Today the European Parliament adopted an important resolution on Harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and related rights [PDF]. The final document is the end product of the fearless work of Julia Reda MEP, rapporteur to the Parliament's Legal Affairs (JURI) committee, who wrote the original draft on which the resolution was based in a consultative process with users. Some annoying compromises had already crept in when the report made its way through the JURI committee, and these lessened the force of the report although without completely destroying it. But when it hit the plenary debate yesterday, there were five more proposals for further compromise which could have had more serious consequences:
- The removal of a direction to the European Commission to consider making further copyright limitations and exceptions mandatory, leaving only a vague injunction "to protect fundamental rights, particularly to combat discrimination or protect freedom of the press".
- A slight weakening of text about the private copying levies that most European countries levy on devices and media that can be used for copying. The text in its original form weakly suggested that the imposition of these levies was optional, and in its proposed revised form this meaning is lost—though the text still does require any levies to be administered in a transparent fashion.
- A terrible proposal to limit freedom of panorama—the right of the public to take photographs of buildings and artworks in public places, in cases where the architectural plans for those buildings remain protected by copyright. Freedom of panorama is already limited in some European countries, such as in Belgium where photographs of the Atomium have been a notorious subject of fraudulent takedown claims.
- Another bad proposal that would implicitly open the door to the continent-wide extension of the notorious ancillary copyright laws, by which news aggregators are required to pay a fee for the use of small snippets of text or image thumbnails that are used to link to stories in the online press.
- Most pernicious of all, a proposal that when artists or performers transfer their exclusive right to make works available on the Internet, they have "an unwaivable right to remuneration, subject to collective management"—which would have, amongst its other negative effects, made it much more difficult to use free licenses such as those of Creative Commons online.
Thankfully, other than the first two, all of the other amendment proposals above were defeated. While we are unhappy that any of the amendments passed, it was better that it was the first two rather than any of the others, which if accepted by the Commission, would have resulted in a significant worsening of European copyright law. Moreover the passage of the first two amendments, although weakening or eliminating positive suggestions for improvement of the law, does not actually preclude the Commission from pursuing such improvements on its own initiative.
The passage of this resolution clears the way for the European Commission to develop a strong and ambitious copyright reform proposal later this year, that addresses the key points raised by the Parliament—including the need to streamline the use of copyright works across borders, to support the preservation and extension of the public domain, and to modernize limitations and exceptions. If the Commission fails to do this, it can expect to be held to account not only by the Parliament, but also by the many ordinary users who contributed to Julia Reda's report.
If you are interested in finding out more direct from the source, Julia Reda MEP will be visiting EFF's office in San Francisco on July 21 from 6pm to speak about the European copyright reform saga. EFF members and supporters are warmly invited to attend.