Last September, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced plans to modernize copyright law in Europe.
The proposals (pdf) are part of the Digital Single Market reforms, which have been under development for the past several years.
The proposals cover a broad range of copyright-related issues, but one stands out as being particularly controversial. Article 13 requires certain online service providers to become deeply involved in the detection and policing of allegedly infringing copyright works, uploaded to their platforms by users.
Although its effects will likely be more broad, the proposal is targeted at the so-called “value gap” (1,2,3), i.e the notion that platforms like YouTube are able to avoid paying expensive licensing fees (for music in particular) by exploiting the safe harbor protections of the DMCA and similar legislation.
To close this loophole using Article 13, services that provide access to “large amounts” of user-uploaded content would be required to cooperate with rightsholders to prevent infringing works being communicated to the public.
This means that platforms like YouTube would be forced to take measures to ensure that their deals with content providers to distribute official content are protected by aggressive anti-piracy mechanisms.
The legislation would see platforms forced to deploy content-recognition, filtering and blocking mechanisms, to ensure that only non-infringing content is uploaded in the first place, thus limiting the chances that unauthorized copyrighted content will be made available to end users.
Supporters argue that the resulting decrease in availability of infringing content will effectively close the “value gap” but critics see the measures as disproportionate, likely to result in censorship (no provision for fair use), and a restriction of fundamental freedoms. Indeed, there are already warnings that such a system would severely “restrict the way Europeans create, share, and communicate online.”
The proposals have predictably received widespread support from entertainment industry companies across the EU and the United States, but there are now clear signs that the battle lines are being drawn.
On one side are the major recording labels, movie studios, and other producers. On the other, companies and platforms that will suddenly become more liable for infringing content, accompanied by citizens and scholars who feel that freedoms will be restricted.
The latest sign of the scale of opposition to Article 13 manifests itself in an open letter to the European Parliament. Under the Copyright for Creativity (C4C) banner and signed by the EFF, Creative Commons, Wikimedia, Mozilla, EDRi, Open Rights Group plus sixty other organizations, the letter warns that the proposals will cause more problems than they solve.
“The European Commission’s proposal on copyright in the Digital Single Market failed to meet the expectations of European citizens and businesses. Instead of supporting Europeans in the digital economy, it is backward looking,” the groups say.
“We need European lawmakers to oppose the most damaging aspects of the proposal, but also to embrace a more ambitious agenda for positive reform.”
In addition to opposing Article 11 (the proposed Press Publishers’ Right), the groups ask the EU Parliament not to impose private censorship on EU citizens via Article 13.
“The provision on the so-called ‘value gap’ is designed to provoke such legal uncertainty that online services will have no other option than to monitor, filter and block EU citizens’ communications if they want to have any chance of staying in business,” the groups write.
“The Commission’s proposal misrepresents some European Court rulings and seeks to impose contradictory obligations on Member States. This is simply bad regulation.”
Calling for the wholesale removal of Article 13 from the copyright negotiations, the groups argue that the reforms should be handled in the appropriate contexts.
“We strenuously oppose such ill thought through experimentation with intermediary liability, which will hinder innovation and competition and will reduce the opportunities available to all European businesses and citizens,” they add.
C4C concludes by calling on lawmakers to oppose Article 13 while seeking avenues for positive reform.
The full letter can be found here (pdf)