Apparently now is a time of reckoning for the ‘one click’ hosting services which have come to dominate filesharing since around 2005. While attention has focussed on supersized Megaupload operator Kim Dotcom and his bizarre universe, other more discrete circuits have also been closed. Library.nu, an enormous collection ranging from bestsellers to truly arcane academic titles in all formats, yesterday announced its own epitaph .
Books have always been available online; when I first got access to Usenet in 1992, some of the first things I came across were Bruce Sterling’s ‘The Hacker Crackdown’ and Hakim Bey’s ‘Temprary Autonomus Zone’, cult titles amongst early internet users. Books were inputed laboriously via keyboard and posted as .txt, first on usenet, then the web and ftp. Scanners were still in short supply at that point, and OCR software underdeveloped, but as they dispersed and improved the number of works mushroomed. But the delivery method was inconvenient, requiring the reader to remain at their screen or print to dead tree. Other larger collections were assembled, such as textz.com, which eventually ended up in legal wrangles with rightsholders.
With the growth of file-sharing into a mass phenomenon in the middle of the last decade, dedicated book sites appeared, sometimes linked explicitly to complaints about access and cost. This was the case with the Danish vidensdeling.nu founded in August 2005 to provide a platform for students to share course books. Publishers immediately shut the site down. A similar site in the US, Textbook Torrents launched in 2007, was closed in the summer of 2008 after an article in the Chronicle for Higher Education led to threats of legal action against its creator.
Ebook Readers, Meet Direct Downloads
Prior to the release of mass market book readers, the mainstream publishing industry felt relatively unaffected, but they understood that as the devices made their way into users’ hands they would find themselves losing control in a replay of the music and film sectors. As torrent sites came under sustained pressure, and their users were targetted with legal action, many closed or became private clubs. Direct downloads filled the gap left in their wake: requiring no software installation they were simple to use, and due to their FTP structure their users were not connected to a network transparent to monitoring and potential identification. Whilst these sites limited the quantity non-paying users could access, the small size of books vis a vis movies made such sites playgrounds for book fans. As Amazon ramped up marketing and volume on the Kindle, and then tablets like the iPad took off in popularity, the bumpiness in the user experience of digital text diminshed, and the protective buffer around the publishers receded.
With this in mind the German Boersenverein developed a strategy in winter 2008 which was subsequently circulated to Publishers’ organisations internationally the following spring. Here they outlined an approach which combined political lobbying with stigmatization of unauthorised copying of books. Parallel to this they proposed to increase the availability of authorised ebooks, and to instigate a legal campaign against “systematically ‘suitable’ services”, one-clicks hosts in particular. In this manner the demand then flowing towards pirate sites could be intercepted and rerouted by an industry doing a better job at supply.
To this end a relationship was established with the Lausen legal practice in Munich. The first target was Rapidshare: in 2009 they campaigned to have the site blocked by German ISPs. Unsuccessful on this score, a group of national and international publishers initiated legal proceedings, represented by Lausen. In February 2010 an injunction was obtained from a court in Hamburg ordering the removal of 148 works from Rapidshare (many of them also text books) and further monitoring to ensure that the works did not reappear. As some titles continued to be available, the plaintiffs brought rapidshare back to court, where the latter were fined 150,000 euros in December of the same year for failure to comply with the terms of the injunction, and not having introduced adequate filtering mechanisms.
Curtains for Library.nu
In 2011 Lausen and the publishers turned their attention to library.nu, a site providing a central register of books available for download from a series of direct download sites and active since 2006. An article published in the Sunday Times in mid-December last reported that the operators of the site had been traced to Galway, Ireland, and that one of the addresses provided to the domain registrar was the headquarters of Anglo Irish Bank (the administrator obviously has some sense of humour as Anglo was the biggest crap-out of the property bubbble collapse).
Between Christmas and New Year the publishers successfully applied for a series of court orders at the Landesgericht in Munich. Apparently the orders to cease and desist were passed then to Ireland in the last week. The plaintiffs are claiming that library.nu was a massive commercial piracy operation making eight million pounds a year, an improbable figure given that virtually all of their income derived from advertising and donations. According to an article in torrentfreak premium membership was introduced for purchase only in November last, which didn’t leave them with much time to make hay.
Whilst the library.nu domain has not been seized, the operators have decided themselves to take it offline. According to a press release from the American Association of Publishers, the operators will now be pursued:
One positive outcome from this complicated process is that the platform operators themselves are now being held responsible as perpetrators for the copyright infringements on their sites and will therefore not merely be liable for the illegal conduct of their users. All four copyright chambers at the LG of Munich I who dealt with this issue and who promptly issued the 17 interim injunctions were in agreement on this matter.
Although how this is being dealt with jurisdictionally remains unclear.
A Blip or the End?
The tiny size of contemporary epubs makes them incredibly easy to store and distribute. As is the case with much online enforcement activity this is more about the show than the substance, intended to scare other operators and send a message to errant users. It is true that as long as these sites are structured in a centralized manner they will have a limited half-life. One would expect the recent closures to lead to a renewed interest in distributed and even quasi-anonymised systems, such as i2p.
Centralisation constitutes a honey-pot for profit-focussed pirates: without it there is no audience whose attention can be sold to advertisers, nor a fixed infrastructure on which a toll can be charged for access or better performance. It is a great irony that what began as a campaign against p2p has now had the unforeseen consequence of creating a market for a client-server system of unauthorised media distribution, thereby offering significant incentives for a particular type of entrepreneur. This client-server architecture is the very negation of the potential of the net, returning users to the role of passive customers.
On a final note, the case of library.nu is significant because the demand for the works offered there demonstrates that filesharing is not just about pop music, porn and cams of action movies, but also those forms and sources of knowledge whose acquisition are ritually celebrated within ‘enlightenment’ culture. Many of those whose works were offered derive income not from royalties, but from related activities such as teaching and research. Such people were themselves an important component library.nu’ user base. Some have other means to access the same materials, others, especially those in countries with weaker education infrastructures and more emaciated library budgets, do not. Outside of formal education, the millions of online autodidacts may be denied access to material, seriously impinging on their lives and possibilities. When one considers the cost of text books and more especially scholarly articles, that is no hyperbole, and applies not only to the global south but the post-industrial north as well, awash in its dreams of knowledge economies and human capital.
But maybe such a concern is sheer melodrama, given the likelihood of the same works becoming freely available elsewhere. Time will tell.
Later I will take a more analytical look at the opposition to ACTA, but having attended the protest in Berlin on Saturday last it feels important to take note of what an unprecedented success it was. Similar dynamics are in play elswhere and understanding them is going to take some dowsing as well as reason, so a few observations on the mood appear pertinent.
The Long March of the Internetz
On Saturday I took part in the demonstration against the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement in Berlin, a Treaty which has not yet been either signed or ratified by Germany. In advance my guess was that the numbers would be modest, a couple of hundred maybe. I had noticed the demonstrations in Poland attract tens of thousands and turn tumultuous in the city of Kielce, but wrongly interpreted it as a Polish particularity, perhaps fueled by the thusfar successful campaign against the Stop Online Piracy Act in the US together with the especially blatant flouting of any impression of democracy in Poland’s adhesion process.
In any case the size of the crowd amassed at Neptunbrunnen left me aghast, easily ten thousand. Without an aerial photograph it is difficult to convey the scale of the crowd but this video gives some idea. The video-still below is my own and shows about a quarter of the crowd.
What was striking about the composition of those present was the large proportion of teenagers and, interestingly, many young women; the Pirate Party, who have been ridiculed for their atrocious gender imbalance, will have glimpsed some potential for salvation… Other than a few knots of guys who looked like they could be in a German version of the “IT Crowd”, those braving temperatures of -8 degrees were an unexpectedly heterogeneous lot, defying the tendency of protests in Berlin to attract only the usual suspects.
