by the General Court of the European Union has ruled that the European Parliament can no longer deny the public access to trilogue documents (pdf). As a result, Reda has promised to provide updates on what is happening in those hitherto secretive meetings. She just published her report on the second trilogue negotiation, and there’s good and bad news. The good news is that a change of government in Italy has led to that country shifting its stance: it is now against the worst parts of the EU Copyright Directive. An EFF post explains the implications of that important development:
There may now be sufficiently large opposition to the articles [11 and 13] to create a blocking minority if they all vote together, but the new bloc has not settled on a united answer. Other countries are suspicious of Italy’s no-compromise approach. They want to add extra safeguards to the two articles, not kill them entirely. That includes some of the countries that were originally opposed in May, including Germany.
In other words, there is now at least a slim chance that Article 11 and Article 13 could be dropped entirely, or at least improved in terms of the safeguards they contain. Against that, there is some unexpected bad news, explained here by Reda:
Council, on the other hand, has now completely out of the blue proposed a new Article 17a that says that existing exceptions for education, text and data mining or preservation can only be maintained if they don’t contradict the rules of the newly introduced mandatory exceptions. In the case of teaching, this would mean that national teaching exceptions that don’t require limiting access to the educational material by using a “secure electronic environment” would no longer apply!
This is outrageous given that the whole stated purpose of the new mandatory exceptions was to make research and education easier, not to erect new barriers. If as a consequence of the new mandatory teaching exception, teaching activities in some countries that have been legal all along would no longer be legal, then the reform would have spectacularly failed at even its most modest goal of facilitating research and education.
Since this is a completely new proposal, it’s not clear how the European Parliament will respond. As Reda writes, the European Parliament ought to insist that any copyright exception that is legal under existing EU copyright law remains legal under the new Directive, once passed. Otherwise the exercise of “making copyright fit for the digital age” — the supposed justification for the new law — will have been even more of a fiasco than it currently it is.
There are two other pieces of good news. Yet another proposed extension of EU copyright, this time to create a special new form of copyright for sporting events, seems to have zero support among the EU’s Member States, and thus is likely to be dropped. Reda also notes that Belgium, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Estonia and the Czech Republic are in favor of expanding the scope of the proposed copyright exception for text and data mining to include businesses. That’s something that the AI industry in Europe desperately needs if it is to keep up with the US and China in using massive text and data stores to train AI systems.
The important message to take away here is that the EU Copyright Directive is certainly a potential disaster for the Internet in Europe, but it’s not over yet. It’s still worth trying to make the politicians understand how harmful it would be in its present form, and to improve the law before it’s too late. That’s precisely what the EFF is attempting to do with a note that it has sent to every member of the EU bodies negotiating the final text in the trilogue meetings. It has two suggestions, both addressing serious flaws in the current versions. One concerns the fact that there are zero penalties for making false copyright claims that could result in material being filtered by Article 13:
Based on EFF’s decades-long experience with notice-and-takedown regimes in the United States, and private copyright filters such as YouTube’s ContentID, we know that the low evidentiary standards required for copyright complaints, coupled with the lack of consequences for false copyright claims, are a form of moral hazard that results in illegitimate acts of censorship from both knowing and inadvertent false copyright claims.
The EFF goes on to make several sensible proposals for ways to minimize this problem. The other suggestion concerns Article 11, the so-called “link tax”. Here the issue is that the proposed measure is very poorly worded:
The existing Article 11 language does not define when quotation amounts to a use that must be licensed, though proponents have argued that quoting more than a single word requires a license.
Again, the EFF offers concrete suggestions for at least making the law less ambiguous and slightly less harmful. However, as the EFF rightly notes, tinkering with the text of these section is not the right solution:
In closing, we would like to reiterate that the flaws enumerated above are merely those elements of Articles 11 and 13 that are incoherent or not fit for purpose. At root, however, Articles 11 and 13 are bad ideas that have no place in the Directive. Instead of effecting some piecemeal fixes to the most glaring problems in these Articles, the Trilogue take a simpler approach, and cut them from the Directive altogether.
Although that seems a long shot, there is still hope, not least because Italy’s reversal of position on parts of the proposed directive makes the arithmetic of the voting considerably less certain than it seemed before. In particular, it’s still worth contacting the ministries responsible in EU Member States for copyright matters to explain why Articles 11 and 13 need to go if the Internet in the EU is to thrive.