CEE/Newsletter/August 2018/Contents/Regional report

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Regional report: Interview with Dimitar Dimitrov[edit]

Interview by: Vassia Atanassova, 13 August 2018

Hello, Dimi! Many people in the CEE region know you as the representative of the Wikimedia Foundation in the European Parliament. Tell us more about the dramatic vote in the European Parliament on 5 July, which was preceded by some language versions of Wikipedia in EU shutting down for a couple of days. What was the story behind?

Firstly, I want to clarify that I am rather a representative of the European chapters and communities to the EU. The project to work on EU policy in Brussels is financed by the European organisations with their own, non-WMF sourced, funds. Most EU based communities that don't have the financial resources to contribute, still participate by helping with the actual policy work. I am quite proud of this decentralised and European approach.
As to the vote on 5 July, it was the perhaps last chance to change the direction of a copyright reform that will define the framework in Europe for at least a decade to come. Originally the European Commission wanted to update the copyright rules so they make sense online. They had realised that having 28 territorial copyright regimes but only one internet doesn't work very well. Plus, the current framework has been initially drafted in the late 1990s, so before the wikis, blogs and social media.
So the original intention came from a correct consideration, but then the actual proposal was both unbalanced and unambitious. It came with new exclusive rights for rightsholders and provisions to curtail the sharing of user-generated content, but delivered almost nothing to make users' everyday online experiences more compatible with copyright law. The text that was finally rejected on 5 July would have made user-generated projects harder to establish, would have made annotated bibliographies on Wikipedia harder to publish and didn't address basic needs like Freedom of Panorama or fair use. It would have been a reform looking backwards and making online life more controlled, in the sense of cable television and traditional media.

Who is the big winner and the big loser from the proposed controversial legislative changes?

The big winners would have been the music majors and the currently dominant online platforms. It is a reform that aims at regulating their interactions, thereby forgetting almost all other stakeholders online. And once the legislative framework is made to accommodate the business models of two main groups, it becomes much harder for everyone else to exist independently of them.

What is the position of the Wikimedia Foundation regarding the EU copyright reform? What is the message every user and editor of Wikipedia should be aware of?

Again, I carefully avoid to speak of the Wikimedia Foundation, Wikimedia Deutschland, Wikimedia Estonia or any other individual group in public policy discussions. For me we are one movement and need to have, as much as possible, one vision. I do believe we are being quite successful in speaking with a united voice when it comes to public policy.
The key message and the key criticism for us is that we should not forget the users when it comes to copyright and regulating the internet. Instead of thinking only about media houses and big online platforms, we should be trying to protect and advance the rights and freedoms of users and decentralised projects. We should be thinking about the public domain instead of only extending exclusive IP rights. We should be thinking of how to pave the way for more user created and controlled platforms like Wikipedia. We should be working to redecentralised the internet, instead of passing laws that would enshrine its current centralised state.
Bottom line is that the current reform proposal only thinks of big commercial platforms and traditional content providers. It almost completely forgets about users. This is not right and needs to be changed.

If the controversial amendments do get voted in the end of the day, what will change for Wikipedia and the free knowledge/culture sector?

To put it bluntly, we believe that if these proposals had been law when Wikipedia was first founded, it could have never developed as it has. We want a world in which new free knowledge projects like ours are possible and where in a couple of years some new community can stun us with an awesome new way to share knowledge. This is much less likely when legislation is written with only the few dominant market leaders in mind.
Article 13 and the change of the intermediary liability regime would have required UGC platform the prefilter everything their users post. Even with a "Wikipedia exception" to this rule, we believe that requiring platforms to delete any content that rightholders have marked as infringing before it even appears is a threat to freedom of expression and privacy.
Additionally, the new exclusive right allowing press publishers to restrict the use of news snippets will make it more difficult to access and share information about current events in the world, making it harder for Wikipedia contributors to find citations for articles online.
And finally, the proposal does not support user rights, it is missing strong safeguards for the public domain, and does not create exceptions that would truly empower people to participate in research and culture.

In the region of Central and Eastern Europe, there are EU member states, that will be directly affected from the copyright reforms. How will the rest countries in the region (or in the world) get influenced?

We have seen in the past that the standards the EU and the US establish often become the global benchmark. This is also directly true for the EU and many of the CEE countries. EU rules can be spread out through association and free trade agreements, but they serve as an example. If, for example, EU press publishers get a new exclusive right, this is usually a strong argument for, let's say, Georgian publishers to go their government and demand the same. The same could also apply in a positive direction. If we manage to establish a public domain safeguard in the EU, then this change could also be copied to other countries in the CEE region.

The next milestone is in September. What is supposed to happen then?

The European Parliament is supposed to vote on the copyright reform text in plenary on 12 September. Until then we will have to make sure that new amendments to the text have been proposed (deadline: 5 September). This is the Brussels team's top priority currently. We can be sure we will have decent proposals on fixing Articles 13 (uplaod pre-filtering) and 11 (new exclusive right for news articles). We will also have proposals for exceptions like freedom of panorama and user-generated content. We need to make sure these are supported by as many MEPs from different groups as possible. Then there will be a vote that by simple majority will establish the new position of the European Parliament. After that the EP will start negotiating with the Council (Member States governments).

How can and should local communities act coordinatedly in order to promote the position of the Wikimedia Foundation?

Again, please avoid talking about the position of the (US based) Wikimedia Foundation on this. In a EU debate this can only hurt us. We are a global community and global projects with a very strong presence in Europe. Let's focus on that!
Getting in touch with me (dimi@wikimedia.be), the WMF (policy@wikimedia.org) or your local affiliate is always a good idea.
We have drafted an opinion piece that could be translated and localised and published in each community's blog, but could also be placed as an opinion by the respective user-group or chapter in the media. We are happy to assist with that.
Once this is done, we could use this opinion piece as an excuse to contact MEPs from the countries that are in the EU. This is usually a very soft way to start a conversation as the only ask is "read what we wrote".
Once the new amendments are on the table after 5 September, we should then let all our media and MEP contacts know which ones we support.
We are very happy to help with each of these tasks, so don't be scared to get in touch!