Reform Agenda for Overhaul and Updating of EU Copyright

It would be something of an understatement to say that European copyright is a mess, with different rules applying in each of the 28 Member States, making cross-border cultural exchange and business hard to the point of impossibility. But worse than that inconsistency is the fact that European copyright is simply not fit for the digital age. There is now a huge gulf between what copyright allows, and what the public would like to do - and, in many cases, is already doing online, irrespective of the law.

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It would be something of an understatement to say that European copyright is a mess, with different rules applying in each of the 28 Member States, making cross-border cultural exchange and business hard to the point of impossibility. But worse than that inconsistency is the fact that European copyright is simply not fit for the digital age. There is now a huge gulf between what copyright allows, and what the public would like to do - and, in many cases, is already doing online, irrespective of the law. That was revealed in the results of the European Commission's consultation on copyright last year - shown most dramatically in this interesting visual representation of the widely-differing views on various aspects.

What we need is a thoroughgoing reform of the entire copyright system in Europe, and Julia Reda, now the lone MEP from the Pirate Party, has put together just that:

“The EU copyright directive was written in 2001, in a time before YouTube or Facebook. Although it was meant to adapt copyright to the digital age, in reality it is blocking the exchange of knowledge and culture across borders today“, Reda explains. “We need a common European copyright that safeguards fundamental rights and makes it easier to offer innovative online services in the entire European Union.”

Here are some of the bold but eminently sensible ideas she is advocates:

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”.

The draft report is notable for being extremely clearly written; it's also available online in a form that allows and encourages members of the public to rate its ideas, and to comment. Here are some of the key sections that could have a big impact on the world of openness:

Public sector works placed in public domain immediately:

5. 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;

Strengthening of public domain:

6. Calls on the Commission to safeguard public domain works, which are by definition not subject to copyright protection, and therefore should be used and re-used without technical or contractual barriers; also calls on the Commission to recognise the freedom of rightholders to voluntarily relinquish their rights and dedicate their works to the public domain;

Confirms that hyperlinking to works is not an infringement:

15. Stresses that the ability to freely link from one resource to another is one of the fundamental building blocks of the Internet; calls on the EU legislator to clarify that reference to works by means of a hyperlink is not subject to exclusive rights, as it is does not consist in a communication to a new public;

Explicitly permits text and data mining:

18. Stresses the need to enable automated analytical techniques for text and data (e.g. 'text and data mining') for all purposes, provided that the permission to read the work has been acquired;

Requires DRM code to be published:

24. 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 that small sample makes clear, this is pretty heady stuff. The copyright industries will doubtless fight very hard against practically everything here, as is their wont when any change to copyright in favour of the public is proposed.  Even before her report was published, Reda has had a foretaste of what is to come:

Since I was elected, I have received 86 meeting requests by lobbyists and interest groups related to copyright. Graphing the requests per week clearly shows the sharp increase when I was named rapporteur of this report on November 10, 2014.

I did my best to balance out the attention paid to various interest groups. Most requests came from publishers, distributors, collective rights organizations, service providers and intermediaries (57% altogether), while it was more difficult to get directly to the group most often referred to in public debate: The authors.

Here's what happens next:

Other Legal Affairs Committee members now have a month to submit amendments, which will be debated on Feb 23/24. On April 16, the Committee will vote on the report and its amendments.

Three other committees will be giving their opinions on my report (Industry, Research and Energy; Internal Market and Consumer Protection; Culture and Education), which also takes the form of a list of suggested amendments.

Finally, the full plenary of the Parliament will discuss, amend and pass the report. I expect the final vote to take place on May 20.

As Reda notes:

Public support will be necessary to make sure the amendments strengthen, rather than water down the report.

Some valuable support has already appeared from the groups behind the Copyright for Creativity Declaration. These include the Free Software Foundation Europe, Open Knowledge Foundation, Open Rights Group, Coadec, and many more similar organisations around Europe. The coalition has put together its own "Declaration for Europe" on the topic of copyright, as well as a summary version.

Reda's draft is an extremely important document, with a huge potential for dragging European copyright into the 21st century, thus making it fairer and more effective. It is likely to form one of the main digital battlegrounds for this part of the world over the next year or so, and I'll be reporting on developments as they come through.

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