Copyright in the Visegrád Countries

I just came back to Brussels after having visited the conference V 4 Paradigm Shift in Copyright in Budapest, Hungary. "V 4" stands for Visegrád 4, and means the four Central European countries Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia.

Some of the topics being discussed were of course, where does the copyright discussion in Europe stand today? Where, in particular, does it stand in the Visegrád countries? Poland was one of the lead countries in the ACTA protests that emerged earlier this year, with even the government expressing very negative sentiment about the agreement. Hungary has had its fair share of problems with recent developments in privacy legislation and media monitoring. Slovakia and Czech Republic come across as less turbulent in the crowd.

We had a round-table about how activists, hackers and NGOs can act with respect to citizens or legislative institutions. For me, in my work, it's always been very useful to find out about specific projects and how they're affected, impeded or helped by specific legislative interventions. Often there are many constructive projects in the most unlikely member states that run into problems because of bad European harmonization of copyright exceptions, non-interoperable public sector information databases, high fees for roaming in other European countries or unclear liability rules around customs authority injunctions. Often the affected people are either operating on a social basis, or they are a small- and medium sized entrepreneur. If they don't make themselves and their plights known to me, or my colleagues, it's difficult for us to take them into account.

In the morning I also made the proposal that copyright is, in fact, not at all a fundamental right and shouldn't be discussed as such. This ties back not only to my institutional loyalty with the European Parliament industry committee but more to the fact that copyrights are being used almost purely industrially. I made a brief overview of inter-institutional relationships in the European Union based on an analysis of the recent French law on out-of-print books.

In the breaks, me and Michał Woźniak talked about private and public infrastructure, and where constitutional rights or bills of rights produced by governments can be upheld and where they can't. The base for our conversation was Polish NGOs being very critical of the proposal by the Polish Ministry of Interior to create an Internet Citizen Bill of Rights - Michał argued that the same bill of rights apply online as everywhere else (which is much what the Pirate Party also has been saying about internet specific legislation for a number of years). Therefore it doesn't make sense to try and separate "internet citizenship" from the "ordinary citizenship". What concerned both of us was also that such a bill of rights would be used to justify ACTA, a safe-guard document saying "Look! We've promised not to do all of these evil things, so now it doesn't matter if we approve ACTA anymore."

At the event, I was also told about a competition about the Future of Copyright organised by the Modern Poland Foundation:

In order to form the future of copyright system we need to step up and craft a model that will fit the digital reality, shaped by technology of today and tomorrow. There are some initial proposals, most notably Barcelona Charter or Washington Declaration, but we believe there's room for improvement and we want to give it a try. We invite you all to take part in the global project of crafting the Future of Copyright!

From the Barcelona charter, I always liked the reverse three-step test:

F. Reverse Berne’s Three-Step Test

The three-step test was introduced in the Berne Convention in 1967 and was later also added to the TRIPS treaty. It is a system that tends to prevent any reduction of the scope and duration of copyright. In this Charter, in keeping with a very strong legal current to prevent further erosion of the public domain, we have devised a reverse three-step test for preserving our freedoms in an information society.

Innovation, creativity, and access to knowledge may only be limited or constrained when and if the three conditions below are met simultaneously:

  • exceptional public interest in constraining them;
  • the use of methods that do not undermine or discriminate against the use, transformation and dissemination of knowledge, creative works and technology infrastructures, services and software;
  • when such restrictions do not violate human and civil rights in the information society and are not otherwise inconsistent with democratic culture.

At around 15:00 I had to leave Budapest and fly back to Brussels (over München, of all places - but hey, München uses free software in their public sector, maybe something for the public procurement discussions we're currently holding in Brussels?). A sincere thanks to László Kürti and Stefan Marsiske at the Asimov Foundation in Budapest for organising this event and inviting me!


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