This is an effort I am part of, aimed at legalising file-sharing between private citizens, for personal use, across the European Union, ensuring at the same time that creators are compensated. The proposal includes works protected by copyright, related rights and sui generis database rights.
An European Citizens' Initiative is a form of direct democracy in the EU that allows citizens to take part in the legislation process. If one million signatures is collected, with a minimum quorum reached in at least seven countries, the European Commission is required to take a public stance on the matter.
Our main point is the respect of Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which calls for the freedom to access science and culture. It is easy to see how the current blanket criminalization of file-sharing is damaging this right. This is even more evident when it comes to scientific articles, most of which are paid for with public money, but often only available behind expensive paywalls.
Decriminalizing file-sharing would allow citizens to access cultural and scientific material that would otherwise very difficult to find; not to mention the current situation of the pandemic, that led cultural centers, museums and libraries to be closed. If file-sharing were already legal, how many people could have had access to books, movies, scientific material that are now beyond their reach?
We believe that there are also other considerations to take into account.
The existing legal platforms for digital content distribution rely on centralized models, in which the user activity is tracked in any possible way, leading to huge databases of detailed profiles. As we in the digital rights community have known for a long time, the existence of these massive storages of personal information poses serious questions that go far beyond the commercial exploitation of this data. The Cambridge Analytica scandal made it clear also to the wide public that a misuse of personal information can lead to distortions in how knowledge about current events is distributed and understood, which in turn could pose a risk for the democratic process, that relies on the information available to the voters, who form that "public opinion" that can influence lawmakers.
Moreover, the availability of creative and scientific works is left in the hands of whoever controls these digital platforms. Political, religious, cultural or marketing considerations made by the content providers can lead - voluntarily or not - to drive the public opinion just by restricting the selection available to the users, and therefore their ability to access different points of views and a wide range of information.
In the current framework, we have also to take into account the heavy toll that users and platforms pay for maintaining the current model, such as Article 17 of the Copyright Directive, that set the requirements for the infamous "upload filters".
P2P distribution allows users to be in control of their own choices. In our view, people should be treated primarily as citizens, instead of "consumers".
There has been a long debate in the European Union about the harmonisation of copyright laws across EU member countries. The Copyright Directive has all the shortcomings of a text dictated from above that brings to law the paranoia of an industry that sees its own customers as enemies. We are proposing a different kind of harmonisation, that comes from a grassroots movement and puts persons' rights back in the center of the debate.
What about the creators?
Our proposal calls for a fair compensation for the creators. In the current model, most of the revenue goes to the creators only in some specific cases. Also, the choice available to users is limited to what the intermediaries' industry believes is profitable, thus leaving worthy creators without a public. It is beyond the scope of the initiative to define the exact terms of how the compensation will be distributed, as this is the job of the European Commission and the European Parliament; however, we can see different paths for this:
- general or specific taxation
- through the "private copy levies"
- licenses issued by collecting societies specifically targeted to file-sharing
- other models