Regulation of Online Platforms in the European Union – The State of Play

For the past two decades, the 2000 Electronic Commerce Directive has been the cornerstone of internet regulation in the European Union, and its safe harbors have played a crucial part in the creation of the modern internet.[1] In recent years, however, rightholders, politicians, civil society groups and others have increasingly challenged the status quo, arguing that Europe has naively allowed itself to be exploited by unaccountable – mostly American – tech giants. Although these critics often disagree strongly about exactly what needs to be done and why, they have convinced legislators that something must be done. As a result, dozens of laws have been passed or proposed at the EU level in the last few years, transforming the legal environment in which platforms operate on everything from privacy, copyright, and free speech to competition, labor law, and tax. By acting first and asking questions later, the EU is hard at work establishing a de facto global standard for tech regulation.[2]

The process is anything but smooth, and not everyone is convinced of the quality, cohesion or wisdom of the EU’s regulatory approach. Like it or loathe it, however, EU regulation has become a significant business concern for global tech companies. Although Europe’s population is dwarfed by those of rising powers such as China and India, its market of 500 million affluent consumers spread over 28 – more or less – coordinated member states is hard to ignore. Moreover, its regulatory innovations have a habit of catching on in other jurisdictions, and some elements of its approach to Big Tech are even gaining traction in the US.[3] The EU is also projecting power beyond its borders by promoting its regulatory agenda within international bodies like the G7 and the OECD.[4]

In this article, we discuss the current state of online platform regulation in Europe.[5] European intermediary liability has law traditionally focused on the liability of internet access and hosting providers for their users’ unlawful activities, leaving it up to individual member states’ national law to craft a wide range of Good Samaritan obligations in relation to, for example, the production of subscriber data or the blocking of infringing websites. In recent years, this discussion has become more fundamental, more wide-ranging, and more fragmented, all at the same time. The essential question is what online platforms must do to keep their services safe and lawful, and to what extent they are responsible when they fail to do so.

Publication with Dorien Verhulst in MLRC Bulletin: Legal Frontiers in Digital Media 2019/1 – now paywalled, full text continues below.

Continue reading “Regulation of Online Platforms in the European Union – The State of Play”

NJB-kroniek Technologie en recht 2019

In het digitale domein ontwikkelen privacyrecht, informatievrijheid, auteursrecht en de aansprakelijkheid en verantwoordelijkheid van internetplatforms zich in rap tempo tot een nieuwe informatierechtsorde van de 21e eeuw. In deze nieuwe wereld is de meeste wetgeving afkomstig uit Europa en schijnbaar gericht op het creëren van een digitale eengemaakte markt die kan concurreren met China en de Verenigde Staten.

Het Europese wetgevingsproces leidt echter tot onmogelijke compromissen die het Hof van Justitie in de ene na de andere prejudiciële procedure zal moeten uitleggen. De belangrijkste thema’s van het moment zijn de regulering van een eclectische groep internetplatforms en privacy als kerninstrument om controle uit te oefenen in de informatiemaatschappij. In de toekomst zijn met name verdere ontwikkelingen in artificiële intelligentie en grootschalige data-analyse interessant. Toepassingen zoals automatische gezichtsherkenning en zelfrijdende auto’s creëren nieuw gemak en nieuwe economische kansen, maar ook zorgen over de gevolgen voor privacy en menselijke autonomie.

Kroniek geschreven samen met Anke Strijbos en Dorien Verhulst, gepubliceerd in het Nederlands Juristenblad 2019/15. [PDF]

Correctie Op p. 1134 en in voetnoot 95 schrijven wij ten onrechte dat NSE partij is bij de daar besproken procedure tegen Brein. Dat is niet het geval.

IP protection of deep learning systems

On 15 June 2018, the Dutch Association for Copyright (VvA) organised a study session on the interaction between intellectual property and artificial intelligence. While this issue is often approached in terms of IP protection of artificial works and inventions, the first session considered the IP protection of deep learning systems themselves. Jean-Marc Deltorn of CEIPI (University of Strasbourg) gave a detailed presentation. I delivered a brief response, which contained a number of specific questions about Mr. Deltorn’s presentation, and also raised some broader issues about the extent to which further IP protection of deep learning systems is necessary and the impact of deep learning creations on the market for human-created works.

