Last year, we wrote about a European Commission consultation on copyright, which revealed the vast chasm
between the views of the public and those of the copyright industry. In particular, where the former wanted many aspects of copyright to change, the latter thought things were pretty good, and should be left as they were.
Often such consultations are just filed away, as is currently happening with the one on corporate sovereignty
. But in the case of copyright, the person appointed to write a report on what should happen next is the lone Pirate Party Member of the European Parliament, Julia Reda, and she is clearly determined to use the results of the consultation to help reform EU copyright. The draft version of her report for the European Parliament evaluating the current 2001 copyright directive
turns out to be remarkably faithful to many of the Pirate Party's ideas on copyright. Here's Reda's (intentionally Tweetable) encapsulation:
Although the directive was meant to adapt copyright to the digital age, in reality it is blocking the exchange of knowledge and culture across borders today.
The accompanying press release provides a summary of the report's approach and its proposals
Drawing on the responses to a public consultation on the topic by the Commission in 2014 as well as scientific studies, the report calls for common European rules: "The goals set out in the [copyright] directive can be best achieved with the introduction of a Single European Copyright Title", it states, emphasising the need to “allow equal access […] across borders” to achieve the goal of a digital single market.
The report calls for the harmonization of copyright terms and exceptions across Europe, new exceptions for emerging use cases like audio-visual quotation, e-lending and text and data mining, as well as the adoption of an open norm to “allow for the adaptation to unanticipated new forms of cultural expression”. It recommends “exempting works produced by the public sector […] from copyright protection” and demands that “exercise of exceptions or limitations […] should not be hindered by technological measures”.
That short summary rather downplays the boldness of the proposals, which are well-worth reading in full. In another sign of Reda's Pirate origins and general Net-savviness -- she also references Techdirt's "The Sky is Rising 2
" report -- she has posted the full text of her draft on an online discussion platform
that lets anyone comment and rate individual sections. Remarkably, the "harmonization of copyright terms" mentioned above is downwards
Calls on the Commission to harmonise the term of protection of copyright to a duration that does not exceed the current international standards set out in the Berne Convention;
That is, life plus 50 years, rather than the widespread life plus 70 years. Reda also wants to protect and expand the public domain:
Recommends that the EU legislator should further lower the barriers for re-use of public sector information by exempting works produced by the public sector -- within the political, legal and administrative process -- from copyright protection;
Her proposals for harmonizing exceptions are equally dramatic:
Calls on the Commission to make mandatory all exceptions and limitations referred to in Directive 2001/29/EC, to allow equal access to cultural diversity across borders within the internal market and to improve legal security;
Not only does Reda want to bring in all the allowed exceptions and limitations across the whole EU, she also proposes a mechanism for creating new ones:
Calls for the adoption of an open norm introducing flexibility in the interpretation of exceptions and limitations in certain special cases that do not conflict with the normal exploitation of the work and do not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the author or rightholder;
She calls for the clarification of a number of important questions that have arisen recently. These include confirming that hyperlinking is not an infringement of copyright; allowing the use of photographs and videos of works that are displayed in public places; confirming that the caricature, parody and pastiche exceptions apply regardless of the parodic purpose; permitting text and data mining; exceptions for research and educational purposes, as well as allowing libraries to lend out ebooks. She also tackles DRM:
Stresses that the effective exercise of exceptions or limitations, and access to content that is not subject to copyright or related rights protection, should not be hindered by technological measures;
And adds this rather unusual rider:
Recommends making legal protection against the circumvention of any effective technological measures conditional upon the publication of the source code or the interface specification, in order to secure the integrity of devices on which technological protections are employed and to ease interoperability; in particular, when the circumvention of technological measures is allowed, technological means to achieve such authorised circumvention must be available;
As those excerpts make clear, practically everything here is likely to make the copyright maximalists howl -- particularly the unprecedented suggestion that copyright terms should be reduced for once, instead of constantly extending them, as in the past. Of course, not everything will survive the lobbying barrage that will hit the various EU committees as they review the text, nor will the European Commission adopt every proposal when it puts together its proposal for the new directive on copyright to update the current one.
But the report is nonetheless an amazing achievement for someone who has been a Member of the European Parliament for less than a year: Reda and her team should be proud of their work. It is also hugely important, because it raises in such a clear and thoughtful way most of the key problems with today's copyright. In doing so, it provides an excellent basis on which to have a wide-ranging discussion, both in the European Parliament and beyond, about ways to make the 300-year-old copyright system fit for the digital age.
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