Copyright or Freedom? – new policy proposal divides opinions in Germany

Protesters against the European Copyright directive in 2019 – Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Open communication or copyright protection, this is the conflict which a proposal for a new copyright law in Germany tries to bridge. But the policy document immediately drew criticism from different sides.

The current Minister of Justice, Christine Lambrechts (Christian Democratic Party) said in a statement from the 03.02.2021 that “our proposal includes a fair balancing of interest which will likewise benefit artists and other creative types, copyrightholders and individual users“

However not everyone seems to agree as for example one of her predecessors, Sabine Leutheuser-Schnarrenberger (Liberals) commented on Twitter:

Translation: “Again a breach of promise by the coalition government. Uploadfilters are coming. Exceptions are a figleaf
and almost without effect. The CDU still has not understood the internet. #Neuland.
(#Neuland is a reference to chancellor Angela Merkel once referring to the Internet as a new territory for law makers)

Publishers and media organisations hope for better protection of their content from being re-used by big internet platforms such as Google, who earn money with those contents without re-imbursing the content creators. The Federal association of digital publishers and newspaper publishers issued a statement that they hope that the new law will help to protect journalism from a loss of revenue through commercial platforms.

Then again, advocates for freedom of information argue that the law might hurt individual creators, activists and simply the internet culture by making it harder to re-share and re-use content, even in cases where it would actually be legal. In a press statement by the Association for civil liberties (Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte) former Member of the European Parliament, Julia Reda said that it could for example affect the use of material for caricature and parodies. “The results could be devastating, especially for internet culture which lives from Memes, Remix and parody.“

The reason for this could be the use of upload-filters to preemptively block content that could violate copyright. But they might not be able to distinguish between actual copyright violations and fair use, such as citations or parody.

Explainer: What are upload filters?

The law includes an exception from this that texts of 160 characters and video and audio up to 15 seconds are free to re-use without exemption. Julia Reda criticises that this could still affect, for example, a “completely legal quote of a single tweet.“ Tweets allow for 280 characters.

On the other hand the association of the music industry and other groups criticised in a joint statement that this exception would still lead to their content being used by big platforms without fair compensation and control over the usage and that it would “damage Germany as a location for the creative industries.“

Essentially the problem is that the copyright law is expected to better protect revenues of copyright holders against big commercial platforms such as for example google and YouTube but that on the other hand individual users and creators could become collateral damage of an overly zealous application of the law.

The law had to be updated in order to transfer the European directive on copyright law into German national law. Germany has until 21st of June 2021 to do so.

Explainer: What is the European copyright directive?

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