Both papers have been published in the Dutch copyright journal AMI, and a pdf of mine is available here. The English version follows below.

Continue reading “IP protection of deep learning systems”

Communication to the public in Europe

Communication to the public in Europe: recent developments in EU copyright law in relation to digital media services

This paper, prepared for the 2018 AIPLA Annual Meeting in Washington, DC (slides available here), provides an introduction to the remarkable recent body of case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) on the author’s exclusive right of communication to the public in relation to digital media services. It places this case law in the context of purpose and setup of the CJEU’s preliminary reference procedure, and of pending EU legislative developments that will further muddy the waters for providers of digital media services.

In the last two years, the CJEU has ruled that hyperlinking to a work on a third-party website that you have reason to believe was uploaded unlawfully is a communication to the public of that work;[1] that selling fully-loaded Kodi hardware boxes is a communication to the public of the content that users view on it;[2] that torrent-indexing sites infringe copyright;[3] that offering a cloud-based personal video recorder service infringes the communication to the public right; and that publishing a school presentation containing a photo taken from a travel website requires the photographer’s permission.[4]

With its recent decisions, the CJEU has all but abandoned any notion that the author’s exclusive right to authorize “communication to the public” refers to a technically, objectively delineated set of actions that involve the actual transmission of protected works – notwithstanding the recital to the 2001 EU Copyright Directive which ostensibly limits the scope of the right to the transmission or retransmission of a work to the public not present at the place where the communication originates.[5] The Court has redefined the concept in considerably more subjective and functional terms. Indeed, one might be forgiven for concluding that the CJEU essentially considers any deliberate for-profit facilitation of access to copyright-protected information to require the rightholder’s permission.

Understanding the CJEU’s recent decisions about the communication to the public right, and identifying a broader coherence in the case law as a whole, is a challenge for practitioners both in the EU and beyond. Lawyers not familiar with EU procedural law face an additional interpretative hurdle, in that the CJEU’s role and procedures are unique and subtle. The CJEU is not a supreme court, and its role is entirely different to that of, for example, the US Supreme Court in shaping US copyright law.

Adding a further layer of complexity to EU digital copyright law, a proposed Directive on Copyright in the Digital Singe Market, currently being finalised,[6] seeks substantially to erode the safe harbour regime for online intermediaries, providing that “online content sharing service providers” bear primary liability for their users’ infringing uploads unless they install proactive copyright filters. The proposed directive will also give news publishers additional rights to restrict digital uses of their press publications, posing new challenges to the way that news is referenced and shared online. Continue reading “Communication to the public in Europe”

Balancing in EU copyright law

During the 2018 AIPPI World Congress, a panel session was held to discuss the means by which copyright laws in different jurisdictions seek to achieve balance between copyright and other rights and interests. Once mostly achieved through exceptions and limitations, recent developments show an increasing role for other doctrines and methodologies. In Europe, balancing has moved increasingly into the sphere of constitutional law. The Court of Justice of the European Union has established that the protection of copyright is a fundamental right, which must be balanced against other fundamental rights, including the freedom of expression and of information, the freedom to conduct a business, and the protection of privacy and personal data.

The situation in Mexico and the United States was addressed by Ms. Irely Aquique, and Mr. Gregory Sebald respectively.

My presentation on balancing copyright in EU law is available here. It  addresses three kinds of balancing:

  1. ‘traditional’ balancing: copyright rules designed to protect other rights and interests;
  2. ‘internal constitutional balancing’: where fundamental rights are used to interpret copyright rules, specifically when defining the scope of the exclusive right, when interpreting exceptions and limitations, when assessing the suitability of specific enforcement measures; and, possibly, when defining copyrightable subject-matter; and
  3. ‘external constitutional balancing’, where other fundamental rights operate as an autonomous limitation to copyright, outside the statutory system of exceptions and limitations, i.e. where another overriding fundamental right ‘trumps’ copyright.

Presentatie Nationale Mediarechtcongres 2017

Tijdens het Nationale Mediarechtcongres op 16 november 2017 gaf ik een presentatie over recente en toekomstige ontwikkelingen in het toezicht op commerciële en publieke mediaorganisaties, met aandacht voor o.a.

