Reclaim the net! Copyright and online freedoms at re:publica17

By EDRi · May 17, 2017

It is hard to count how many times we have been saying that the current European copyright regime is outdated. Sometimes the focus is on the negatives: what it should not be like. The ongoing copyright reform reinforces that tendency with proposals such as the content filter. However, at re:publica17, an annual gathering of media experts, activists and techies, we talked about the positive vision regarding access to culture and freedom of expression.

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Our rights need better law-making

The joint session of European Digital Rights (EDRi) and Centrum Cyfrowe “Reclaim the net! Copyright and online freedoms” had two goals. First, we presented how culture could be put back in the hands of the people. We painted a positive image of a world where users’ rights are respected. The right to access quality education encompasses using all sorts of materials, from text and pictures to music and multimedia, to make the learning interesting and relevant. The right to create and share content enables individual artistic expression when a new work is created based on somebody else’s creation: be it a cat meme, a song cover, or fan fiction. Text and data mining provides for a better understanding of the world, which is key to a brighter future. Accessing information of any kind should be possible without anyone limiting it.

This vision should be the reality of the digital age. We should be able to use technology to the benefit of an active, educated, creative society. We should be able to make informed choices based on information that is freely accessible. The current copyright reform does not give justice to the opportunities that are technologically possible to achieve. We are served licenses instead of exceptions, a censorship machine, and a demonstrated failed proposal to “tax” news aggregators.

Our everyday copysins

During the second part of the workshop, we explained how the current outdated norms to access culture (namely copyright laws) lead users to violate copyright, often without knowing they are doing something illegal. They are, in a way, “copysinners”. We discussed how streaming and filesharing or using somebody else’s picture as a social media avatar are common practices and sometimes unavoidable. Under the current law, these actions are at best legally doubtful if not evidently illegal. Yet they happen all the time.

The participants of the workshop agreed that a new, modern copyright adapted to the digital age is needed. There should not be absurd new rights for publishers. Legal use of works such as subtitling should be allowed, and geoblocking forbidden. It should be made clear that the use of user-generated content is legal, and the right to private copy should be guaranteed.

Now, with the copyright reform discussed in the European Parliament, the time is ripe to check if policy-making can be based on common sense. These are the things any of us can do:

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Copyright guide for the perplexed

Document pool for the copyright directive proposal

EDRi’s position on copyright

COMMUNIA policy recommendations

Reclaim the net! Copyright and online freedoms at re:publica17 (15.05.2017)

(Contribution by Anna Mazgal, Centrum Cyfrowe Foundation, Poland, and Diego Naranjo, EDRi)