EU copyright reform: why educators and citizens should worry

published 19 March 2019 updated 27 March 2019

The new EU copyright reform will change the way citizens and educators share, communicate, learn and create knowledge, putting democratic dialogue at risk according to Education International.

On 25 March the EU moved one step closer to finalising the controversial EU copyright reform – a major concern for teachers, researchers and EU citizens more broadly according to Education International (EI), the global union of teachers and educators. According to EI, in its current form the text will confirm the control private actors have over how citizens in Europe share, communicate, learn and create knowledge– all detrimental to the freedom of expression and democratic dialogue.

Positive changes and an exception

The European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE), EI’s European regional organisation, has voiced its concern on behalf of European education and research unions at different stages of said copyright reform. It has welcome the move by the EUCommissionto recognise the importance to widen “opportunities to use copyrighted materials in education, research and cultural heritage” as well as to facilitate “more cross-border access to content online”.

Another positive proposal highlighted by EI is the exception for text and data mining. This will make searching for data and content across big research data bases easier.

The reform proposal includes a mandatory EU-wide copyright exception for teaching and learning purposes. This would in principle allow educators and researchers to use and build upon copyright protected works for teaching and learning (e.g. showing a video in class, playing a piece of music). Despite this positive step, EI has warned of legal loopholes in the draft that could create barriers for the use of copyright protected works in schools and universities in the EU.

Main points of criticism

The copyright reform presents several problematic points for the access to quality education in Europe according to EI:

1. Commercial contracts vs the defence of education as a human right

EI is critical of the fact that the EU has not crafted a genuine copyright exception for education and research purposes. Despite its existence, the exception can be overruled by commercial license contracts (as is stipulated by Article 4 (2) of the draft). In its policy documents adopted by Congress, EI asserts that education as a human right deserves a copyright exception that is protected from commercial exploitation. This is particularly important as these commercial license contracts weaken exceptions, but also create legal barriers for collaboration across borders as well as increase legal uncertainties and the workload for teachers.

2. Narrow definition of where education takes place

The current proposal limits the use of digital works to secure online environments. This does not adapt to the reality of teachers and researchers, says EI. Educators communicate via email and work across digital networks to exchange materials and collaborate across institutions. In addition, the current proposal excludes educational activities run by museums and libraries which often closely collaborate with education institutions and play an important supportive role in education and research.

3. Fragmentation instead of equal rights for all teachers in the EU

Another worrying feature of the current proposal according to EI is that in addition to fragmenting the exception through commercial contracts it will allow individual member states to define to what extent a work can be used by a teacher. Accordingly, while one country might only allow teachers to share a picture partially, in another country a teacher will have the right to share a picture in its entirety with the classroom.

Rejection and mobilisation

In its policy positions, EI has criticised that the EU Commission’s initial objective to create more equal rights across Europe and facilitate educational cross-border collaboration is far from being met. The organisation has pointed out that the new directive will increase fragmentation and leave many teachers  behind, creating barriers in the work with digital materials and tools.

An increasing number of member states reject the Directive in its current form, pointing out that the proposal “does not strike the right balance between the protection of right holders and the interests of EU citizens and companies. […] Furthermore (…) the Directive lacks legal clarity, will lead to legal uncertainty for many stakeholders concerned and may encroach upon EU citizens’ rights.”

The suggestion to introduce a mandatory filtering of all content that is uploaded to commercial platforms will likely result in censorship and blanket surveillance of citizens, EI believes.

Several social organisations have called for  an EU-wide day of action on 23 March, with several demonstrations and awareness raising activities taking place in various cities.

ETUCE and EI are calling on the European Parliament to reject this draft on 25 March and “recollect what the EU stands for. Copyright law should facilitate a diverse and democratic Europe rather than undermining it.”