Friday 19 June 2015

EU Legal Affairs Committee moves copyright reform one step closer

Following a vote by the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee, an amended version of its report on the implementation of the EU’s 2001 InfoSoc/Copyright Directive will now go forward for further likely amendment and vote a by the full European Parliament on 9 July 2015. 

The draft report amongst other things calls for:

- An impact assessment in relation to any single European copyright title proposal 

- looking at issues arising from geo-blocking of access to certain content services within the EU. the draft report contains strong language in favour of protecting the rights of “cultural minorities” living in the EU to access content in their native languages, which they are now often prevented from doing because of geo-blocking practices.

- Mandatory adoption of some copyright exceptions and limitations - whilst recognising that some difference may be justified on the grounds of specific cultural and economic interests 

- Assessment of proposed new exceptions to allow (for example):- Libraries to lend e-books; and text and data mining 

- An impact study of the Commission’s copyright modernisation initiative on the production, financing and distribution of films and TV content, and on cultural diversity.

- The report rejected the idea of a “snippet tax” that targets aggregators like Google News, but equally does not recommend any expansion of concepts such as fair use.

- The report does call for potentially expanding the liability of Internet service providers and online platforms when their users infringe copyrights. An approved amendment says that the legal status of these intermediaries should be clarified so that content creators and rightsholders are fairly paid for their work.

Julia Reda MEP
Whilst the report doesn't live up to more radical reforms that rapptorteur Julia Reda MEP had called for, the Pirate Party MEP said “After decades of introducing new restrictions to protect the material interests of rightholders, this is the strongest demand yet to restore balance in copyright rules and reduce the legal uncertainty that Europeans face when accessing copyrighted works today.” However reports said that Reda was not happy with the protection for the creators of public artworks that might be photographed or captured on video or film. The amendment states that any such images used commercially must get permission from the author of the work. 

The report was slammed for its lack of ambition by IT industry group Digital Europe, which said that it is a missed opportunity for reform and bows too much to the demands of copyright holders who don’t want significant reform. The group pointed to the need for immediate reform of rules governing private copying of content.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation said "Fix Our Broken Copyright Law!" and lead in their article by pointing out that Hungarian artist Paul Mutant's "This Painting is Not Available In Your Country" is one of the artworks that adorns the wall of EFF's office in San Francisco - explaining that whilst the title may make little sense to Americans used to a country wide federal system, "almost every European Internet user recognizes it instantly—they encounter a similar message every time they attempt to watch one of the many YouTube videos that rightsholders haven't licensed for streaming in their country. Similar geographical restrictions impede Europeans' access to pay services, such as Netflix, when they travel abroad (assuming they are lucky enough to be able to subscribe to begin with—in over two-thirds of the world, Netflix is unavailable at any price, without the use of a location-fudging VPN)."

The EFF's article goes on to opine that geographical blocks are just a tiny part of the problems in European copyright law, under which some countries "even rule it illegal to take holiday snapshots of public buildings".  The EFF also comment what they call "regressive proposals" that have been promoted by amendments, including several which "would threaten the right to link (the widget featured above highlights this threat, and it's free for you to use on your own website too)". The EFF say that negotiation over those amendments has resulted in compromises, giving as an example the paragraph that called for recognition of "the freedom of rightsholders to voluntarily relinquish their rights and dedicate their works to the public domain" would, in the compromise version, merely ask the European Commission "to examine whether rightsholders may be given the right" to do so.

The EFF also comment (And express displeasure) at: 

A recommendation that existing copyright limitations and exceptions be mandatory across all member states is replaced with one that accepts that different rules "may be justified on a case-by-case basis, to allow room for manoeuvre of Member States to legislate according to their specific cultural and economic interests".

A former strong call for a "fair use" style copyright exception is narrowed to a principle of interpretation, allowing "flexibility in the interpretation of exceptions and limitations" in "areas similar to those in which where an exception or limitation already applies". Needless to say, whatever this principle amounts to, it is not fair use as we know it.

A paragraph that formerly recommended "that the exception for quotation should expressly include audio-visual quotations in its scope" has been mangled beyond recognition, and no longer does so.

A provision on freedom to link, that would have explicitly set out that "reference to works by means of a hyperlink is not subject to exclusive rights, as it does not consist in a communication to a new public", has simply been deleted in the compromise draft.

More here

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