Rights Groups Issue Fresh Call as EU Copyright Talks Draw to a Close

EU decision-makers should ensure that the new regulation on copyright complies with human rights including specific safeguards to protect free speech.

Human rights and digital rights organisations have sent an open letter to the European decision-makers asking them to add human rights safeguards to the proposed Copyright Directive on the Digital Single Market throughout the negotiation process. The negotiation process between the European Parliament, the European Commission and the European Council is coming to an end soon as representatives work towards a compromise solution.

Necessary safeguards

Human rights and digital rights organisations have been criticising Article 13 since the first draft of the proposed Directive was published. Our main concern was that it would limit our freedom of expression and data protection by introducing filtering (i.e., censoring) obligations on behalf of internet platforms.

Even though the last few months has brought some positive developments, the newly proposed versions of Article 13 are still not in line with our basic human rights. Certain safeguards are needed to avoid excessive and unnecessary restrictions on citizens’ fundamental rights.

We ask EU decision-makers to ensure that the new regulation on Copyright complies with the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the basic EU document that sets out the fundamental human rights of the European citizens. We listed two necessary human rights safeguards.

1) Transparency

Online platforms such as Google, Facebook and YouTube control much of the information available on the internet, and they are empowered to rank and take down content at their discretion. These platforms serve “the internet” as we know it now. Under the proposed Directive, internet platforms would be able to make decisions about freedom of expression with no transparency or accountability.

In cases where content is blocked or filtered, it is critical that they properly justify their decisions; decisions that should be subject to proper redress mechanisms to ensure free speech and freedom of information. Besides providing an alternative dispute resolution, the EU could provide, for free, legal mechanisms across the EU to settle disputes between users, copyright holders and internet platforms.

2) Avoid automated filtering and blocking of content

We call on EU decision-makers to avoid introducing a mandatory monitoring obligation. Automated filtering software is notoriously inaccurate and is likely to catch lawful materials that do not breach copyright and that are essential for societal and political debate and comment, such as parody or quotation. Finally, a general obligation to monitor everything a user uploads to the internet is likely to cause a chilling effect on free speech, as users will be more likely to self-censor any content that could risk triggering (inaccurate) filtering software.

3) Sanctions

Article 13 is going to change the liability regime. The upshot of this is that platforms will be sanctioned if they let copyrighted content through their system without a licensing agreement. The proposed solution would create an incentive for platforms to be overly cautious and take down anything that presents even the slightest risk of legal exposure for the company.

On the other hand, it is important to ensure that there are legal repercussions that disincentivise platforms from removing content that does not violate copyright. What we ask is that platforms should be liable for deleting lawful, user-generated content. This should change the attitude of the internet giants, and will also more effectively protect user content.

The original open letter is here.

The letter was signed by the following organisations:

Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties)

Associação D3 - Defesa dos Direitos Digitais

Association for Progressive Communications

ANSOL - Associação Nacional para o Software Livre

APADOR-CH Romania

Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication (BNNRC)

Big Brother Watch

BlueLink Foundation

Bulgarian Helsinki Committee

Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT)

Italian Coalition for Civil Liberties and Rights

COMMUNIA

Electronic Frontier Foundation

epicenter.works

Frënn vun der Ënn

Miklos Haraszti, former OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media

Hungarian Civil Liberties Union

Index on Censorship

Kennisland

Platform for the Defence of Freedom of Information

Rights International Spain (RIS)

South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)

South East European Network for Professionalization of Media (SEENPM)

Spanish Internet Users Asociation

The Human Rights League – Belgium

Vereniging van Openbare Bibliotheken-Association of Public Libraries The Netherlands

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