At the annual meeting of the International Authors Forum (IAF) in New York on April 15, IAF members joined a host U.S.author organizations to discuss copyright and related issues on the heels of a historic moment in European copyright law: earlier that day, the European Union voted to approve the EU Copyright Directive a month after after the European Parliament voted to adopt the legislation.
The event was attended by members of the IAF, the Authors Guild, the American Society of Media Photographers, the Graphic Artists Guild, the National Writers Union, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and the Textbook and Academic Authors Association. The forum featured presentations on the state of the public lending right worldwide, ongoing campaigns surrounding copyright small claims, controlled digital lending, book piracy, Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and the EU Copyright Directive, including its controversial Article 17 (previously known as Article 13).
Two panels on the Copyright Directive, one from the IAF and one from Sofia, the French Society of the Interests of Authors and Writing, explored the ramifications of the EU Copyright Directive, which was divisive: 19 countries voted to approve the legislation, but six voted against it, and three abstained. Even at the time of vote, a representative of Germany, who voted for the directive, noted his standing request that Article 17 be clarified, and to ensure that it didn't clash with EU laws. The impact of the directive, the panels noted, are still far from clear, as the Copyright Directive's provisions must now be written into the national copyright laws of each EU member state over the next two years—and, of course, the matter is complicated by Brexit, which seeks to remove the U.K. from the EU equation entirely.
"If Britain leaves the EU, they would need to replicate a huge amount of their legislation," Luke Alcott, secretariat of the IAF, said. "With Brexit uncertainty, we can't cover this in too much details, but...authors and the U.K. creative industries want continuity," noting that most in Britain who are involved in those industries have typically been "happy" with how things have been under the EU—and that Britain had voted for the Copyright Directive.
"I'm sure that by the time it is implemented, things will be out of date and it will have to be updated again," Barbara Hayes, deputy chief exec of Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society (U.K.) and company secretary, International Authors Forum, said, to laughter.
Among its provisions, the Copyright Directive deals with educational use of materials, use of out-of-commerce works by cultural heritage institutions, collective licensing, and press protections. Article 17, however, has been the most controversial provision, as it addresses what the speakers called the "value gap" online—that is, the unauthorized sharing of copyrighted content on various online sharing platforms, from YouTube and Vimeo to blogs and social media sites including Facebook. The article would end "safe harbor” protections, holding platforms responsible for the infringing acts of their users.
"We have an ongoing challenge of copyright education online," Alcott said, adding that the gap in knowledge about what copyright law actually does and what it protects was a big part of the controversy surrounding the article.
Other panels included a discussion of the public lending right, which pays authors for the lending of their works in libraries in more than 34 countries worldwide (including the U.K. and Canada), a scheme the Authors Guild is now advocating for in the U.S., and an update on the CASE ACT (HR 3495), which would create a voluntary small-claims court for copyright claims.
Section 512 of the DMCA, which governs a "notice and takedown" system for infringing content online in the U.S., also generated serious discussion. Representatives of the Graphic Artists Guild noted that the provision has proven "ineffective for the American system." Authors Guild executive director Mary Rasenberger, who dedicated much of her presentation to explaining the Guild's opposition to OpenLibrary.org and controlled digital lending, also called out the DMCA's Section 512 as ineffective in dealing with internet piracy, saying the provision "is "intended to do" what Article 17 is intended to do," she said, but "it doesn't."
Rasenberger suggested that U.S. copyright law is also in need of an update. The DMCA is now more than two decades old, she noted, and the Guild, among others in the U.S., is advocating for replacing the "notice and take down" provision with a "take down and stay down" regime.
Big internet platforms are "absolutely capable of doing this," Rasenberger says, adding that it's only a matter of whether they'll be required to do so.