  • de distributiebutierevolutie
  • de aggregatienachtmerrie
  • toezicht op mediadiensten
  • actualiteiten reclame- en sponsorregels
  • actualiteiten dienstbaarheidsverbod publieke omroep
  • toekomstperspectief: de nieuwe AVMS-richtlijn

De presentatie is hier beschikbaar [PDF].

NJB-kroniek Technologie & recht 2015-2016

Een jurist die zich bezig houdt met ‘technologie en recht’ is noodgedwongen van alle markten thuis. Alle traditionele rechtsgebieden kennen inmiddels technische casuïstiek.  Van aansprakelijkheidskwesties bij zelfrijdende auto’s, een strafbeschikking ondanks elektronische hondenriem, het gebruik van automatische nummerbordherkenning bij de fiscale controle van rittenregistraties van lease-auto’s tot de tweedehands verkoop van e-books. Geen jurist is in al die rechtsvragen specialist.  Dat neemt niet weg dat er wel degelijk een aantal samenhangende (delen van) rechtsgebieden zijn, waarvan de ontwikkeling momenteel wordt gedomineerd door technologische ontwikkelingen: de uitleg en handhaving van het auteursrecht op internet, allerlei aspecten van het privacyrecht, het recht op informatievrijheid en uiteraard het aansprakelijkheidsregime voor een scala aan internetbedrijven op basis van de e-Commercerichtlijn.

Op het snijvlak van deze rechtsgebieden opereren de grote technologiebedrijven van de 21e eeuw. Zij vormen het scharnierpunt van de digitale economie, ontwrichten bestaande markten met technische innovaties en zijn in al hun doen en laten voorwerp van maatschappelijk debat. Deze Apple’s, Facebook’s, Amazon’s en Google’s, maar ook de Adyen’s en Blendle’s van de wereld, opereren mondiaal. Zij zorgen wereldwijd voor nieuwe juridische vragen in het digitale domein, zowel traditioneel grensoverschrijdende vragen over rechtsmacht en de internationale reikwijdte van rechterlijke bevelen, als van oudsher nationale vragen over maatschappelijke zorgvuldigheid en de afweging van grondrechten. Zij vormen daarmee een logisch prisma om het digitale spectrum te bekijken en zijn een aanknopingspunt voor onze kroniek.

Ondanks de oneindig brede titel komt in deze kroniek dus veel niet aan bod. We concentreren ons openkele grote actuele digitale thema’s, bespreken alleen de belangrijkste ontwikkelingen, en dat op hoofdlijnen. Daarmee blijven niet alleen allerlei non-thema’s met een diffuus en onzelfstandig karakter (‘big data’, ‘internet of things’, ‘value gap’) grotendeels buiten beschouwing, maar ook hele rechtsgebieden die inmiddels een eigen kroniek zouden kunnen vullen; bijvoorbeeld het ICT-contracten- en consumentenrecht. De kroniekperiode bestrijkt de afgelopen twee jaar.

Gepubliceerd in Nederlands Juristenblad 2016-1822 [PDF]

De verplichtingen van analoge tussenpersonen: annotatie bij HvJEU 7 juli 2016, zaak C-494/15 (Tommy Hilfiger c.s. / Delta Center)

Oorspronkelijk gepubliceerd in AMI 2016/4 [PDF].

De “tussenpersoon wiens diensten door derden worden gebruikt om inbreuk op een intellectuele-eigendomsrecht te maken”, jegens wie de rechthebbende op grond van artikel 11, derde zin van de IE Handhavingsrichtlijn, een rechterlijk verbod moet kunnen krijgen, omvat niet alleen de beheerder van een elektrische marktplaats als aan de orde het arrest L’Oréal/eBay uit 2011,[1] maar ook de beheerder van een ouderwetse, fysieke markthal. Aan de huurder van zo’n marktplaats, die aan afzonderlijke marktkramers verkoopstands en standplaatsen voor marktkramen verhuurt, kunnen dus anti-piraterijmaatregelen worden opgelegd als in die bepaling voorzien, onder dezelfde voorwaarden als die het Hof in dat arrest heeft geformuleerd met betrekking tot de beheerder van een elektronische marktplaats.

