Call for freedom of panorama (and ditching ancillary copyright)

Lisette Kalshoven
May 25, 2016 · 4 min read

Two actions you probably did not know are being discussed at EU level: read some form of news online and taking a selfie in a street. These seemingly innocent actions are currently threatened as the European Commission is looking into changing the law that regulates you being able to this legally: copyright.

The European Commission can’t seem to get enough of consultations: while they were originally intending to share concrete legislative proposals for copyright reform in the spring of this year, they have postponed this to take the time to launch another questionnaire, asking for Europe’s opinion on two hot topics in copyright: ancillary copyright (horrible idea) and freedom of panorama (no-brainer necessity). The consultation closes on June 15th. We ask you to respond to help the Commission steer the copyright reform in a way that is useful for Europe’s citizens, instead of adding unnecessary rights and limiting your freedom to take photos in public spaces. But why are these copyright topics important to voice your opinion on?

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WWII Monument on Dam Square in Amsterdam (CC BY Ton van der Wal). Edited by Kennisland (also CC BY).

Freedom of panorama

Freedom of panorama is what we call being able to take photographs in the public space and sharing them how you see fit. While this seems kind of obvious, it is not. Objects in the public space can very well be under copyright protection. Think of statues, architecture, posters, bridges and more of which the creator has not yet died over 70 years ago. Every building erected in the last 100 years is probably still protected by copyright. To photograph and distribute these copyright protected works (such as posting them on Facebook) is restricted, unless there is a specific exception to it in copyright law — or you have prior permission from the rightsholder. Exceptions that help with this public space issue (referred to as freedom of panorama exceptions) exist in some EU member states such as in the Netherlands.

The European Commission (EC) is opening freedom of panorama up for discussion. It is important that we let the EC know that sharing photos of public spaces should not be prohibited. Taking photographs of public spaces and sharing them is already such a part of our lives that limiting it in European copyright legislation is nonsensical. We thankfully have freedom of panorama is some EU countries — but this should be expanded to all member states. This way you know that you can take these photos when you are on vacation in Italy, and posting the photos in Poland when you get back home.

Ancillary Copyright is good for no-one

The other half of the EC consultation is about ancillary copyright. This is a difficult concept to grasp — but could actually ‘break the Internet’ if introduced on a European scale (see the #SaveTheLink campaign).

Ancillary copyright, also referred to as the link tax, is an initiative by European publishers to make people pay for snippets of text, as they appear in search results for example. This would mean adding another right in an already overly complex EU copyright legislation, while it does not help EU citizens.

For someone who reads news online ancillary copyright would mean encountering additional hurdles in finding the news and content they were looking for (as news aggregators would have to stop their services until a license has been negotiated). In addition, these users would potentially face more constraints in quoting, linking to, aggregating, or otherwise finding and using works — because how do you quote news on your blog if a ‘snippet’ is granted extra copyright?

If ancillary copyright becomes reality, users would find that these existing news products and services will likely be disrupted, their prices increased, or even discontinued altogether. Moreover, different versions of ancillary copyright has been tried (unsuccessfully) in Spain and Germany, which has led to Google News simply pulling out of Spain all together. In short: ancillary copyright is a bad idea.

While the publishers are clearly asking for this right, ‘in order to stay competitive’ — adding an extra right to an already overly complex copyright system is not the right way to do it. We need a more simple, more flexible copyright system that enables innovation and creativity. Not stifle it by overcomplexity.

Let your voice be heard!

The consultation on freedom of panorama and ancillary copyright closes on June 15th. You can respond directly on the Commission’s site, or through an easy tool on which helps you with an explanation of the questions asked.

This is a crosspost of the same text on the Kennisland website published on May 24th 2016. I work for Kennisland, a think-and-do-tank for societal renewal. Want to know more about what we do? You can read about it here.

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