European Commission proposes significant revision of EU copyright framework

By September 14, 2016EU

By Owen Bennett

Brussels, 14.09.2016 – Today the European Commission unveiled a new legislative proposal to revise the bloc’s copyright framework. Foreseen (and repeatedly delayed) for a number of years, the revision was instigated by pressure on the Commission to make Europe’s copyright regime fit for the digital age and to address longstanding structural problems arising from an imbalance of rights and exemptions.

Leaked versions of the proposal imply a major lobbying victory for the European and American rightsholder industries. Indeed the proposal is set to fail in its stated aim to ‘modernise’ copyright for the digital age, as in the drafting stage there appears to have been a political pivot towards focusing on the protection of rightsholders in their commercial relationships with online platforms.

Many had seen this legislative reform as an opportunity to fix Europe’s broken exceptions and limitations regime, and perhaps even introduce a bold new copyright exemption for user-generated content. Notwithstanding progressive new copyright exceptions for text and data mining and uses of content for online educational purposes, the Commission’s proposal is likely to leave copyright modernisation proponents disappointed.

In today’s stakeholder reaction, the bulk of attention has been reserved for the provisions of the copyright reform proposal that concern the enforcement obligations of platforms vis-à-vis user-generated content and their accessory liability for hosting such content. The new obligations on platforms stem from the apparent ‘value-gap’, the allegation from rightsholders that they do not receive enough of the value derived from digital reproductions of their works.

Likewise, the Commission’s introduction of ancillary copyright for press publishers has been subject to much controversy, given the disastrous experiences with such ‘snippet taxes’ in Spain and Germany. Indeed, digital rights activists have accused the Commission of seeking to ‘break the Internet’ with the introduction of ancillary copyright for hyperlinks to press materials.

The legislative proposal must now be scrutinised and amended by the European Parliament and the EU Council (Member State representatives). A ferocious lobbying battle is expected in the Parliament, and it is likely that the text will be significantly altered before its final adoption.

The full legislative proposal to revise the EU copyright regime can be read here.