Uit deze korte weergave van de kern van dit arrest blijkt dat het in dit arrest vooral gaat om twee vraagstukken: de reikwijdte van het begrip “tussenpersoon”, en de modaliteiten van de verplichtingen die aan zo’n tussenpersoon kunnen worden opgelegd. Op beide punten geeft het Hof ogenschijnlijk voor de hand liggende antwoorden, waarbij niettemin vraagtekens kunnen worden geplaatst. Daarbij is mogelijk van belang dat de eis in deze zaak is ingesteld op grond van merkinbreuk, en dat niet vaststaat dat de uitkomst in de context van auteursrechthandhaving dezelfde zou zijn. Continue reading “De verplichtingen van analoge tussenpersonen: annotatie bij HvJEU 7 juli 2016, zaak C-494/15 (Tommy Hilfiger c.s. / Delta Center)”

A neighbouring right for press publishers – the wrong solution to a serious problem

There are just three days to go until the European Commission’s public consultation on “the role of publishers in the copyright value chain” closes. Although the Commission’s explanatory statement hardly makes this clear, it is considering a legislative initiative that could have a far-reaching impact, not just on press publishers, but on the platforms, services and users that press publishers desperately need in order to make a living in the age of digital abundance.

There is no doubt that press publishers are facing an enormous, if not existential existential threat: print advertising and subscription revenues are drying up much more quickly than digital revenues are replacing them. Journalists are being fired as newspapers and magazines – both national and regional – are being downsized or closed. The journalists that remain are increasingly outnumbered by communications professionals spinning their public or private employers’ preferred angle.

It is not obvious to me – nor, it seems, to many publishers  how the commercial viability of the press can be restored in the medium to long term. Its current challenges are related to secular trends, such as the abundant availability of low-cost “basic” news; and changes in consumer preferences, such as unbundling of digital content and reluctance to pay for “premium” content such as quality journalism. Given that the survival of independent, quality journalism and public scrutiny of government and business are at stake, and that the issues facing the press transcend national borders, it makes sense to investigate whether anything useful can be done at the EU level.

Mysteriously, however, the European Commission is not soliciting input on what is happening in the press sector, what might be causing it, what is at stake and what kinds of measures might be feasible. Rather, it is consulting on a very specific measure, the introduction of a neighbouring right for press publishers. The consultation does not explain why it might be helpful in alleviating the sector’s problems, nor even the basics of what such a right might entail (e.g. who gets a right, what does it protect against, is it a prohibition or remuneration right, is it individually or collectively exercised, is it waivable or transferable, etc.). Rather, it is asking what the impact of this undefined neighbouring right would be on publishers, authors, researchers, consumers and intermediaries.

In fact, there is precious little indication that the challenges currently being faced by press publishers are due to the lack of sufficiently broad intellectual property rights. And if insufficient IP rights are not a significant part of the problem, increasing IP rights is unlikely to be a significant part of the solution. At a recent conference in Amsterdam, speakers from publishers, academia, politics, civil society and the internet sector were in near-total agreement that a neighbouring right for publishers would solve nothing at best. It would seem more fruitful to investigate other ways in which the position and prospects of publishers of quality journalism can be increased, e.g. via subsidies, tax facilities, the partial repurposing of public broadcasting funds, or other measures that reflect the significant value to a democratic society of having a vigorous, free and independent press.

Implementation of a neighbouring right would bring significant uncertainty, costs and risks, not just to authors and publishers, but also to the eclectic group of platforms, intermediaries and other service providers that play a role in facilitating the publication, discovery and consumption of press content. Larger, existing broad-based platforms will be incentivised to reduce or remove service features that might trigger the new neighbouring right. New entrants are likely to be discouraged, particularly new entrants who want specifically to serve the market for finding and consuming press content. Depending on the scope of any neighbouring right, moreover, it could also negatively impact providers of social networks as well as providers access, caching and hosting services. Increasing costs, complexity and uncertainty for such a broad category of service providers threatens the free flow of information and investment in – and availability of – innovative digital services, as well as the commercial prospects for publishers and authors.

The commercial viability of press publishers is a very important issue, that deserves serious attention and a willingness to investigate all possible solutions. However, by focusing the discussion, right at the outset, on a specific and probably irrelevant IP measure, the European Commission runs the risk of distracting minds from discovering and implementing new business models for the age of digital abundance, including accepting and embracing unbundling and new consumer preferences. Moreover, if a neighbouring right is ever implemented, it is likely form an an actual impediment to innovation on the part of both publishers and aggregation platforms, therefore actively harming publishers’ ability to find and monetise audiences for their products.