Closed-door copyright meetings ‘taint’ EU transparency, MEPs warn

Commission officials should not be "influenced behind closed doors" as part of recent private meetings on the implementation of the Copyright Directive with MEPs, a letter penned by a cross-section of EU Parliamentarians and seen by EURACTIV says.

Article 17 of the copyright directive was designed to ensure that online platforms such as YouTube and Facebook would no longer make copyright-infringing work available online. [Shutterstock]

European Commission officials should not be “influenced behind closed doors” during private meetings with MEPs on the implementation of the copyright directive, says a letter penned by a cross-section of EU Parliamentarians.

The letter raises concern at recent meetings revealed by EURACTIV, in which high-ranking Commission officials briefed EU lawmakers on their vision for transposing the hotly-debated Article 17 of the Copyright Directive.

“The Commission, during the past months, showed an exemplary level of transparency, which could be tainted by such meetings,” states the letter, obtained by EURACTIV and signed by prominent MEPs including  Karen Melchior (Renew Europe), Alexandra Geese (Greens/EFA), and Tiemo Wölken (S&D).

“Under no circumstances should the Commission be influenced behind closed doors regarding the outcomes of a multi-stakeholder process that was mandated by legislation,” adds the letter, dated March 5 and addressed to European Commission President von der Leyen, her executive vice president Margrethe Vestager, and internal market commissioner Thierry Breton.

Commission and Parliament in 'secret talks' on EU copyright directive

High-ranking representatives of the European Commission’s DG Connect will brief EU lawmakers as part of an ‘in camera’ meeting on Friday (12 February), after a contingent of parliament members wrote to the EU executive to voice their concerns on guidance issued for the EU’s copyright directive.

Article 17 background and closed-door meetings

Article 17 of the copyright directive was designed to ensure that online platforms such as YouTube and Facebook no longer make copyright-infringing work available online.

Critics of the clause say it could result in platforms having to embed ‘upload filters’ into their systems, effectively vetting third-party content and potentially encroaching on the right to free speech.

The EU executive then issued draft guidance as a result of the consultations held last year, but those were criticised for failing to offer the clarity required for rightsholders.

The draft advice came in for a backlash from some EU member states, including Croatia, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain, who penned a non-paper highlighting their worries that the guidance would not achieve the objectives originally set out by the Commission in supporting Europe’s rightsholders.

This letter was then followed by a request for talks with the Commission from MEPs belonging predominantly to the two biggest groups, the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), who claimed that the guidance “would not properly reflect the agreement hardly achieved after long negotiations on Article 17 of the Copyright Directive.”

This pressure should be avoided, and closed-door meetings between Commission officials and EU lawmakers should not occur without wider scrutiny, the most recent letter claims.

“We sincerely hope that the Commission will keep following its course and firmly reject any undue interference in the guidance process,” the missive states, adding that the Commission should publish the finalised draft guidance “as soon as possible”.

“Numerous member states have been delaying their implementations in anticipation of the guidance, and with less than four months to go until the implementation deadline, any further delays of the guidance endanger the ability of the Member States to meet the implementation deadline,” the letter says.

Full transposition of the copyright directive into national legislation is required from member states by 7 June 2021.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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