Since the anti-SOPA blackout ACTA has garnered attention that must make its proponents very concerned, up until recently it seemed destined to roll through amidst the disinterested complacency which usually accompanies the ‘creative works’ of the bureaucracy. The raid on Megaupload, the rejection of an appeal application in the Pirate Bay case, and the ongoing legal racket demanding ‘compensation’ from German computer users accused of file-sharing, cumulatively provided ample grounds that any treaty touching on copyright was grounds for concern.
Anonymous helped bring the thunder to the online propaganda, and V masks to the party on the street, as ever an admixture between circus, mischief and ambivalent gravitas that is ‘their’ hallmark. In addition to denizens of online communities, the Chaos Computer Club and Occupy Berlin, the protest was supported by several political parties: Pirates, Greens and the Left (Die Linke), and even the youth wing of the SPD. Although the PP’s result in the last city elections was almost incredible, this is the first time there has been a mass mobilisation around the issue at its core. But those on the streets were by no means all PP supporters, and other Parties support for the protest suggests the reverberation of the vote is making an impact: the PP will not be left the copyright field to themselves.
After speeches by a cabaret artist, a wikimedian, and some digital civil rights activists, it was time to hit the bricks. Somehow at the moment of departure two banners ended at the front, the first one, modest in size, stated: “Save Europe from ACTA” and was branded with the website of the clicktivists, Avaaz. Behind was a larger block with a more contestational message: “Property is Still Theft!” This was borne by a rather large group of left-libertarian teenagers (Out of Control?), and they remained at the head of the demonstration all afternoon chanting “Liberty, Liberty, Total anarchy!”, “We want… to copy… everything!” and “State, Nation, ACTA – Shit!” . post-nationalism, here we come?!
The route was selected to pass by the HQ of the pharma lobby and the national affiliate of the IFPI (music industry). Initial attempts to get to the latter were blocked by police and a gentle fracas ensued. Subsequently the second half of the crowd was allowed to reach the IFPI office, where a speech (by a member of the intriguingly named Hedonist International) lambasted the music majors for both encroaching on users’ online freedom and siphoning off the lion’s share of revenues for themselves, rather than the artists they purport to support.
Obviously overwhelmed by the numbers, neither organisers nor police were adequtely prepared; for the former this meant that the speeches were not heard from where I was positioned; for the latter it was a bigger problem as the crowd started to slip out of control, perodically charging ahead, gleefully, on the count of three, as if determined to get the forces of order out of breath.
Die Fahrt ins Blaue, or, Just for Lulz
At Hausvogteilplatz – official end-point of the procession- the advance section of the crowd found itself blocked from proceeding towards the Foreign Ministry. A large group decided not to linger, descending instead en masse into the subway station, pursued by harried riot police. Re-emerging five minutes later after some antics on the platform, they took off on an impromptu wildcat march, shutting down a major boulevard, and breaching the enclosures around an enormous building site to invent an unmapped route to the museum district before returning, panting, to Alexanderplatz. All, of course, accompanied by a continuous chants of “ACTA – Scheisse!”, and pursued by police. There was however no confrontation, instead it was like a game, the city as funpark, and a brisk wander attentuates the effect of icy temperatures.
Further speeches (in German) were held at Hausvogteilplatz, which might tempt a comparative assessment of the relative efficacy of sober pronouncements and instinctual creative chaos, but this doesn’t seem particularly germane as no contradiction materialised between the different styles. Stephan Urbach spoke of how the net was built on the sharing of data, its remixing, and further redistribution thereafter. A rave then broke out amongst a part of the crowd. Elsewhere in Germany the demonstrations ranged from massive in Munich and Hamburg to just ‘very big’ in others such as Frankfurt, Nuremburg, Cologne and numerous others. Similar gatherings took place all over the continent.
In Europe the last obstacle to the formal passage of the Treaty is the approval of the European Parliament, anticipated to climax in early summer. Current president of the EP is Martin Schulz, who has already started making disapproving noises about the treaty. If events of the last month are any guide, the outcome may not be as certain as was thought. And irrespective of the fate of ACTA itself, this campaign is going to make the introduction of further copyright enforcement measures a matter of heated public contention in the future.
I have made two corrections to this post in response to comments received after intial publication. They relate (a) to Micheal Martin’s comments in the Dail, a matter clarified in the accompanying footnote and (b) the fact that the Greens had already left the coalition government when allegations arose in February 2011 that new copyright enforcement measures were to be rushed through before the election. Happy to correct any further inaccuracies.
1. Is the Statutory Instrument and Irish SOPA?
The labelling of the copyright amendment as Ireland’s SOPA has been contested by some as inaccurate. There are differences, it is true. Most obviously SOPA is designed to target ‘foreign’ websites, whereas the Irish SI (Statutory Instrument) makes no distinction between foreign and domestic web sites.
Secondly the SI focuses on copyright questions whereas SOPA takes aim at a broader range of alleged ‘intellectual property’ infringements. Participants in the counterfeit medicine trade as well as suppliers of counterfeit materials to the military and federal agencies are made subject to increased punishments. In addition SOPA is more forensic, and paradoxically thus, transparent in the terms of the anticipated consequences: IP (internet protocol) blocking (probably jettisoned at this point), exclusion from search engine results, isolation from financing via advertising or payment systems.
But it is precisely as a result of the open-ended language of the Irish legislation that there is a justifiable fear that such means could be deployed at the discretion of an Irish judge. IRMA’s behaviour – from the negotiation of private enforcement agreements with Eircom to their current suit against the Irish state for the losses sustained as a result of unauthorised uses – indicates how ill-advised it is to make available such an unbounded instrument for their use – these people have just got a bad attitude.
Fianna Fail’s leader Micheal Martin said Sherlock was ‘perhaps not perfectly’ handling the ‘issue’, which might appear unduly mild unless one recalls the allegations published in Siliconrepublic last February. Therein it was rumoured that the then Fianna Fail/
Green coalition minority government intended to rush through copyright enforcement orders via Statutory Instrument just as they were about to be booted out by the electorate (this claim was later rejected by then minister Mary Hanafin).
Apart from the concerns about the substantive questions about legal consequences, there is a problem with method. When it takes a Freedom of Information request to discover that Enda Kenny held a private meeting last summer with the new head of the Motion Picture Association of America, former Democrat Senator Chris Dodd, then the suspicion that vested interests are intervening in a surreptitious manner to shape the law is fully justified. All the more so when it happens quietly in Castlebar .
A pattern emerges in the history of attempts to prevent users from sharing files, that of keeping the public at a safe distance from decision-making: private agreements between companies in the digital media market, closed-door audiences for lobbyists with political leaders, secondary legislation requiring no official vote so as to give form to the policy conclusions.
2. The Fight Against ‘SOPA Ireland’
StopSopaIreland went live on the evening of January 23rd, providing information on the amendment, a petition to register opposition, and appealing to users to contact local politicians. Within a week the petition had garnered 75,000 signatures, 50,000 of them identified as coming from Irish internet protocol addresses.
On the night of January 25th, a series of government websites were targeted and shut down by means of a distributed denial of service attack; twitter account AnonOpsSweden identified it as a response to the copyright proposals. In response to a question by independent TD Catherine Murphy, a fifteen minute exchange took place in the Dail on January 26th, and Sherlock later announced that a longer debate was scheduled for the 31st. As the campaign picked up steam a call circulated for a demonstration in Dublin on January 28th.
Demonstration against SOPA/ACTA & the Copyright Amendment, Dublin, January 28, 2012.
