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European Copyright Reform: A New Directive Against Fundamental Freedoms

Paris, 11 September 2017 — NGOs are no longer alone to claim that the draft of the new European Copyright Directive, currently discussed by the European Parliament, contains prejudicial provisions regarding fundamentals rights and freedoms. Six member states sent observations to the EU Council to bring its attention to the dangers some measures could entail, in particular an obligation to automatically filter the platforms. As a significant vote on the text draws near in September, it is important that citizens mobilise and that we draw the right conclusions from this latest repressive drift.

Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands: for these six states, article 13 of the draft directive discloses problems of compatibility regarding respect for fundamental rights and freedoms that are guaranteed within the Union. Those provisions could force websites that "host a large body of creations" to implement automatic measures to identify and filter contents. This obligation to filter should operate pre-emptively, meaning upon loading the users' contents, and not only after the fact.

The six states consider such a plan likely to violate freedom of speech and information, protection of personal data, and freedom of enterprise. It also tends to weaken the status of hosts that are protected by the eCommerce directive and imposes an obligation of widespread surveillance on them, which is incompatible with European case law.

This analysis reflects the ones La Quadrature du Net has voiced about article 13, especially last March. NGOs unanimously denounce the risks. The Wikimedia Foundation dreads its repercussions on the collaborative encyclopedia Wikipedia. The Free Software Foundation Europe sees in it a threat to open source software development. Representatives from the research community think that the draft directive will have severe repercussions on Open Access and Open Science.

In fact, this automated a priori filtering of contents would entail consequences even more dire than what would have followed the ACTA agreement that the European Parliament rejected in 2012 as against our freedoms. The harm caused by automated filters, like ContentID on YouTube, is already noticeable, as well as the unfair situation in which Internet users find themselves in order to defend their rights. Generalizing these "censorship machines" will lead the European Web into a cul-de-sac.

It is important for civil society associations to learn from this drift into censorship. The strategy followed since the Reda report in 2015 consisted of abandoning the positive proposals such as the legalisation of non-profit sharing of contents, in favour of more moderate positions, aiming at creating more copyright exceptions. This approach proved a failure, because there is no compromising with the copyright maximalists who pretend to represent the authors' interests and drive the political leaders into a repressive spiral.
France, once again, plays an especially shady role in this process; the last political changes haven't moved a bit the positions of the Government, and the French Members of the European Parliaments still flawlessly aligned on the cultural industry's will.

The draft Directive will be revewed this week in the EU Council, and a crucial vote is planned in Parliament on 29 September. There is little room to influence its course. La Quadrature du Net calls upon citizens to act right now by contacting their European representatives through the FixCopyright platform set up by the Mozilla Foundation.