On 9 December, 2015, the EU Commission revealed its expected plans for the modernisation of copyright law.
According to the Commission, the goal is to adapt copyright law to technological challenges making it more European and digital-friendly, in order to “overcome fragmentation and frictions within a functioning single market”, ensure wider access to content across the EU adapting ex- ceptions to digital and cross-border environments, achieve a well-functioning marketplace for copyright, and provide an effective and balanced enforcement system.
In particular, the strategy discussed by the Commission focuses on three topics, already indicat- ed in the well-known Digital Single Market Communication, dated May 6th, 2015: (i) content portability across borders; (ii) copyright exceptions; (iii) enforcement 1.
In addition, the Commission proposals clearly aim at renewing the single market and the princi- ple of copyright territoriality, even adapting copyright rules to new technological realities.
The Commission confirms the step-by-step approach in a context of a short-term copyright re- form, without abandoning the long-term vision of EU copyright codification. The long term ob- jectives are just moved a little further into the future2.
The “portability” of online content services
With reference to the matter of “content portability”, EU Commission has taken a concrete step. In particular, “the ultimate objective of full cross-border access for all types of content across Europe needs to be balanced with the readiness of markets to respond rapidly to legal and policy changes and the need to ensure viable financing models for those who are primarily responsible for content creation. The Commission is therefore proposing a gradual approach to removing obstacles to cross-border access to content and to the circulation of works”3.
In this regard, the proposal for a regulation on the “cross-border portability” of online content services ensures that users - who have subscribed to or acquired content in their country of res- idence - can access the above-mentioned services when they temporarily move to another Member State.
In particular, as described in the official Q&A published by the Communication in December, the European Commission wants to allow cross-border portability enabling European consumers who buy or subscribe to films, sports broadcasts, music, e-books and games at home to access them when they travel in other EU countries. In any case, the Regulation leaves service provid- ers free to implement appropriate measures in order to verify the identity of the subscriber, bearing the liability of selecting those verification measures which effectively respect the priva-cy of the latter4.
Therefore, the main objectives of the Commission are:
- the promotion of tools in order to bring more European works into the single market, including the creation of ready-to-offer catalogues of European films, the development of licensing hubs, and a larger use of standard identifiers of works;
- the support and development of a European aggregator of online search tools destined to end-users;
- the implementation of its dialogue with the audio-visual industry in order to promote legal offers and to find ways for a more sustained exploitation of existing European films, even exploring alternative models of financing, production and distribution in the animation sector.
Furthermore, a goal of the Regulation must be the obligation for online content service provid- ers to offer cross-border portability to their customers. This provision will take place in the Member State in which the consumer resides, therefore, “no separate license would be required to cover the temporary use of the service in other Member States”5.
The exceptions area
In the section of copyright exceptions and limitations, the Commission highlighted the scope of the exceptions relating to the field of research and education.
In particular, the project of the Commission is to take into account legislative initiatives imple- menting the Marrakesh Treaty6 and involving:
- the chance for public interest research organisations to carry out text and data mining of content they have lawful access to for scientific research purposes;
- the clarification of the EU exception for ‘illustration for teaching’, and its related applica- tion;
- the preservation of cultural heritage institutions and/or support remote consultation, in closed electronic networks, of works held in research and academic libraries and other rel- evant institutions, for research and private study;
- the clarification of the so-called ‘panorama exception’7.
With reference to this last point, it must be underlined that what it is expected is a concrete commitment to a strong exception for Freedom of Panorama. At the same time, on the other mentioned points, it has to be noted that the language describing a possible exception for text and data mining is extremely limited both in terms of beneficiaries (‘public interest research or- ganisations’) and purpose (‘for scientific research purposes’). Furthermore, restricting an excep- tion for text and data mining to the public interest academic research severely underestimates the transformative potential of these technologies, and will do little to improve the competi-tiveness of Europe in this expanding field8.
With such respect, the Commission has proposed a “three-step” test, meaning that the excep- tions shall be applied only in “certain specific cases which do not conflict with a normal exploita- tion of a work or other subject matter and do not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate inter- ests of the right holder”.
At the same time, the Commission underlined the importance to harmonise the levies that compensate right holders for reprography and private copying. Indeed, the Commission pointed out that many Member States imposed those levies on a wide range of media and devices, ap- plied in many different ways across Europe. This caused a legal uncertainty that must be settled.
The Commission observed a need for action to ensure that different systems of levies imposed by Member States work well in the single market without raising barriers to the free movement of goods and services. The Commission has also explained that “issues that may need to be ad- dressed include the link between compensation and harm to right holders, the relation between contractual agreements and the sharing of levies, double payments, transparency towards con- sumers, exemptions and the principles governing refund schemes, and non-discrimination be-tween nationals and non-nationals in the distribution of any levies collected”9. This means that the Commission will also begin to reflect on how levies can be more efficiently distributed to right holders.
A brief outline of the remuneration of authors and performers
The Communication calls for action to ensure right protection of authors against unfair con- tracts. In particular, due to the strategy adopted by the EU Commission, in order to achieve a modern, more European copyright framework, in a highly competitive market-place, the au- thors shall be equally treated and remunerated.
The Commission examined possible definitions of the “making available” and “communication to the public” rights10. In particular, the Commission must consider whether any specific action on news aggregators is needed, including intervening on rights. The Commission seems to want to take into account the different factors that influence this situation beyond copyright law, “to ensure consistent and effective policy responses. Initiatives in this area will be consistent with the Commission's work on online platforms as part of the digital single market strategy”.
Lastly, it has to be considered whether solutions at EU level are required in order to achieve le- gal certainty and balance in the area of remuneration of authors and performers in the EU, even taking national competences into account.
The expected balanced enforcement
At the end of its Communication, the EU Commission also announced that there is a need for concrete reform in the field of enforcement.
In particular, the role of intermediaries in the fight against copyright infringement must change. As seen in the official Q&A, “the Commission will facilitate the development of efficient and bal- anced "follow the money" initiatives which aim at depriving commercial-scale infringers of intel- lectual property rights of their revenue flows. This process will involve rights holders and inter- mediary service providers (such as advertising and payment service providers and shippers) but also consumers and the civil society”11.
In other words, this means that internet service providers shall not be liable for the content that they hold and/or transmit passively. However, intermediaries should take effective action to remove illegal content, both in case of illegal information (e.g. terrorism/child pornography) and in case of infringing information (e.g. copyright).
The Commission will ask for more rigorous procedures in order to remove illegal content, such as ‘notice and action’ mechanisms and the ‘take down and stay down principle’).
All in all, the Commission package has regard to emerging issues relating to the full harmonisa- tion of copyright in the EU, even in the form of a single copyright code, creating a situation “where authors and performers, the creative industries, users and all those concerned by copy- right are subject to the very same rules, irrespective of where they are in the EU”.
On a long-term basis, the purpose is to build a European single market, where the different cul- tural, intellectual and scientific productions “travel across the Europe as freely as possible”.