Photo by Dara Robinson.
Another demonstration has now been called in Dublin for next saturday February 4th, a day which will see coordinated protests against ACTA worldwide.
In an echo of the SOPA campaign there is an interesting contrast between the mood in online and offline media, and the a perceivable shift in the sense of how influential they are respectively. Forums such as boards.ie, and online only news operations such as thejournal.ie and broadsheet.ie have been important platforms for criticism of the proposals, whereas an earlier generation’s not especially informed attitudes can still call the print press home.
3. Empty Disavowals
For the reasons explained in section 1, Sean Sherlock’s protestations that the amendment is nothing like SOPA are unconvincing. He and his department have issued a bizarre commentary to accompany their draft amendment, which nominally purports top demonstrate why it is not like SOPA. This statement opens with the patently untrue claim that
‘We all subscribe to the freedoms, the opportunities and the access to information that the Internet provides us with’
because online copyright enforcement by definition means a limitation on that freedom. And there could be a reasonable argument as to whether or not that is appropriate, just as there is, for example, in the area of child pornography.
So why dissimulate, why can he not just spit it out and say ‘we are going to limit the freedom to do what you want on the internet and place obstacles to the free exchange of data because we believe that copyright protection wins out’? The answer of course is that the politicians are fearful of how that will make them appear in the public eye. They have watched the anti-SOPA tsunami break land in Washington DC and don’t like the look of what it has left in its wake.
Of course were they to be clear about this they would have to provide a justification for their reasoning. As pointed out by ALTO the government has not carried out any Regulatory Impact Assessment to assess the results of the proposed change. Therefore any economic basis for the change can only come from figures provided by one or other of the industries implicated (and the figures bandied about seem to emanate exclusively from the music industry), or else from some other source which has not been made public.
Rather than acknowledging what is obvious to even the most cursory examination of the copyright debate, that there is a fundamental disagreement as to the legitimacy and necessity for copyright as currently constituted, the commentary continues with a massive bluff:
“Ireland is very proud of the fact that we have a modern suite of intellectual property laws that by their very nature balance a range of competing interests and rights in a manner that is seen, right across the globe, as reasonable and proportionate.”
But the SOPA saga demonstrates that this is untrue. So does the long fight against the HADOPI three strikes law in France. As do the massive demonstrations against ACTA in Poland last week. And so does the continued popularity of filesharing as a phenomena despite a massive and sustained attack on its participants through legal action and propaganda presented as ‘education.’ And what about the legions of lawyers and economists opposed to measures strengthening and extending copyright, some of whom are against it altogether? Don’t pretend there is a consensus of ‘reasonable people’, that’s a fiction. The ease with which these initiatives previously passed had more to do with how their content and consequences were concealed from the public, and the lack of enthusiasm on the part of industrial era media companies, themselves amongst the greatest beneficiaries of the copyright ratchet, to aerate these debates fairly,
4. Dail Debate, January 31st
Undoubtedly the full debate will shortly be available online, but the crux of it was simple enough. All of the opposition parties (FF, SF and independents) opposed the SI, albeit for different reasons, arguing that it was inappropriate subject matter for executive fiat and merited primary legislation with a full debate, or that it should be delayed and a special committee set up to investigate.
As a practical matter independent TDs Stephen Donnelly and Catherine Murphy also submitted an alternative SI in consultation with TJ McIntyre and Simon McGarr. It contains safeguards for data protection and other fundamental rihts; limits availability of injunctions to cases where damages would be inadequate; shifts the legal and technical costs of the injunction from intermediary to applicant (copyright owner), and requires that lawful data transactions be unimpeded by any order of the court. In addition the SI would be applicable time period for the instrument to two years, during which time they would expect there to be a debate over, and drafting of, primary legislation.
Objections ranged from the impact it would have on foreign direct investment, the costs which would be imposed on websites willing to contest injunctions, that it was an error to target intermediaries rather than ‘perpetrators’ of copyright infringements, and more general concerns about the impact on individual rights and freedoms. Interestingly all speakers referred to the huge amount of email they had been receiving on the subject from concerned individuals.
Sherlock was not having any of it. He parsed the alternative SI, insisting that these concerns were either unfounded or inherently integrated in European Court of Justice cases such as Sabam v Scarlet. These limits would as a constrain against any judgicial temptation to grant excessive injunctions, and require their decisions and remedies to abide by the principle of proportionality i.e. balancing the interests involved. This insistence on judicial discretion was perhaps the most outlandish aspect of his speech. Whilst asserting that the SI did not mark any change in government policy, he went on to say that given the unpredictable nature of future scenarios, they would prefer to deal with them on a case by case basis. What he means then is that there is a new policy: judges will invent the policy on the basis of how they ‘feel’ about the matter whenever the cases should arise. Justice Charlton himself outlined the danger in this approach in the very EMI/UPC decision which sparked all this.
As regards any future primary legislation, Sherlock expressed a preference for the affected parties ‘getting together’ and listeners got a good dollop of the stakeholder palaver. Of course parties like IRMA/EMI/MPAA won’t be quite as motivated, having got a measure in the bag and satisfied themselves they can get what they want.
And In Conclusion?
Light comedy, amidst general cluelessness, was injected when FG TD Jerry Buttimer spoke of the online activists as ‘keyboard warriors, some bordering on anarchism’. But only a moment later we were brought back to reality with a bang: asked whether he planned to sign the SI or consider alternatives, Sherlock announced that he’d dealt with all concerns, would not change the wording and would be signing it into effect. He did not say when exactly.
To be continued?
1 This section originally read: “Leader of the opposition, Micheal Martin grotesquely described Sean Sherlock’s handling of the process as ‘perfect’”. This report was contradicted in comments by Paul Sammon, (see below), based on the official record. Whether my mistake derived voices in my head or the result of poor audio is unclear. I can always hope an eventual review of the audio will vindicate me, but in the meantime gracious concession seems fitting
According to the official record Micheal Martin’s comment was:
“The Minister of State, Deputy Seán Sherlock, is handling the issue of on-line copyright, although perhaps not perfectly at this stage. So far the handling of it is giving rise, correctly or otherwise, to a damaging perception of how this country views Internet freedom.”
2 The first version of this post was corrected after a reminder from commenter Paulie Doohan that in the Green Party had in fact left the government, leaving FF on their own by the end of January 2011. Green TD Eamonn Ryan (formerly Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources), blew the whistle on attempts to sneak copyright enforcement measures through the back door. Back to post
3 ‘Kenny met US online piracy campaigner’, Colin Coyle and Mark Tighe , The Sunday Times, 28th January 2012 (behind paywall). Back to post
See also a later post here.
In Ireland an amendment to the copyright law which might otherwise have passed unnoticed has encountered unprecedented opposition in the tailwind of the massive campaign against SOPA in the United States. Stop SOPA Ireland collected 50,000 signatories from Irish IPs for their petition in just a few days, and on saturday there was a demonstration in Dublin against both it and ACTA (which the Irish ambassador signed in Tokyo last thursday).
The change in the law will enable Copyright owners to get injunctions against any intermediary whose facilities are being used to commit copyright violations. this is achieved using language so broad as to constitute a charter for copyright owners to undertake fishing expeditions to see how far they can go in bending network enablers to their will.
In addition the law is being changed not by means of primary legislation, but through a statutory instrument, which means that its adoption does not even require a vote in either parliament or seanad (senate). Under scrutiny from the public however Sean Sherlock has scheduled a debate on the matter tomorrow in the Dail (Irish Parliament).
Last summer, I submitted the objections below to the responsible Department. I received an acknowledgment email but the content was obviously disregarded as the latest draft of the amendment is basically unchanged. Similar objections were made by groups such as Digital Rights Ireland and trade associations such as ALTO.
