Polish Government's Legal Challenge To EU Copyright Directive's Article 13/17 Remains Shrouded In Mystery, But Details May Not Matter
from the never-say-never dept
The awful Article 13/17 of the EU’s Copyright Directive only seems to have passed thanks to some MEPs voting for it by mistake. But the European Parliament was not the only arm of the European Union where there was strong resistance to the awful ideas contained in the upload filter proposal. Some individual governments were also against aspects of the law. For example, right at the end of the legislative process, in April 2019, no less than seven EU nations expressed their serious concerns. One of them was Poland, which issued a joint statement (pdf) with the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy and Finland, including the following:
We believe that the Directive in its current form is a step back for the Digital Single Market rather than a step forward.
Most notably we regret that the Directive does not strike the right balance between the protection of right holders and the interests of EU citizens and companies. It therefore risks to hinder innovation rather than promote it and to have a negative impact the competitiveness of the European Digital Single Market.
Furthermore, we feel that the Directive lacks legal clarity, will lead to legal uncertainty for many stakeholders concerned and may encroach upon EU citizens’ rights.
We therefore cannot express our consent with the proposed text of the Directive.
Unfortunately, in the final vote, these countries were outvoted by the other EU Member States, and the Directive was passed. However, it seems that is not the end of the story. On May 23, the official Twitter account of the Chancellery of the Prime Minister of Poland tweeted as follows, re-stating the points made in the joint statement:
Tomorrow #Poland brings action against copyright directive to CJEU. Here’s why. #Article13 #Article17 #ACTA2
Why is Poland concerned about the Copyright Directive?
The directive does not ensure a balance between the protection of right holders and the interests of EU citizens & EU enterprises.
The directive does not ensure legal clarity, fostering legal uncertainty for stakeholders and endangering the rights of EU citizens.
It could have a negative impact on the competitiveness of the European digital single market.
There is a risk that it will hinder innovations instead of promoting them.
Those criticisms are made even more pointed by the reference to ACTA — the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement that Polish citizens played an important part in helping to defeat in 2012. Using the hashtag #ACTA2 is a clear attempt to frame the Copyright Directive as more of the same bad stuff — with the hope that it will suffer the same fate.
And yet despite that tantalizing tweet, the Polish government failed to provide any more details about what exactly its legal challenge against the Copyright Directive at the EU’s top court, the Court of Justice of the European Union, (CJEU), involved. We do know that the complaint has been submitted, because the action has been assigned an official case number, C-401/19, but with all the fields containing placeholders at the time of writing.
Tomasz Targosz, from the Institute of Intellectual Property Law, Jagiellonian University Kraków, has written an interesting post on the Kluwer Copyright Blog about the Polish move. In it, he provides invaluable information about the political context for this unexpected development. He points out that the failure to publish the official complaint may indicate that the argument it employs is weak, and unlikely to stand up to expert scrutiny. But Targosz goes on to make the following important point:
No matter how the complaint is argued in terms of the legal quality of reasoning, it may be effective as long as there are no obvious formal errors. The issue at stake will garner so much attention that the arguments the Court will have to consider will go way beyond the initial complaint. We can expect numerous and voluminous publications, position papers, etc., spelling out all the legally relevant factors (especially as so much has been already said). The complaint can therefore be compared to lighting the fuse. Whether any explosion will result from it is not certain, but sometimes even a tiny spark suffices.
That is, it seems likely that now that the formal complaint process has begun, the CJEU will be duty-bound to consider in depth all the issues raised. This will therefore provide a fresh opportunity for people to make the familiar arguments about why the Copyright Directive is so flawed, especially its implicit requirement for upload filters. Moreover, this time it is not fickle and highly partial politicians that will be deciding, but the staid and rather more independent senior judges of the CJEU. As we’ve seen in the past, they have no hesitation is overturning at a stroke pivotal EU laws that have taken years to draft and pass. Although it’s impossible to predict what the CJEU will rule on this matter, it certainly seems that there is still hope that some or all of the Copyright Directive could still be thrown out. For those who feared it was all over, never say never.