By Kirsten Fiedler

In April 2017, we got a little curious about industry lobbying in Brussels surrounding the copyright reform. We therefore filed a freedom of information (FOI) request to access the correspondence that the Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (DG CNECT) of the European Commission received by rightsholders shortly before the reform proposal was finalised and published.

We had little idea that asking for “all correspondence (including emails) to officials in DG CNECT from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) and the European Grouping of Societies of Authors and Composers (GESAC)” could have meant something else than “all correspondence (including emails) to officials in DG CNECT from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) and the European Grouping of Societies of Authors and Composers (GESAC)”!

Assuming that the European Commission does not have something to hide and is therefore not simply obstructing our request in order to avoid being exposed during the Parliament’s discussions of the text, we were very surprised by the response we received.

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Apparently, the relatively simple language of our request was too complicated for the European institution that is in charge of drafting all of the EU’s legislation. We were surprised when – on the very last day of the period for responding to our demand – the EU Commission sent us a clarification request. Here is the exact wording of their letter to us:

“You request access to “documents which contain the following information for the period of 14 July until the publication of the draft Copyright Directive on 14 September 2016: all correspondence (including emails) to officials in DG CNECT from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) and the European Grouping of Societies of Authors and Composers (GESAC).

We understand that your request covers all correspondence (including emails) from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) and the European Grouping of Societies of Authors and Composers (GESAC) sent to officials in DG CNECT regarding the proposal for a directive on copyright in the Digital Single Market, for the period running from 14 July 2016 until 14 September 2016 (adoption of the proposal).

Could you please confirm us that our understanding is correct?” [emphasis added]

We have to admit that we had to read the EU Commission’s clarification, then read it a second time and again a third time. There are only two explanations for the Commission’s question. Either the Commission’s linguistic skills are such that it cannot understand a simple request, or this is an abusive effort to avoid respecting the Commission’s legal obligation to respond to freedom of information requests.

We confirmed that our request for “all correspondence (including emails) from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) and the European Grouping of Societies of Authors and Composers (GESAC) sent to officials in DG CNECT regarding the proposal for a directive on copyright in the Digital Single Market, for the period running from 14 July 2016 until 14 September 2016 (adoption of the proposal)” indeed covers “all correspondence (including emails) from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) and the European Grouping of Societies of Authors and Composers (GESAC) sent to officials in DG CNECT regarding the proposal for a directive on copyright in the Digital Single Market, for the period from 14 July 2016 until 14 September 2016 (adoption of the proposal)”.

This time, the EU Commission was substantially quicker to understand our request and able to acknowledge receipt of our clarification within only 15 minutes. However, the Commission, for no obvious reason, decided that this started a new deadline for it to respond – by 1 June 2017 – unless, of course, the Commission loses its linguistic capabilities again and a further delay is engineered.

[Update 1 June 2017] They did it! The Commission just announced the extension of the deadline for another 15 days…

ENDitorial: Transparency and law-making on EU copyright – mutually exclusive? (05.04.2017)
https://edri.org/transparency-and-law-making-mutually-exclusive/

Artificial unintelligence – lobbyletter
https://edri.org/lobbyletter/

(Contribution by Kirsten Fiedler, EDRi)

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