Emailing the Members of the European Parliament is easy
Right now, the European Parliament is considering changes to the European copyright legislation, and how it will apply to the internet. On October 10, 2017, the parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee JURI will vote on what the new EU Copyright Directive will contain.
Right now – before October 10 – you can help defending freedom on the internet by emailing the members of JURI, to ask them to vote no to the bad proposals and yes to the good ones.
The outcome of the votes in JURI hangs in the balance, and several important issues are too close to call. If there are enough emails from ordinary citizens that demonstrate that there are people out there who care, we have a good chance of achieving at least some improvements to copyright. But if nobody shows an interest, there is an overwhelming risk that the copyright lobby will win, and will introduce further restrictions and even more absurdities into copyright on the internet. Right now, you as and individual can make a difference.
The copyright proposal contains many different parts. Here is a list of five issues that have not been decided yet, and where the vote in JURI could go either way. Two of them are idiotic proposals that we need to stop, but the other three are positive opportunities to make at least some improvements.
1. Bad proposal: Automatic upload filtering – ”Article 13”
According to this proposal all internet platforms, like for example YouTube and Facebook, would be required to install automatic filters to block uploads that infringe copyright.
Can a computer really decide accurately what is an infringement, when it normally takes courts and highly trained copyright lawyers to determine if a publication falls under various exceptions and limitations or not? No, of course an automatic upload filter cannot do that. A computer has no way of telling if a certain film clip is satire or parody, for example, or represents some other kind of use that is covered by an exception in the copyright legislation. The result will be that the internet platforms will rather block too much than to little, in order to be on the safe side and avoid having to pay damages. This reduces both freedom of speech and artistic creativity.
Formally speaking this is not censorship, since censorship is when the government bans the publication of something. But in practice, the effect will be the same – except that there is no due process, and no way of appealing if you think your material has been blocked unjustly. This is a really bad proposal.
2. Bad proposal: Link tax (or ”snippet tax”) – ”Article 11”
Newspaper publishers want to ban everybody from linking to news articles, unless they pay the media companies for the right to link. This proposal would apply to everybody, from Google to ordinary internet users and bloggers.
If the proposal goes through, most of the internet as we know it will become illegal overnight. That you can link to whatever you want without having to ask for permission is the foundation of the internet, and what has made the net what it is today. What kind of internet would we get if you ran the risk of being sued for damages every time you post a link? Most of the time nobody would of course bother suing you, but the risk would be there every time you link.
The old media lobbyists in Brussels are pushing this proposal because the media companies hope to extort money from Google every time Google links to a news article. But when legislation like this has been introduced in some countries (like for example Spain), Google just stopped linking to news articles, which made old media lose even more readers. And even if this was not the case and everything worked just like the newspaper publishers are hoping, the potential payouts from Google would be peanuts when divided between all actors who publish things on the internet.
But despite this, the legacy newspaper publishers are continuing to demand that it should cost money to link, in some kind of desperate hope that if they can just rein in those pesky internets, everybody will go back to reading Properly Authorized News on paper, and the natural order of things will be restored.
3. Good proposal: Allow remixes and user generated content
Remixes, mashups, fan fiction, and memes in the form of a picture with a text, are important and popular aspects of modern internet culture. Unfortunately, most of them are illegal according to today’s copyright legislation, since they rely on quoting pictures, film clips, and music.
To remedy this problem, the European Parliament’s Internal Market Committee IMCO has tabled a very good proposal (Amendment 55) to ”allow for the digital use of quotations […] within user-generated content for purposes such as criticism, review, entertainment, illustration, caricature, parody or pastiche”.
This is a very good proposal, that would help harmonize the single market if it becomes mandatory for all member states. If enough citizens show their support for it, it can become reality.
4. Good proposal: Freedom of panorama
In a recent verdict against Wikimedia, a Swedish court decided that it is illegal to photograph a public work of art and post it on the internet, unless the artist who created the work has been dead for at least 70 years. If you take a selfie in front of a public statue you may (at least in theory) be sentenced to pay damages to the organization that represents the dead artist.
The rules vary widely from country to country, but this is a problem in many European Union member states. According to French copyright law, it is illegal to post pictures of the Eiffel Tower taken at night, since the lighting arrangement on the tower is considered protected by copyright, and light technician who designed it has not yet been dead for 70 years. (You may, however, post pictures of the Eiffel Tower taken during daytime, since Gustave Eiffel died in 1923, which is more than 70 years ago.)
The proposal to introduce ”freedom of panorama” on the EU level would address this problem, and remove one of the more blatant absurdities from copyright legislation.
5. Good proposal: Allow data mining
Data mining is a technique where you let a computer sift through large data sets (like, for example, data bases containing millions of scientific articles), and look for patterns and correlations that no human would be able to find because there is such a vast amount of data. This technique has proved very useful for finding new knowledge in many areas.
Today, however, data mining is often in breach of copyright, since it is considered that the authors of the scientific articles and other data would have to give an explicit permission for their articles to be used in that way. From a practical point of view it would be impossible to get such permissions from the authors of millions of different articles, so in practice, data mining is illegal today in many cases.
The EU wants to introduce a mandatory exception to copyright to allow data mining, and this is a good thing. But unfortunately, the proposal as it stands is too narrowly drafted. Data mining would become legal for ”scientific institutions”, but not for other actors such as independent researchers, research companies, journalists, or ordinary citizens. The proposal for an exception for data mining is basically good, but it needs to be extended so that it applies to everybody.
How to email the members of the JURI committee
Emailing the members of the committee is not at all difficult. Here is how to do it:
- Write yourself. If there are suddenly lots of identical emails where the text is just copy-pasted, the recipients will (quite rightly) see it as spam. This usually does more harm than good. It is more important that you have written the text of your email yourself than that it is perfect. Write in English, all Members can handle that.
- Be brief, roughly like an ordinary comment on Facebook. Pick one or two of the issues/arguments, and focus on those. If everybody chooses their own favorite issue or argument, there will be many different emails from different people highlighting different aspects. This is exactly what we want for the campaign to be as efficient as possible. You should not feel that you have to cover all arguments, one or two will do nicely. The entire email does not have to be longer that two or three paragraphs.
- Be polite. No matter how upset you are, write in a nice and polite way. The object is to convince the committee Members, not to vent anger (even if the anger as such may be entirely justified). If nothing else, remember that some of the Members that you will be writing to are already on our side and agree with us, and you would not want alienate or be rude to them.
- Email all the Members of the JURI committee. In the position we are now, before October 10, 2017, all the Members of the JURI committee are of interest, but only they. At a later stage, when there will be a vote in plenary, it may be that we want send emails to all the Members of the European Parliament. But not now, now it is JURI we should focus on.
You can use this mailing (“mailto”) link to create an email to all 46 delegates of the JURI committee. The mail addresses come from this official page at the European Parliament.
It is easy to think that you cannot influence anything as an ordinary citizen, but this is completely wrong. When I was a Member of the European Parliament 2009-2014, I could see with my own eyes the enormous difference it makes when ordinary citizens take an interest and start emailing the parliament. This was how we won the fight against the ACTA agreement last parliamentary term. An individual citizen may be just a drop in the ocean, but many drops together can become an unstoppable flood wave.
Now we once more have the opportunity to show that committed citizens can beat the Brussels lobbyists!
Sit down today and start drafting your email to the Members of the JURI committee. You will make a difference.
(by Christian Engström at 2017-09-12 07:45:38)