I am writing to express my opposition to the proposed amendments to the
Copyright act 2000 by statutory instrument. As the same formulation is
adopted in the drafting of proposed subsections 5 (a) and (b) of section
40, and section 9 (a) and (b) of section 205, the comments refer to both
1. Due to the open-ended nature of the provisions, the way is cleared
for actions against both service providers and websites of all types
which due to their technical design may also find themselves dragged
into infringing activity. The correct means to address this is to
require the implementation of a notice and take-down procedure, as
envisaged by the legislation, but never put into effect by the Minister.
Given the history of overbroad claims of copyright infringement by
copyright holders, such a system should also include the possibility for
the alleged infringer to issue a counter-notice allowing them to defend
uses which they believe to be non-infringing. In such cases, the
targeted material should be made available online again if legal action
is not commenced within a brief period after the initial complaint.
2. The wording of subsection 40 (5) (a) and 205 (9)(a) is overly broad,
setting out no limiting conditions on circumstances where injunctions
may be imposed. It is to be noted that equivalent provisions (giving
effect to the requirement that injunctions be available) in UK
legislation require ‘actual knowledge’ of infringing activity on the
part of the service provider.
Such language is present in Statutory instrument 68 of 2003 by which the
minister implemented the relevant provisions of the Electronic Commerce
Directive. Whilst the amendment is proposed in the context of mere
conduit this is not specified in the proposed amendment, leading to a
concomitant blurring of the position with regard to the limitations on
liability for hosting and caching.
The early winter sunshine is sweeter still since the announcement of the European court of Justice’s decision (full text) in the SABAM v Scarlet litigation yesterday afternoon.
This case began in 2004 with the Belgian copyright and collective rights organisation taking a legal action against the ISP Scarlet to implement measures to stop their users from violating copyright through use of p2p software. To this end they sought to oblige the ISP to institute a filtering system which would have intervened to terminate data transfers involving works identified as copyrighted.
Decisions in the Belgian courts went in SABAM’s favour, but no-one could come up with a feasible technical scheme capable of meeting the plaintiffs requirements. Eventually the national authority referred the matter to the ECJ.
The Legal Calculus
Argument at the ECJ centred around the following issues:
(1) Both Copyright directive and the Intellectual Property Enforcement Directive established that copyright owners should have access to injunctions as a means to halt ongoing infringements, the question was – and to some extent remains – to what extent and with what consequences.
(2) The eCommerce directive set out clear limitations to the liability of ISPs, including cases where they act as ‘mere conduit’ for data transactions in which they are not direct protagonists but merely instruments of their users. In addition to sveral enumerated safe harbours, the eCommerce directive also limits the legislative discretion of individual states as regards the obligations of ISPs in Article 15:
Member States shall not impose a general obligation on providers, when providing the services covered by Articles 12, 13 and 14, to monitor the information which they transmit or store, nor a general obligation actively to seek facts or circumstances indicating unlawful activity.
(3) Monitoring users’ data traffic involves the processing of personal data as protected by European Data Protection directives, which consequently must be taken into consideration in assessing the validity of any proposed filtering scheme.
(4) Multiple rights and freedoms protected under the European Convention on Human rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (which became part of EU law in 2009) are implicated in the adjudication. On one side the property rights of the copyright owners, on the other the rights of privacy and freedom of expression of internet users, and the freedom to conduct business of the ISP.
Round 1: The Advocate General’s opinion
Cases sent to the ECJ are first analysed by the office of the Advocate General, who produce an advisory opinion for the Court, which is not however bound by either its mode of analysis or conclusions. The examiner in this case was the spaniard Pedro Cruz Villalón. His attention focused on the question of the consistency of such injunctive relief with the Charter, and his conclusion was that it was noncompliant and in breach of the principle of legality on several counts. At the core of his opinion (in french) was a criticism of the general nature of the surveillance system sought by SABAM, its lack of proportionality and indefinite duration. Having resolved the question by reference to the Charter, he did not delve into the conflicting provisions of the different directives.
Round 2: The ECJ decision
The ECJ however elected to approach the matter the other way around, dealing first with the question of Article 15 of the eCommerce directive. An indication of the result is already provided by the framing given by the Judges to the proposed filtering system, which abounds with red flags:
29. … a system for filtering
– all electronic communications passing via its services, in particular those involving the use of peer-to-peer software;
– which applies indiscriminately to all its customers;
– as a preventive measure;
– exclusively at its expense; and
– for an unlimited period,
Indeed it only takes another six paragraphs for the scheme to be definitively struck out:
36. In that regard, the Court has already ruled that that prohibition applies in particular to national measures which would require an intermediary provider, such as an ISP, to actively monitor all the data of each of its customers in order to prevent any future infringement of intellectual-property rights. Furthermore, such a general monitoring obligation would be incompatible with Article 3 of Directive 2004/48, which states that the measures referred to by the directive must be fair and proportionate and must not be excessively costly (see L’Oréal and Others, paragraph 139).
The Judges then proceeded to deal with the vying rights and freedoms under the Charter.
43. The protection of the right to intellectual property is indeed enshrined in Article 17(2) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (‘the Charter’). There is, however, nothing whatsoever in the wording of that provision or in the Court’s case-law to suggest that that right is inviolable and must for that reason be absolutely protected.
44 As paragraphs 62 to 68 of the judgment in Case C‑275/06 Promusicae  ECR I‑271 make clear, the protection of the fundamental right to property, which includes the rights linked to intellectual property, must be balanced against the protection of other fundamental rights.
45 More specifically, it follows from paragraph 68 of that judgment that, in the context of measures adopted to protect copyright holders, national authorities and courts must strike a fair balance between the protection of copyright and the protection of the fundamental rights of individuals who are affected by such measures.
46 Accordingly, in circumstances such as those in the main proceedings, national authorities and courts must, in particular, strike a fair balance between the protection of the intellectual property right enjoyed by copyright holders and that of the freedom to conduct a business enjoyed by operators such as ISPs pursuant to Article 16 of the Charter.
Reference to Article 16 caught my attention as it was not mentioned at all in the Advocate General’s opinion. In addition it is raised as the first countervailing factor weighing against any absolute vindication of the copyright owners’ rights. Next up are the rights of individual users:
50 Moreover, the effects of that injunction would not be limited to the ISP concerned, as the contested filtering system may also infringe the fundamental rights of that ISP’s customers, namely their right to protection of their personal data and their freedom to receive or impart information, which are rights safeguarded by Articles 8 and 11 of the Charter respectively.
51 It is common ground, first, that the injunction requiring installation of the contested filtering system would involve a systematic analysis of all content and the collection and identification of users’ IP addresses from which unlawful content on the network is sent. Those addresses are protected personal data because they allow those users to be precisely identified.
52 Secondly, that injunction could potentially undermine freedom of information since that system might not distinguish adequately between unlawful content and lawful content, with the result that its introduction could lead to the blocking of lawful communications. Indeed, it is not contested that the reply to the question whether a transmission is lawful also depends on the application of statutory exceptions to copyright which vary from one Member State to another. Moreover, in some Member States certain works fall within the public domain or can be posted online free of charge by the authors concerned.
SABAM have issued a press release with the somewhat misleadinbg title ‘Authors worried about the decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union’ (which authors exactly?), wherein they announced that they are going to lick their wounds in private and reflect on the options left open to them by the decision.
Meanwhile the IFPI took the opportunity to emphasise that the decision reiterated the sanctity of copyrights online and that the problem here was merely in the overbroad nature of the injunction sought by SABAM, and would not undermine either their three strikes schemes or pursuit of so-called rogue sites.
