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EU consultation on online platforms – your voice counts!

As part of its effort to build a digital single market and to modernise the European Copyright rules the European Commision is currently running an online consultation on the ‘Regulatory environment for platforms, online intermediaries, data and cloud computing and the collaborative economy‘. As the name suggests this consultation bundles an enormous amount of issues into a single consultation. This monster consultation consisting of at least 115 questions depending on which type of user you are, hides a number of questions that can have huge impact on the shape of the future EU copyright framework and determine how we share and collaborate online.

These questions relate to the regulatory framework for online platforms, a term that is defined so broadly by the consultation that covers wide swaths of the Internet:

“Online platform” refers to an undertaking operating in two (or multi)-sided markets, which uses the Internet to enable interactions between two or more distinct but interdependent groups of users so as to generate value for at least one of the groups.

In other words, the Commission asks questions about platforms and services like SoundCloud, Wikipedia, YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and many others, that have become central in how European citizens communicate with each other and express themselves. Changing the regulatory framework that applies to these platforms will have far reaching consequences for all of us. In this light it is very disturbing that these questions are hidden in a consultation that appears to be designed to discourage responses from citizens.

Online platforms are central to how we communicate and share online

This becomes even more disturbing as the Commission has made it very clear that, as part of its objective to “achieve a well-functioning marketplace for copyright”, it is considering measures including the introduction of an ancillary copyright for press publishers (link tax), limitations of the right to link and modifications of the liability limitation for hosting providers. Such measures have the potential to fundamentally alter the services that platforms offer to citizens, and in this context that the consultation seems to be primarily targeted at obtaining input from rights holders (who are known to push for changes that will severely limit what platform operators can offer) and platform operators is simply unacceptable. It is perplexing to see the Commission is either unwilling or unable to realise that changes to the copyright framework impact users just as much as they impact rights holders and intermediaries. Citizens should not be required to sift through 115 questions of highly complex legal jargon and complex political issues to voice their position on issues that directly affect them.

The response to the 2013/2014 copyright consultation has shown that citizens care a lot about how copyright is affecting them and that they have positions that are clearly different from the positions of both rights holders and intermediaries (which includes platforms). This fact should be reason enough for the Commission to make sure that they actively solicit input from end users when gathering evidence about questions related to copyright in the online environment. Instead, the Commission has chosen to structure questions that have clear implications for Internet users in such a way that they can only be answered from the perspective of the rights holders.

Making sure that Internet users have a voice

With the platform consultation clearly not making sure that the voice of users will be heard by the Commission, our partners at Save the Link have launched an Internet voice tool that allows anyone to provide answers to 5 of the most problematic questions contained in the consultation. The questions have been rephrased to focus on the perspective of end users. At the end of the consultation period, Save the Link will collect all answers received via the Internet voice tool and present them to the EU Commission to make sure that policymakers cannot simply ignore the perspective of end users in when taking decisions about how we can make use of the Internet to express ourselves. If we want to keep the Internet an open and democratic communication tool it is crucial that Internet users make their voice heard as forcefully as possible.

In the coming weeks we will address some of the issues contained in the consultation on this blog. COMMUNIA will also prepare an official response to the platform consultation and if you have the organisational capacity to do so we encourage you to do the same.

Etching of a printer's press by Abraham Bosse.
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