A Wikimedian asks European Parliament members for copyright reform

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Freedom of Panorama in Europe.svg

European copyright laws are very complex, as shown in this map: only countries highlighted in green allow taking pictures of buildings in public places — a law known as “freedom of panorama”. Free knowledge advocates are asking that all European Union countries adopt this law. Map by Quibik, freely licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Last week, I visited Brussels to meet with members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and discuss copyright laws, from the perspective of a Wikimedia project editor. I met 9 MEPs, representing all Italian political groups (EFD, EPP, NI, S&D). All expressed support, and some long-term work collaborations were established.

During that time, the Industry, Research and Technology committee (ITRE) approved an opinion in strong support of the public domain, which among other things “calls on the Commission to explore the possibility of significantly shortening the duration of the harmonized terms of copyright protection.” It proposes a legal definition of ‘public domain’ works — to ensure that such works are protected against private appropriation through digitization or other means.

What I told the European Parliament

What did I tell MEPs? It was easy for me, because I don’t have to negotiate or represent anyone: our proposals and demands are all in the open; nothing is secret, since they can read all the details on our wikis. I just told them my story as Wikimedia volunteer contributor to thousands of Wikiquote and Wikipedia articles; I also shared the stories of other editors I know through the network of our association, Wikimedia Italia.

  • As a photographer, when I take a picture of a public space, I consider that photo to be my own work. I should have full copyright over the photo and decide what to do with it, whether it’s about selling it for work, or publishing it under a free license on Wikimedia Commons for inclusion in a Wikipedia article — or both. When I visit another country, I just want to take photos, without having to study the local law; when I upload the photo on the web, I don’t want to worry where the server is located and what their local law says on the matter. Hence I support the freedom of panorama law and I think it should be enforced in all European Union countries. (Freedom of panorama permits taking photos or videos of buildings in public places.)
  • Additionally, as an Italian citizen I think that people wishing to increase global public awareness of our cultural heritage should be allowed to do so freely. They currently can’t: Wiki Loves Monuments Italy was only possible thanks to hundreds of resolutions by municipalities and other entities, obtained by Wikimedia Italia. A lot of paperwork for just a few monuments — and no practical solutions for photographing millions of other monuments: why so much red tape?
  • As a Wikipedia author, journalist and popularizer, I could save time and do a better job if works by public officials were with in the public domain — like a ministry’s informational page on a recent law, or a museum’s description of a topic. These public officials would only see their work furthered. If I’m writing about space exploration, I can’t take photos myself, but I can use NASA images freely thanks to PD-Gov — while most images from the European State Agency (ESA) stay locked in drawers.

The perspective I tend to give is one of an author of freely licensed content. This helps further two underlying principles at the core of copyright reform.

  • It’s important to remember that Wikimedia projects are made by several millions authors, who edit pages or upload files; our hundreds of millions of “users” are always just a click away from co-authoring this free content. Our main issue is that copyright legislators still think of copyright as something held by a few culture workers (and their “representatives”) as opposed to an undistinguished mass of billions of “users”, which they view as passive and parasitical in nature: as long as the Internet is seen as a “value tree”, copyright laws will always fail to be realistic and achieve their goals.
  • Moreover, I believe the Public Domain Manifesto should always be stressed: public domain should be the foundation on which all authors build their own contribution to our culture. When a work becomes public domain, we should view this as a success and the beginning of a new life — not the end of the story. It’s just the end of an exclusive relationship with the copyright holder.

How we got here

The office used by Wikimedians in Brussels. Photo by Dimitar Dimitrov, freely licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Wikimedia Italia started its first copyright reform campaigns in 2007. Recently, we sent our own response to the 2014 European Union copyright consultation, stressing issues we faced — such as with Wiki Loves Monuments and digitizing books in Italy. Several other volunteer chapter members in Europe helped with similar documents. The consultation seemed to reach a dead end, as it proved that current laws are unbalanced but there was no energy to change their underlying paradigm.

Things changed in 2015. After the new European Commission made copyright reform a priority, the European Parliament took the lead in summarizing the situation and the way ahead: a non-binding report drafted by Felix Reda is being discussed in the European Parliament committees and will be voted on by some committees this week. The draft comes from a “minority” of the Parliament, but is just common sense — and it managed to put all real issues and possible solutions on the table, opening a wide discussion in institutions.

This time we are ready, thanks to the support of Dimitar Dimitrov for the EU policy initiative (see his earlier blog post, The Twilight of Copyright). Many groups have agreed on two clear demands: universal freedom of panorama (FOP) and public domain for works created by public sector employees (PD-Gov). So we don’t feel alone. Dimitar has been particularly helpful because he monitors the process continuously from Brussels , and alerts us when we can help.