La Quadrature du Net hailed the decision:
At a time of all-out offensive in the war against culture sharing online, this decision suggests that censorship measures requested by the entertainment industry are disproportionate means to enforce an outdated copyright regime.
They also point to the more general landscape in which the decision occurs, specifically the current passage of the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement and the upcoming consent vote regarding the Treaty at the European Parliament.
Naturally Belgacom, the current owners of Scarlet also expressed satisfaction with the result, which comes more generally at a time when rightsholders have been trying to corner ISPs into more intense policing of their users, an operation to which the European Commission has also been party.
It’s a Knock Out
In sum this is a rare occasion to celebrate as regards legal developments concerning online freedom. This decision will have an important impact on national jurisprudence throughout the Union, and will put pressure on legislators to tailor any further copyright enforcement measures with at least some regard to proportionality and fundamental rights. Of course there are other fronts to this battle, notably the current hysteria about so-called rogue sites. At a later point I will provide an EU-wide survey of the situation in that regard, and of course there is legislation pending on the same theme in the US.
Some months ago I wrote about the decision made in EMI V UPC in Ireland. In this case the music industry sought to force UPC to observe a private agreement made by the industry with another provider, Eircom, the former Irish Telecom monopoly, whereby users identified by music industry agents as infringing their copyrights would have their connections terminated after three alleged infractions.
EMI’s application failed. But ten days ago the Department of Enterprise and Innovation (the Irish ministry with legislative initiative in the sector), published a draft amendment to the Copyright Act of 2000, in an apparent attempt to provide the legislative basis for such judicial orders. A consultation period regarding the proposed amendment will continue until the end of July
Subsequent to his decsion in EMI v UPC, I had the chance to listen to the judge, Peter Charleston, give his impressions about the issues. He was thoughtful, but was also obviously somewhat at sea in a culture whose nuances he did not quite grasp. He recounted how the Irish police had visited him after the judgement, to warn him that his decision had displeased people on the internet in places like Kazakhstan and Uzbekhistan, and that they might seek revenge by stealing his credit card numbers or planting child pornography on his computer.
As he told this story I couldn’t judge whether he was being earnest or sarcastic. Perhaps Anonymous has managed to psych out the Irish police, as well as fooling them with a bit of proxying. More on this tomorrow, for now here is the text of the proposed amendment.
S.I. No. of 2011
European Communities (Copyright and Related Rights) Regulations 2011.
I, Richard Bruton, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, in exercise of the powers conferred on me by section 3 of the European Communities Act 1972 (No. 27 of 1972) and for the purpose of giving further effect to Directive 2001/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 May 2001 on the harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and related rights in the information society , as amended by Corrigendum, hereby make the following Regulations:
1. These Regulations may be cited as the European Communities (Copyright and Related Rights) Regulations 2011.
2. In these Regulations -
“Act of 2000” means the Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000 (No. 28 of 2000);
“Directive” means Directive 2001/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 May 2001 on the harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and related rights in the information society as amended by Corrigendum
3. The Act of 2000 is hereby amended by the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (5) of section 40:
(5A)(a) without prejudice to subsections (3) and (4), the owner of the copyright in the work concerned may apply to the High Court for an injunction against a person who provides facilities referred to in subsection (3) where those facilities are being used by one or more third parties to infringe the copyright in that work.
(b) In considering an application for an injunction under this subsection, the court shall have due regard to the rights of any third party likely to be affected and the court shall make such directions (including, where appropriate, a direction requiring a third party to be put on notice of the application) as the court may deem necessary or appropriate in all the circumstances.
4.The Act of 2000 is hereby amended by the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (9) of section 205:
(9A)(a) without prejudice to subsections (7) and (8), the rightsowner may apply to the High Court for an injunction against a person who provides facilities referred to in subsection (7) where those facilities are used by one or more third parties to infringe any of the rights referred to in Parts III and IV.
(b) In considering an application for an injunction under this subsection, the court shall have due regard to the rights of any third party likely to be affected and the court shall make such directions (including, where appropriate, a direction requiring a third party to be put on notice of the application) as the court may deem necessary or appropriate in all the circumstances.
GIVEN under my Official Seal,
This day of 2011
Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation
 OJ No. L167, 22.6.2001, p. 10
 OJ No. L 006 10.1.2002 p.70
A week of sunshine in Florence, another week spoiled by the effusions of the European Union’s copyright vampires. Yes, that’s right, the music industry are back feeling chipper, this time with the news that the Danish government, which had previously been blocking the extension of the duration of copyright in sound recordings from 50 to 70, or even 95 years, has now reneged on their stance. This means the debate will recommence and the directive will go forward to the next stage…
Now for something more positive. In November, Toryboy David Cameron announced the launch of an inquiry into ‘intellectual property and growth’, premised on the concern that the current copyright regime might be impeding the UK from developing innovative companies like Google. Thus one of the directions to be investigated was the possibility of developing a broad fair use defense which would protect transformative uses, like that which exists in the US and which the big G has been able to take useful recourse to on any number of occasions. Of course ungenerous individuals like the record industry’s Alan Batt ascribe all this to the fact that one of his senior advisers, Steve Hilton is married to Google’s European head of communications, Rachel Whetstone. Obviously an unfounded suggestion of no merit, politics couldn’t possibly function like that, could it?
Former journalist and erstwhile professor of Digital Economy Ian Hargreaves was appointed to head up the Commission. Amongst his colleagues on the Commission is Jamie Boyle, an emigre Scot who has been at the forefront of IP criticism for twenty years, and author of one of the classic texts in the area: Shamans, Software and Spleens. Jamie also writes a column for the Financial Times on these subjects, and has turned it into a useful platform for demanding that changes in IP law be based on an evidence-based argument rather than on hysterical rhetoric or the power of lobbying. Of course he’s a bit mad, because important political decisions couldn’t really be made like that could they?
Five months thus was spent collecting submissions and ‘evidence’, and it makes for interesting reading if you have the patience – there were over four hundred submissions, and that from the Open Rights Group alone is 84 pages long. The various copyright industry trade associations pitched in with a lot of documentation as well. Google commissioned a report on the impact of copyright law on digital SME’s as well as a position paper of their own. On the other hand Getty images made a submission that wasn’t so enthusiastic about reform, but then they think that IP is the oil of the 21st century…
The report is due at the end of April, and should be pretty interesting. I have been arguing for some time that pushing on the fair use/dealing question could be fertile for copyright critics as it’s one of the areas where cost to innovation can be illustrated most clearly. Furthermore there are precedents for these type of propositions receiving support from other quarters. In recent years both the IVIR study on the EU Copyright Acquis and the UK’s Gower Commission floated/recommended the creation of such a defense, and as the nasty rumours about Google demonstrate there are signals that it has support in some powerful business circles. A sample of the debate engendered can be gleaned from a podcast produced by the RSA on the occasion of a public discussion organised on the topic of the review,
As i mentioned in my post about Ireland a few weeks ago, a similar proposal is afloat there as well. What remains to be seen is whether this would require an EU Directive. The problem derives from Directive of 2001/29 on Copyright which contained an exhaustive list of all exceptions and amongst them there is no mention of ‘transformative use’. In the Uk ‘fair dealing’ has traditionally covered the use of materials and commentary, thereby often effectively protecting a sub-section of cultural uses, but commercial uses can’t be shoehorned into that. In any case, it would be healthy to see the European debate on copyright shift its axis towards such questions. Needless to say the content industries will fight such a move tooth and nail.
My intent initially was to publish this in January, but as the preceding posts make clear, there was considerable digging to be done to get a better picture of the context. In what follows, I begin with some comments with regard to shaky basis for the enforcement project, and then move on to a more detailed review of the Commission’s report.
