Free Flow Flows Freely; Copyright Headed for Plenary Showdown

Posted on 22nd June 2018

EU legislators took big steps forward on two Digital Single Market files this week, as both the Regulation on the free flow of non-personal data and the Copyright Directive cleared major hurdles.  That’s just about where the similarities between the two files stop, however. While technical negotiations have bogged down the Copyright Directive for the best part of two years in the European Council and Parliament, the Regulation on the free flow of non-personal data has sailed through scrutiny by co-legislators.  

Having fast-tracked an agreement on the Regulation on the free flow of non-personal data under the Estonian Presidency in late 2017, the European Parliament also moved swiftly towards a compromise position on the file, with the lead IMCO committee voting through its report in May. It took just three trialogue meetings for co-legislators to clinch a high-level political agreement on the file.  

The rapid agreement speaks to the broad consensus among policy-makers on the aims and objectives of this legislation, as well as the precise drafting of the Commission’s proposal (which had to be improved several times on the instruction of the Commission’s regulatory review board). With the GDPR in force, advocates of this legislation could argue persuasively that there should be no delay in ensuring non-personal data can flow freely across the bloc.  

The tech industry is largely pleased with this result; the CCIA have already tweeted out their congratulations. The one niggle for industry concerns Article 6 on the Code of Conduct for data portability, where the Parliament’s text introduced a requirement for cloud service providers (CSPs) to provide data to customers in open standard format, if requested, which some CSPs think  could be difficult to comply with. Overall though — and given the dogfights unfolding elsewhere under the DSM strategy — swift agreement on this file is a good thing for industry.   

Which brings us to the Copyright Directive. Following nearly a year of postponements, inter- and intra-group wrangling, the Legal Affairs committee finally voted on Axel Voss’ report on Wednesday, based on this set of finalised compromise amendments. The committee approved Voss’ report by a fairly comfortable majority (14 in favour, 9 against, 2 abstentions) although the vote was not without incident: an objection by Julia Reda to a couple of late amendments by Jean Marie Cavada nearly resulted in another postponement. However, the committee could not agree on the postponement (they actually tied 12 against 12 on this matter) and the vote went ahead. In spite of an intense lobbying campaign over the past fortnight mounted by tech platforms, open Internet advocates and anti-copyright activists, Voss’ compromise amendments on both Article 11 (ancillary right for press publishers) and Article 13 (monitoring and licensing obligations for online platforms to close the value gap) were voted through. Article 11 was the closer of the two votes, squeezing through by 13 to 12.  

Anti-copyright campaigners have already pledged to take the fight to plenary. EDRi has wasted no time in preparing a “next steps” blog post, looking ahead not just to plenary but other crunch moments once trialogue gets underway. Procedurally, Reda and her supporters will need the backing of 76 MEPs to challenge the rapporteur’s mandate to enter into trialogue talks on the basis of the JURI committee report. Once this threshold is crossed, a straightforward majority in plenary is required to reopen the report, no easy task. All eyes will be on Strasbourg on 4th and 5th July.

Author: Matt Allison, Public Policy Manager, Access Partnership.

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