EU Copyright Directive impacting freedom of expression

The EU initiative to strengthen protections for copyright holders in digital platforms is well-intentioned. But IVA’s Information Technology division predicts that, based on the current wording of the Directive, there will be some significant conflicts with Sweden’s fundamental principles of freedom of expression.

Digitalisation of information has facilitated everything from communication to knowledge dissemination. It has thus helped to improve people’s lives in many ways. But due to the ease with which information can be copied, many information producers – such as photographers – are seeing their work being reproduced without them receiving reasonable compensation.

This is the reason the EU wants to strengthen protections for copyright holders. Three years ago an initiative was taken to produce the Copyright Directive. The debate on the topic has been intense and polarised.

Based on its expertise in this area, IVA’s Information Technology division, which is chaired by Staffan Truvé, describes what the politicians have actually determined and what they are expected to decide. The division’s experts also point to the probable consequences if the directive is adopted and implemented in its current form.

Downloading copyright-protected information is already a punishable offence, but it is still unclear what responsibility the service providers bear.

According to article 17.4 (b) “online content sharing service providers” must have made “best efforts” in line with “high industry standards” to ensure that the copyright protected content is not made available without authorisation from the copyright holders. A technical perspective should also be added and considered. 

In practice the directive will likely result in content providers automatically implementing measures to filter the content their users place at their disposal. 

This is already happening to some extent today. But bearing in mind the penalties proposed in the Directive there is a risk that these content filters will develop in a way that will lead to excessive content blocking. The filters on the platforms would also delete large amounts of content that is not infringing upon intellectual property rights.

This would reduce automatic freedom of expression in the new and most important arenas for public debate.

Another consequence of the Directive is a shifting of responsibility. This can be seen as a departure from Swedish fundamental principles in the area; the Freedom of the Press Act contains a ban on censorship, which means that the state does not have the right to prevent free speech. When communication technology was developed the principle remained intact. Telecom companies do not, for example, even have the right to read the information they transmit. They are “only” allowed to transmit it (mere conduit directive).

IVA’s Information Technology division finds it noteworthy that the Copyright Directive wants to fundamentally change this; doing so not only by introducing content filtering, but also by shifting the filtering responsibility to the commercial market.

It is not difficult to see what the EU’s intention is, but the solution proposed could have serious consequences for openness and freedom of expression.

Contact information

Linda Olsson
Project Manager
Phone +46 8-791 29 06