Vergaan van het schip de Vrijheid

Bending over backwards – ALDE wants to ensure online is like the offline

Despite ambitious planning, the JURI Committee vote on the Copyright in the Digital Market directive seems increasingly unlikely to happen in 2017. Meanwhile, following the lead of the EPP, ALDE (The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) published a new position paper on Copyright in the Digital Single Market earlier this month. ALDE seems to be deeply split when it comes to the question of copyright policy. Perhaps this is why the paper offers a very blurred perspective on how the group’s MEPs will vote in the upcoming votes in the Civil Liberties (LIBE) and Legal Affairs (JURI) committees in the European Parliament.

A blurred compromise to keep everyone happy

While many liberal MEPs are traditionally supportive of less restrictive copyright rules and value the protection of individual freedoms, ALDE’s official spokesperson for the copyright file, MEP Cavada is one of the most outspoken proponents of stronger copyright protection in the European Parliament.

Positions of the political groups in JURI with respect to selected elements of the DSM directive proposal [Source].

The new position paper seems to be an attempt to bridge both positions. Following a somewhat rambling introduction that extensively highlights the need to fight online piracy (which technically is not included in the scope of the DSM directive), the position paper states that attempts to protect copyright online should not infringe users’, consumers’ and citizens’ rights:

ALDE wants to protect copyright online because we need to ensure that creators are fairly remunerated for their creations. In taking measures to ensure this, however, ALDE is not ready to go as far as to infringe users’, consumers’ and citizens’ rights to exercise their freedom of expression online. Just as in working against any unlawful behaviour, online or offline, ALDE will do as much as possible, while maintaining a fair balance of fundamental rights, such as the right of information and the right of free expression.

Unfortunately the position paper leaves it unclear what this would mean for ALDEs position towards article 13 of the Commission’s proposal (which require upload filters for online platforms). Since we (and many others) have repeatedly argued that the filtering mechanisms required by article 13 would infringe on users (fundamental) one would assume that the above passage would require ALDE MEPs to oppose article 13. However, the next paragraph of the position paper somehow manages to translate the above passage into an imperative to “stand up for the protection of rights holders legitimate interests”

ALDE therefore stands up for the protection of right holders’ legitimate interests whereby ensuring the creative sector to prosper and to preserve cultural diversity in Europe. Similar rules need to be found for the online world as exist in the offline world in order to minimise copyright infringements, thus we need to ensure a fair remuneration of authors and performers and to encourage investment in the creative & cultural sector.

This passage is problematic for a number of reasons such as the nonsensical obsession with similar rules for online and offline “worlds”. More importantly this passage re-affirms the founding myth of the discussion that saddled us up with the upload filters proposed by article 13: It implies that the Internet somehow prevents Europe’s creative sector from prospering. While there can be no doubt that the digitisation of economic and cultural transactions has brought massive change to the cultural sector and the music industry in particular, there is a lot of evidence that the EU music sector is doing fine in the digital environment.

ALDE MEPs need to be reminded that they have been elected to protect fundamental rights

While these internal contradictions show that ALDE has not really managed to establish a common coherent position on the questions raised by the DSM directive, it nevertheless points to a way out. Given that the proponents of the article 13 have still not managed to back up the narrative that digitisation is hurting the EU cultural & creative sector ALDE should base their positions on the imperative to protect fundamental rights including the freedom for creative expression that has been greatly enhanced with the advent of open internet platforms.

The ALDE MEPs in the LIBE committee will have the chance to do so next month. In the run up to the vote in LIBE we may want to remind Nathlie Greisbeck (FR), Filiz Hyusmenova (BG),Sophia in ‘t Veld (NL), Louis Michel (BE) and Cecilia Wickström (SE) that the have very likely not been elected to limit our online freedoms. That would also be in line with the overall ambition expressed in the position paper:

As the most pro-European group in the European Parliament ALDE advocates to facilitate equal access to culture, education, research and innovation – for all European citizens.

A satire on the art business in which art experts and dealers who assess paintings are depicted as donkeys. After the drawing by Trémolières in the Hessisches Landes Museum in Darmstadt (cropped).
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