No more Safe Harbours for EU-ser Uploaded Content?
The European Union is considering a sweeping new Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, currently in draft stages. Industry groups are keen to ensure their opinions are taken into consideration, especially in instances where consumers share content which belongs to artists, authors, record labels, and television channels.
Digital platforms and internet service providers which host User Uploaded Content (UUC) argue that they are not responsible for any copyright infringing material uploaded by their users. However, trade bodies representing various industries believe the incoming Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive doesn’t go far enough to reform this safe harbour principle.
The E-commerce Directive states that EU Member States shall ensure that internet service providers are not liable for copyright infringements carried out by its customers, on condition that: (a) the ISP does not have actual knowledge of illegal activity or information; and (b) the provider “acts expeditiously to remove or to disable access” to the illegal content, once they become aware of it (see Article 14).
This article provides ISPs with a “safe harbour” from copyright liability (also known as the “mere conduit” provision). Generally speaking, a safe harbour* is simply a protection available within a regulation that specifies that certain actions do not to violate a given rule, in particular circumstances.
About 18 months ago, the European Commission announced its plans to introduce a new Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. As the explanatory memorandum sets out, “the evolution of digital technologies has changed the way works and other protected subjectmatter are created, produced, distributed and exploited. In the digital environment, cross-border uses have also intensified and new opportunities for consumers to access copyright-protected content have materialised. Even though the objectives and principles laid down by the EU copyright framework remain sound, there is a need to adapt it to these new realities.”
Amongst other things, the propsed Directive seeks to rebalance the position of the copyright owner against that of the internet service provider. Last week, various trade groups representing Europe’s creators and creative content producers published an open Letter to the European Council.
The authors suggest that, far from ensuring legal certainty, the Directive as currently drafted “could be detrimental to our sectors,” which include journalism, film and TV, music, and sport. While the authors support the objectives of the proposed legislation, the Letter critiques the latest draft of the directive, and expresses significant concerns about the safe harbour reforms.
In particular, the problems seem to arise with sections addressing the “use of protected content” by ISPs and other platforms which “store and give access to large amounts of works and other subject-matter uploaded by their users”. Put simply, the copyright industries want the safe harbour reformed, so that it no longer applies to user-upload sites (Complete Music Update).
This draws into question how online platforms hosting UUC should monitor user behaviour and filter their contributions. Currently, the platforms review material after it has been published and reported or “flagged” as copyright infringement. This may, as has been discussed with Facebook’s proposed use of artificial intelligence in copyright and hate speech monitoring, “inevitably require an automated system of monitoring that could not distinguish copyright infringement from legal uses such as parody” (The Guardian).
The authors of the Letter voice complaints in respect of the draft forms of Article 2, Article 13(1) and Article 13(4):
- Article 2 defines which services fall under liability, mentioned further at Article 13. The latest draft could leave most UUC platforms outside the scope, despite the fact they continue to provide access to copyright protected works and other subject-matter. For example, music playing in the background of a makeup tutorial on YouTube.
- The problem with Article 13(1) as currently written is that it risks narrowing the scope of the right and contravening CJEU jurisprudence. The Letter’s authors argue that “any new EU law should secure that this right is broad,” and “contain no additional criteria which could change via future CJEU rulings.”
- As for Article 13(4) and its relevant recitals, the authors suggest the language is tantamount to a new safe harbour, which would both “seriously undermine fundamental principles of European copyright,” and pose “unwarranted liability privilege risks breaching the EU’s obligations under international copyright treaties.”
The Letter closes with the authors’ promise to “remain at the Council’s disposal to find solutions to these points.” For more on the proposed Directive, be sure to check out the IPKat’s numerous posts on the subject.
*This “Safe Harbour” in copyright law is not to be confused with the Safe Harbor Data Privacy exemptions between the US and the EU, which have since been declared invalid. On that subject, I might write on the new Privacy Sheild… at some point…
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