1. The most noteworthy element of the Commission’s Report on the IP Enforcement Directive is what is absent. The Directive itself mandated the review, under Article 18, titled ‘Assessment’:
Three years after the date laid down in Article 20(1), each Member State shall submit to the Commission a report on the
implementation of this Directive.
On the basis of those reports, the Commission shall draw up a report on the application of this Directive, including an assessment of the effectiveness of the measures taken, as well as an evaluation of its impact on innovation and the development of the information society (my emphasis).
Those interested in reading about ‘impact on innovation and the development of the information society’ will be disappointed, as such a section does not exist. Late transposition by several member states is offered as explanation for its absence. Yet this tardiness was no obstacle to a commentary on the efficacy of the Directive’s enforcement measures. A strange anomaly, but easily explained:
“… in the context of the European Observatory on Counterfeiting and Piracy, DG Internal Market and Services works with experts from the private sector to assess the application of the Directive and to complete the information received from the Member States.”
Commission Staff Working Document, p.5 (hereinafter CSWD)
So we’re in good hands. Elsewhere the Report relies on work commissioned by copyright industry players in support of its assertions, such as that produced by Tera consultants, whose methodology was questioned by the Social Sciences Research Network (SSRN).
Read more »
Due to its role in the advancement of of entertainment and pharmaceutical interests within the GATT-TRIPS negotiations of the 1980s, the United States is typically assigned the role of bully in the international intellectual property sphere (for an excellent account see Drahos and Braithwaite’s “Information Feudalism”). Viewed in combination with its bilateral trade agreements, foisting stringent IP rules on smaller, poorer nations, this is somewhat understandable. But such a reading obscures the role of the European Union. Since the 1980s, key business organizations within the EU such as UNICE have functioned as a key vector for the same policy messages. In more recent times these ideas have been fully integrated into numerous aspects of institutional activity at an EU level. In what follows I will outline some developments at the level of trade policy since 2002.
The new phase was confirmed in a 2004 communication from the Commission Communication “Strategy for the enforcement of intellectual property rights in third countries“ (hereinafter Strategy), which listed eight elements considered essential to the campaign. Several of these recall practices long established in the US. The thrust of the strategy was confirmed in a major policy document issued by DG Trade in autumn 2006, “Global Europe: Competing in the World”, regarded as signalling the relaunch of a bilateral approach to trade negotiation, and marking the dimming of the multilateral phase which in the IPR sphere produced both TRIPS and the two treaties (WCT and WPPT) at WIPO in 1996.
Pursuing the New Approach
1. Watch Lists
The first task defined in the Strategy is the identification of ‘priority countries’, analogous to the s.301 report produced annually since the 1980s by USTR, deemed the source of egregious infringements of European rightsholders.
Read more »
in July 2009, three months after the McCreevy’s announcement of the European Observatory on Counterfeiting and Piracy (EOCP), a ‘stakeholder dialogue on illegal up and downloading’ was launched under its auspices and the direction of Margot Fröhlinger, Director for Knowledge-based Economy at DG Internal Market.
The goal was to achieve an accommodation between content owners and the infrastructural intermediaries. From the beginning the Commission have indicated that should the parties fail to come to voluntary agreements, the EC will amend one of its directives and impose a solution: E-commerce Directive (2000/31), the Infosoc Directive ( 2001/29) or the Enforcement Directive (2004/48).
Users and Consumers Missing from the Equation
Representatives of media companies, trade associations, collecting societies and ISPs have been involved in the monthly meetings. European Consumer group BEUC refused to participate, and, whether for wont of an invitation or lack of interest, no organization representing consumer or user interests was involved.
Read more »
Last week a chill ran through the irish blogosphere: former Green party minister Eamonn Ryan suggested that the outgoing Fianna Fail administration might introduce three strikes/’graduated response’ against file-sharing just as they were being kicked unceremoniously out of power. How would they do that? A statutory instrument, a diabolical device enabling the introduction by the executive of secondary legislation, based on a prior legislative act (in this case the Copyright Act as amended), without having to debate or pass it in the Dail (Parliament). Back-door legislation, in other words. This threat was quickly disavowed by the relevant minister, Mary Hanafin (who lost her seat anyway in the subsequent election). Alas this may not end the matter: the new senior government partner Fine Gael, are suspected to be favorable to a three strikes style solution.
Recent History of Online Copyright Shenanigans in Ireland…
The record companies first went on the offensive in 2005. That year the Irish Recorded Music Association (representing EMI, Warner et al.) sought and obtained a high court order to identify 17 individuals observed allegedly sharing copyrighted works (via their internet protocol addresses). Two further batches of identifications were granted in 2006 and 2007 against an additional 72 people, opening the way to civil infringement prosecution. According to IRMA defendants agreed to pay the plaintiffs around 2,500 euros each to settle out of court.
In March 2008 IRMA initiated action against the former telecoms monopoly Eircom, the largest supplier of broadband in Ireland, presumably based on a theory of contributory liability. The year before a Belgian collecting society had won a decision obliging an ISP to install filtering software in order to prevent copyright infringement. That case, Sabam v Scarlet was later referred to the European Court of Justice and a decision on the issue is expected this autumn.
Rather than confront this pressure in court, Eircom agreed to enter into a voluntary agreement with the music companies, whereby the ISP would take action against users identified by the plaintiff companies as having infringed their works. IRMA committed themselves to negotiating similar agreements with other ISPs so that Eircom would not be put at a competitive disadvantage due to their collaboration. That summer IRMA also sought a court order obliging Eircom to cut off access to the Pirate Bay, an application which was not opposed by the provider, and duly granted that September.
Concerns over the Data Protection aspects of the Eircom/IRMA agreement, the settlement was referred back to the High Court in April 2010, when it was given the green light by Judge Charleton. In the meantime other ISPs were proving to be less accommodating to IRMA’S demands, especially UPC, owner of a cable networks and formerly know as NTL. They refused either to block access ot the Pirate Bay or to make a private agreement against their users interests with IRMA. Predictably this ended up in court last October. The result was resounding victory for UPC. Justice Charleton acknowledged that there was nothing in Irish law requiring the ISPs to police their users in this way. ISPs are obviously ‘mere conduits’ for data operations, do not have any role in executing infringing activity, and are consequently protected from liability under the safe harbours for service providers under article 12 of the EU ECommerce Directive. He also conceded that there was no legal basis for grant of a blocking order as regards the Pirate Bay, and underlined that his previous decision to the contrary resulted from the fact that Eircom had not opposed the previous order nor seen fit to make any argument against it.
There is also an interesting business background to this series of events: Eircom have been haemorrhaging customers at a rapid pace, according to some estimates 1000 users per month. In the meantime UPC increased their number of phone subscribers by 60% last year. How many of those customers were attracted by the stance taken by UPC on users’ rights? Impossible to say, but it cannot have been irrelevant.
Meanwhile Eircom are having serious difficulty managing their debt levels and have warned that they may breach their covenants. Sad to say, but it’s hard not to feel some glee at their predicament; the highest line rental charge in Europe, negligible investment in the infrastructure, pathetic service and to cap it all, an unwillingness to defend their own customers legal interests in court against an industry that they were getting into bed with.
Given the recent scare, it is good to hear that there is now a ‘free culture’ group also in Ireland, launched on the initiative of Kevin Flanagan who I met at the last international meeting of EXGAE/LaEx in Barcelona in late October. They add some more attentive eyes to the trojan efforts of the people at Digital Rights Ireland, sentinels of digital civil liberties in Ireland…
.. and finishing on a Bizarrely Positive Note…
Fine Gael for Fair Use?