For Wikimedia Italia and many other “weasels”, this is a volunteer activity: motivation is key. Last February, Dimitar asked us to pick up the phone and call a MEP to get their attention and point them to our position statement; that sounded easy enough: why not do it, if just a few minutes on the phone can make the difference? I started calling and I kept track of that work on our wiki, so all chapter members could check and have their say. I was happy to discover that many MEPs were happy to talk with a citizen like me: about 20 answered my calls, from all Italian political groups. Turns out the European Parliament is full of people who care and who are happy to listen to someone other than the usual professional corporate lobbyists.

Given the positive response from Italian MEPs, Dimitar suggested that I join him in Brussels for a week, as the first “visiting weasel”. Once again, I was unable to refuse, and was happy to make the trip: after all, a flight from Milan to Brussels costs less than 100 Euros — and it’s a good investment compared to the years spent talking to the Italian governors, who never gave us an answer. It was easy to get a handful of meetings scheduled and more half-confirmed. The transparency register offers a seamless accreditation system.

Federico Leva, Wikimedia Italia
with Dimitar Dimitrov, Wikimedian

All views in this blog post are the author’s own; discussion is welcome in the comments section below.

Archive notice: This is an archived post from blog.wikimedia.org, which operated under different editorial and content guidelines than Diff.

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The trip described here may have only cost 100 Euros, but I would like to have it made clear — was this paid for by WMF funds? In other words, is donor money being used to fund political lobbying? Is this consistent with the charitable status of the WMF and of its chapters and assoicated organisations in the EU?

Anne O’Niemouse, for now a good portion of the cost was paid by me personally, while a majority was paid for by shared funds of European chapters. Such chapters funds come from own sources like membership fees and “local” donations, WMF has nothing to do with them.

It is not the first time that Wikimedia uses political lobbying for matters that are in the public interest of its mission : promote and share the public knowledge. But it will be extremely difficult to change things in countries like France that has a long history of offering copyright protection on artistic and architectural creations (or modifications), even when they are exposed on a public space (seen from the street). All we want is just to protect privacy (so yes we’ll still need to hide/blur people faces to respect the personalities and moral rights) and protect the copyright on… Read more »

The Netherlands, in blue, also has freedom of panorama of sorts. What is considered a public place is slightly different than the coutries in blue: Public transport stations and shopping malls are, entrance halls of buildings are not.

I’m a Romanian citizen and also a professional photographer since 1995.
I can absolutely guaranteeing you that Romania has no laws against shooting buildings from public spaces. The colored map is misleading because it seems to equate existence of an explicit law with the existence of the right. Romania is a “rule of law” state, where anything not forbidden is by default allowed.

Catalin Braescu, thanks for your comment. I’m afraid it’s not that simple, because copyright laws exist in Romania as well. Have you read the excerpt from the law? https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Commons:Freedom_of_panorama#Romania

@Nemobis I as a citizen myself can tell you that there is no such law.

Riael, I know it’s hard to believe, but please read the law excerpts I linked: they’re just a couple paragraphs. We also have several detailed studies: https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/EU_policy/Documentation
If you have a different interpretation of the law, please point us to a legal opinion or court case on the matter: that’s very useful. Until then, this very conversation proves the need for more legal certainty around copyright in EU. 🙂

@nemobis – the Romanian law allows FOP *only* in case non-commercial works – it’s the article 33 (1) f
f) reproducerea, cu excluderea oricaror mijloace care vin in contact direct cu opera, distribuirea sau comunicarea catre public a imaginii unei opere de arhitectura, arta plastica, fotografica sau arta aplicata, amplasata permanent in locuri publice, in afara cazurilor in care imaginea operei este subiectul principal al unei astfel de reproduceri, distribuiri sau comunicari si daca este utilizata in scopuri comerciale;

Bogdan, thanks for confirming. 🙂 That’s the passage whose translation I linked earlier: it shows there is no freedom of panorama, because that exception is incompatible with free culture and free culture licenses, as well as with photographers wishing to make a living with their work (as Catalin) and many other good uses.
On the importance of free knowledge and the harm done by “non-commercial” restrictions, see also the wonderful booklet https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Free_knowledge_based_on_Creative_Commons_licenses (and please help translate! Romanian is currently at 1 % only).

This is agony of freedom in Europe. Who knows what will follow next ??? twitter.com/dan_bok

Freedom of Panorama is under attack On 9 July 2015, the European Parliament will vote. pic.twitter.com/xBuVjJGfV2— Dan Bok (@dan_bok) June 29, 2015

This is agony of freedom in Europe. Who knows what will follow next ??? twitter.com/dan_bok

Freedom of Panorama is under attack On 9 July 2015, the European Parliament will vote. pic.twitter.com/xBuVjJGfV2— Dan Bok (@dan_bok) June 29, 2015

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