On September 12th the European Parliament approved amendments to the controversial Proposal for a Copyright Directive, the “Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on Copyright in the Digital Single Market”, which aims at updating copyright rules.
Not many topics have polarized opinions in recent years in Europe. While supporters claim to have protected artists and to have inflicted a blow to the American tech giants, critics have talked about the “death of the internet”.
For clarity, even if the Directive passed the European Parliament vote, the changes are not yet definitive and it may be too early to conclude on what this decision entails. The Directive text shall be further reviewed in subsequent negotiations and there is still a slight chance that it may be rejected at another vote by the European Parliament in 2019. In addition, the Directive, even if (and when) definitely approved, should be implemented by single Member States.
But which results does the Directive aim to achieve?
Its scope and purpose appear based on the evolution of digital technologies, which has changed the way copyright works and other protected material are created, produced, distributed and exploited, with the consequence that new uses, new payers and new business models have emerged. The digital environment has given birth to new opportunities for customers to access copyright-protected content. In this new framework, right-holders face difficulties to be remunerated for the online distribution of their works. So, even if the objectives and principles laid down by the EU copyright framework remain valid, there is an undeniable need to adapt them to the new reality.
The Directive also intends to avoid the risk of fragmentation of rules in the internal market. In fact, the Digital Single Market Strategy1 adopted in May 2015 identified the need «to reduce the differences between national copyright regimes and allow for wider online access to works by users across the EU». The idea expressed in the 2015 by the European Commission was to «move towards a modern, more European copyright framework». The EU legislation purports to harmonize exceptions and limitations to copyright and connected rights, however some of these exceptions, which aim at achieving public policy objectives, such as research or education, remain regulated on national level, with the consequence that legal certainty around cross-border uses is not guaranteed.
As to the content of the Directive, we note the following points:
- With specific regard to the scientific research, recital number 9 of the Directive says that the Union has already provided certain exceptions and limitations (even if optional and not fully adapted to the use of technology in the scientific research) covering uses for scientific research purposes which may apply to acts of text and data mining. Where researcher have lawful access to content, for example through subscription to publication or open access licenses, the term of the licenses may exclude text and data mining.
- Article 11, called “link tax”, gives publishers a right to ask for paid licenses when online platforms share their stories. The amended version clarifies that this new rights «shall not prevent legitimate private and non-commercial use of press publications by individual users». The amendment tries also to clarify what can be considered as “sharing a story”, indicating that the mere hyperlinks cannot be taxed, nor can individual words.
- Article 13, called by the critics as “upload filter”, sets forth that platforms storing and giving access to large amounts of works uploaded by their users shall conclude licensing agreements that include liability for copyright infringement, thus putting a large responsibility on platforms and copyright holders that must «cooperate in good faith» to stop this infringement by carefully monitoring every upload.
The Directive has been designed with the intent to rebalance the core problem of contemporary web: big platforms like Facebook and Google are making huge amounts of money providing access to material made by other people. Nevertheless critics object that this intent could lead to serious collateral effects.
We will see what the future of this Directive will be, and which consequences will entail. The path seems to be still long, but, at least, it has started.