This whole palaver roused my curiosity about current goings on in matters copyright in Ireland. And it was with some astonishment that I discovered that Fine Gael (the victorious party in last week’s election) have at least one decent policy: it seems that they are proposing a pan-European fair use defense. Surprised as I was at first, there is a logic to it, given that Google employ over 2000 people in Dublin and the technology sector (largely composed of US multinationals) remains one of the few parts of the economy to continue performing.
Now there has been endless blather as regards the ‘knowledge economy’ in Ireland over the years, so serious scepticism is warranted (the persistence of substandard connectivity is a monument to broken promises of shiny futures past), but on copyright flexibility at least they seem to be tiliting the right way. I read that DRI organised a day school on these themes at Google recently, it seems that some of that work may have delivered a yield. Fair play.
Two spheres of activity have dominated the attention of the EOCP since its inception: the rather insipid sounding ‘stakeholder dialogue on illegal uploading and downloading’ and a subgroup working on a review of the implementation of IPRED1 and proposals for the future. Where the first attempts to broker agreements between corporate players on opposing sides of the policy battle, the second is dedicated to the generation of new legislative substance. In addition there is work being done on public awareness initiatives around the ‘problem’ of counterfeiting and piracy.
Preparing the Ground for IPRED2: Legal Subgroup; Whois?
This has a relatively small membership made up of Commission employees such as Alvydas Stančikas together with representatives from national anti-counterfeiting groups (France, Italy, Sweden, Belgium, Netherlands), their European counterparts (SNB REACT), the International Federation of the Photographic Industry, Motion Picture Association, Business Software Alliance and lawyers representing collecting societies such as BASCAP and major software producers. There are no participants from consumer or civil liberties groups, or indeed from any other NGO. Nominally the European Consumer Organization – BEUC – should have a member present as well, but this has not come to be, for reasons unclear.
Read more »
The European Commission will soon launch a second intellectual property enforcement directive (IPRED2), which this time will contain those crimninal provisions removed during the passage of IPRED1 in 2004 due to doubts as to their legal basis. With the passage of the Lisbon treaty and recent ECJ legal decisions this uncertainty has been reduced. In the following posts I want to sketch out other changes at an institutional level and provide an update on the mustering of the forces behind the new directive.
The first of these is the creation in 2008 of a unit dedicated to IP Enforcement inside of DG Internal Market. Created under the direction of Alvydas Stančikas, this unit creates a section of the bureaucracy now wedded unconditionally to the ideology of expansionist IP laws. Functionaries, alas, are usually substantially indifferent to the content of their roles, preferring to see their task as to bring suggested initiatives to fruition (thereby accruing institutional prestige with the career advancement that accompanies it) rather than challenging the assumptions behind them.
For more than a decade the Copyright unit, long headed by Tilman Lueder, has been the epicenter for Commission action. Whilst attached to the shibboleths which insist that increased protection is necessary to protect innovation, it at least located enforcement in a wider context of copyright objectives. Removal of enforcement questions from any broader discussion of the ecology of innovation and creativity transitions the apparatus to a structural capture by content industry incumbents.
European Observatory on Counterfeiting and Piracy
The first task of the new Unit has been to oversee the establishment of an ‘Observatory‘ to gather data about alleged IP infringements. Like so many other foul initiatives in the copyright sphere of late, it emanated from Sarkozy’s France. More specifically it was proposed during the period of the French Presidency in 2008. Given that he had made copyright protectionism a battle-cry in the previous year’s election, this came as no surprise. This campaign opened with a Communication by the European Commission on 16 July, mooting the need for better information collection and sharing. The following September the ECPO’S creation was mandated by a Council Resolution.
Sarkozy’s demands were realised on April 2nd 2009 saw the establishment of the ECPO’S launch by Charlie McCreevy, former irish finance minister, then Commissioner for the Internal Market. In September 2009 the Commission set out its aims in another Communication.
For some time those responsible for IP policy at a European level have bemoaned the unsolicited attention of external observers who criticise their policies on the basis of users’ interests or alternative visions of the innovation process. This was especially the case in the successful defeat of the EU Commission’s campaign for software patents. Part of their response has been to increase their activity in areas of soft law (communications, resolutions), try and effect change through closed-door dialogues between interested ‘stakeholders‘ (a lot more on this in my next post), and to either encourage or actively implement the mobilisation of administrative resources to attain their ends. The result is an immiseration of public discussion and a further dilution of democracy. The EOCP is a perfect example of several of these tendencies.
McCreevy’s speech at the launch spelled out the new approach:
“The mere existence of new laws, although important, cannot be expected to combat a worldwide infringement problem. So once again I stress the point that we must turn our attention towards supportive programs that can help bring to bear strong administrative commitments and resources, in conjunction with the flexibility and
resourcefulness of the private sector.”
Participation is limited to those invited by the Commission and industry involvement is obviously preferred: since the foundation of the ECPO there has been almost no involvement of consumer or civil liberties organizations (the BEUC did attend one meeting).
Criticism of Commission’s reliance upon industry produced statistics with regard to infringement, which unsurprisingly exaggerate the scale of losses, means that the basic task is to produce defensible figures. The methodology and collection of the data collation will be determined by a private contractor who is to work closely with industry representatives (like the IFPI and the MPAA).
Secondly the EOCP functions as a forum for the a series of work-groups: legal reform (in preparation of IPRED2); on online copyright infringement (focusing heavily on the legal responsibility of ISPs as well as IPRED2); public awareness.
In general the plan is that the EOCP will be a clearing-house for exchange of ‘best practices’ derived both from the various jurisdictions and a transmission-belt for private-sector enforcement initiatives. And doesn’t it all sound somewhat familiar? Well it should, much of it is in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) – even though it hasn’t been passed yet, the EU is behaving as if it’s already there!
These meetings are staffed by functionaries from the Knowledge Economy and IP Enforcement Units inside DG Internal Market. In order to access additional resources the Observatory will now be under the official auspices of the Office for the Harmonization of the Internal Market in Alicante, who are otherwise concerned with Trademarks and Designs.
With the departure of McCreevy in early 2010, the position of commissioner for internal market passed to Michel Barnier, a right-wing member of Sarkozy’s UMP; his cabinet can be expected to provide enthusiastic encouragement for all enforcement related efforts.
Why Should We Care?
The real target of all these efforts are ordinary computer users. The cloud of professed concern about organized crime and the hazards of fake medicines is really an alibi for a campaign around individual use and circulation of cultural works. The EOCP is about preparing the ground for a subsequent legislative campaign threatening massive damages and the obligation to employ censorware against intermediaries such as ISPs, and nonjudicial punishments against users (a la Hadopi) or worse, jail (but this more as a threat than a reality).
In addition to the crudely repressive aspect of this, what grates is the boneheaded commitment to monopoly rights as a means to promote some notional ‘knowledge economy’.
- The Commission has screwed up in the past on this and it knows it: their own report on the Database Directive demonstrates that.
- The software community in Europe showed them they were wrong about software patents as well, but had to defeat the Commission in Parliament due to their impermeability to rational argument.
- And today, how many innovative services will never be born in Europe because of the protectionist approach to copyright law? Google could launch googlebooks precisely because they had a broad fair-use defense to rely upon, that gave them a counterweight to the publishers’ threats and enabled a negotiation. Such a scenario was unthinkable in Europe and it’s the EU’s loss as an economy.
Will anyone inside the EU Commission will take the risk to launch processes which correct these failures?
My next posts will deal with what is going on within the EOCP’s subgroups and the content of IPRED2.
In the second week of December a wikileaked US diplomatic cable from February 2010 revealed the US ambassador’s scepticism at the motivations behind the Romani Law (Decreto Romani), nominally the Italian implementation of EU Directive 2007/65 on Audiovisual Media Services.
