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26th May 2019

German Pirate MEP kicks off EU copyright debate

  • Julia Reda, MEP for the Pirate party. (Photo: European Parliament)

There should be one copyright law that applies to all EU member states, fixing the legal “absurdities” of the current regime, according to German pirate MEP Julia Reda.

She presented her report on copyright reform to journalists on Monday (19 January) in a bid to shape the debate ahead of an expected European Commission proposal later this year.

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“The rules are so opaque and so different from member state to member state, that it becomes extremely difficult to actually follow them”, said Reda, who sits with the EP’s Green group.

She notes that the 2001 directive has failed to harmonise copyright in the digital world.

“If I go on holiday to France, to Paris, and take a picture of the Eiffel tower, and put it on my Facebook page – whether or not this constitutes a copyright infringement depends on whether I take the picture during the day or during the night”, said Reda.

That is because while the copyright protection on the structure itself has expired, the protection of the light show has not.

And while the directive says photos of works of art in public spaces in the EU can be taken free of charge, France has decided not to implement this clause, nor have Italy and Belgium.

In her report, Reda calls on the European Commission, which initiates laws, to make the clause mandatory for all member states.

She also calls for EU-wide rules that allow libraries to lend digital books online, to give internet users the right to use hyperlinks regardless of whether the content it links to is copyright-protected, and to include “audio-visual quotations” in the list of exceptions to copyright rules.

“Every day creative activities that people are doing, including a GIF image of five seconds from a popular film in a blog post, shouldn't constitute a copyright infringement.”

GIF stands for “Graphics Interchange Format”. Animated GIFs featuring a quote from a popular film are often used in internet culture, but according to Reda there is "legal uncertainty".

“Nobody stops going to the movies because they've seen five seconds in a bad quality with a caption of what was said in the scene. … We need a common sense approach there.”

Technology neutral

The 2001 directive, created before the inception of social media like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, contains language, referring to storage formats like CD-ROM and CD-I, rarely used anymore in 2015.

Reda therefore called for the new rules to be “technology neutral”, to make sure they will be applicable in the future too.

“It would not be necessary to directly change the list of exceptions and limitations every time a new form of using a work comes about. It would give the European court some leeway of interpreting the existing limitations and applying them to new phenomena.”

The founder of the Swedish Pirate Party, Rick Falkvinge, noted the importance of Reda taking on the copyright reform dossier .

“For the first time, legislation on the matter is initiated by net liberty activists”, Falkvinge wrote recently.

Awkward meetings

It also meant that Reda had to speak to lobbyists for collective rights agencies, sometimes leading to “an awkward situation”.

“Some lobby organisations have written to the Greens and the Social Democrats urging them to present another candidate”, Reda told this website Monday.

“Sometimes I ended up talking to exactly the organisations that actively tried to make sure that I didn't become the rapporteur.”

Reda stressed that she is not proposing “getting rid of copyright and staging a revolution” but “adapting” copyright rules.

The European commission held a public consultation last year, prompting some 9,500 replies.

The German MEP will present her report to the legal committee of the European parliament on Tuesday (20 January).

“It will be a tough fight,” said Reda.

A vote on the report by the plenary session is expected in May, the same month that Commissioner Andrus Ansip is set to present a broad strategy for the Digital Single Market.

A detailed copyright reform proposal is expected in the following months.

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