The cable described at some length how the law’s provisions could be exploited to the benefit of the Berlusconi’s media empire. Amongst other matters, the decree promised greater action on copyright, an area in which the Italian government had hitherto been somewhat disinterested. In fact the design of the Romani Law was driven largely by the need to restrict the commercial activities of Sky, the only effective private sector competitor to Mediaset.
From this perspective the legislation is in historical continuity with its predecessor, the Gasparri law, whose purpose was to ensure an undisturbed transition of media power in the shift from the analogue to digital framework. Yesterday’s incumbents – Berlusconi and RAI – would also be tomorrow’s. The Gasparri law was ultimately the target of a complaint procedure by the European Commission begun in 2006.
Just a couple of days after the leak, on December 17th, the Italian communications authority, Agcom (Autorità per le garanzie nelle comunicazioni), under the powers assigned to it by the Romani Law, announced new measures to be used against sites hosting materials that infringe copyright.
What is Agcom?
Agcom was established by the Maccanico law in 1997 as an agency somewhat independent of the government; of its eight members four are selected by the Parliament and the other four by the Senate. The authority is charged with overseeing infrastructure and competition in the communications sector, and even-handedness in broadcasting. Currently it is under pressure from Minister Paolo Romani to punish a program, Anno Zero, presented by Berlusconi critic Michele Santoro, on the grounds of broadcasting “claims of a gratuitous character, derogatory and seriously damaging to the dignity and decorum of eminent political personalities” on several occasions in January, ie allegations against Berlusconi in relation to soliciting child prostitutes aka the Ruby case…
Marketing Enforcement Strategies
Subsequent to Agcom’s announcement of the new measures, the ‘anti-piracy’ organization FAPAV (Federazione Anti-Pirateria Audiovisiva) held an event in Rome in mid-January to present the Italian aspects of a study commissioned on the detrimental effect of copyright infringement on employment in Europe, produced by Tera Consultants under commission by BASCAP and the International Chamber of Commerce.
As usual improbably large figures were thrown around (billions of euros and 22,000 jobs lost!) with no reference made to the provision of the underlying ‘raw data’ by the IFPI (music industry lobby) and FIMI (their Italian satellite) and a marketing company, IPSOS. No discussion of methodology either, perhaps advisedly so, as the Social Sciences Research Council (who are conducting similar investigations) had publicly criticised it when the report was initially published in March 2010. Not that any of the journalists reporting the event seemed to care: as usual they reproduced faithfully what they were told .
FAPAV had invited Nicolas Saydoux, head of French trade group and antipiracy lobby ALPA, to entertain the audience with a fairytale: how a strategy combining 3 strikes legislation and an increased range of legal products on the market had succeeded in reducing piracy levels by 85% – in less than six months!
Obviously FAPAV would like to see similar measures taken against users in Italy but for now they will have to make do with Agcom’S proposals, namely a system whereby copyright owners can complain to sites hosting their materials or linking to other sites which do, and request the material’s removal. Where no action is taken within 48 hours, the complaint is passed to Agcom, who, after examination of the offending material, will demand its removal. In the absence of compliance fines can be imposed.
To deal with sites based outside of Italy, it is proposed having checked that infringing content was available, Agcom could order providers to ban the IP or DNS so as to prevent access. Such an approach is already in use against foreign gambling sites, and notoriously also in place against the Pirate Bay – not that this has stopped many Italians from circumventing these controls on access to TPB.
What is really interesting about all this is that Agcom’s powers would not require any judicial order. There is no judge involved. Attentive readers will be struck by the similarity to the first version of Hadopi in France. Undoubtedly the positive feelings of FAPAV towards this scheme are driven by the same rationale that was behind Hadopi 1: accelerate the process of shutting down the alleged infringer by recourse to administrative rather than judicial mechanisms. Or to put it more simply, eliminate due process.
Amazingly for such a controversial system it is not being created by parliament, but rather through an administrative order on the part of Agcom, under the terms set out by the Romani decree. The proposed order was released in December and is subject to two months ‘public consultation’ prior to being enacted. A campaign has been started by an alliance of organizations including the consumer groups, lawyers, and business. In recent days they have launched a site to coordinate opposition to the measures.
In a separate decision Agcom has also decided that sites with a turnover of more than 100,000 euros per year based on user-generated content will be subjected to the same legislative requirements as TV stations – restrictions on the provision of content to minors, obligations to individuals defamed etc – and are to be treated as having responsibility for the content on their sites.
Most heavily impacted by this is youtube. In 2008 Mediaset initiated a case against youtube/google, demanding 500 million euros in damages of 500 million euros for copyright infringement of Mediaset programs on their video platforms. This resulted in two decisions against Google, in December 2009 and February 2010, regarding liability for hosting parts of the Italian version of Big Brother (Grande Fratello), a franchise owned in Italy by R.T.I.
Agcom’s decision regarding liability for user-generated content may be of significance in determining the eventual outcome, but this will also hinge on clarification of the more general liability of intermediaries in Italian law, currently a source of great confusion.
Walter Benjamin met his end in the border town of Portbou in Spain on September 27 1940. Part of a group of refugees, he received assistance from Lisa Fittko at Port Vendres on September 23rd, who knew clandestine routes out of France to Spain through the mountains. Apparently he was the first refugee she assisted, later she was recruited by the Varian Fry network and would help hundreds of others along the same path (1). Some accounts claim they were already acquainted from Paris and Germany, but what is certain is that Benjamin had met Hans Fittko whilst imprisoned in the Vernuche camp near Nevers in 1939,who advised him to contact Lisa if he managed to get south towards Marseille (2).
Traveling with two others, Frau Gorland and her son, they crossed the border on foot via Banyuls and into the mountains (3). Once into Spain the intended destination was Lisbon, from where they hoped to embark for the United States.
Given its strategic location, Portbou received special attention from the secret police and it is known that the Gestapo were present. The cause of Benjamin’s death has never been clear; suicide or murder are the two most bandied about, and were explored by the documentary maker David Mauas in his 2005 film, Quien Mato a Walter Benjamin.
He is buried at a beautiful site, overlooking the small bay on which Portbou is built, in the communal cemetery. One of his fellow travelers paid for his niche in the cemetery wall. A peculiar aspect to this method of burial is that the niches are not owned but rented, and in WB’s case this was a tenancy of five years. After that it is up to family members to renew the payment. As Benjamin had no affective connection to Portbou, his remains were consequently removed and placed in the communal grave. Somehow it seems strangely appropriate.
In 2008, with my friends from Pirate Cinema Berlin, we made a journey to visit this place, on a stormy day where the wind whipped up the sea, the waves crashed over the coast, and rain came down in torrents; if Klee’s Angelus Novus was lacking physically, it was rearing up in my imagination. The view onto the bay through the glass panel at the end of Kanavan’s memorial, a staircase/passage, is obscured by a thought that is also a program:
“It is more arduous to honor the history of the nameless than that of the renowned. Historical reconstruction is devoted to the memory of the nameless.”
European Copyright law specifies that works remain proprietary for seventy years after the death of the author, entering the public domain on the First of January of the following year. Having died in 1940, Benjamin’s seventy year sentence ended last year, and he was liberated on January 1st 2011. Works published during his life in German are now in the public domain.
Welcome home, Walter, we never stopped thinking of you.
“There is no document of culture that is not at the same time a document of barbarism.”
(1) Sheila Isenberg, A Hero of Our Own: The Story of Varian Fry
(2) Michael T. Taussig, Walter Benjamin’s grave
(3) Lisa Fittk, Escape Through the Pyrenees
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