Today the European Parliament has voted on the so-called Telecom Package (1,2) a series of amendments to the European telecommunications law. While the majority of the ca. 300 page long amendments are not disputed, some of them were fiercely contested.
Different interest groups tried to influence the wording of the law texts in the run-up to the final decision by the parliament. Supposedly harmless phrases such as “lawful” proposed by agents of the recording industry and other proponents of copyright enforcement have been suspected as Trojan horses by digital rights activists.
The trouble starts when Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have to determine “lawful” content.
“Determining what is ‘lawful’ and ‘unlawful’ online content, in the context of the 2001 Copyright Directive, is not a simple process. Thus, if a film studio alleges that you are File sharing copyrighted content, your ISP has to go on their word that you are indeed file sharing and that the content is copyrighted. Or the ISP has to develop its own criteria. And there is nowhere for the user to go, in case of dispute. Thus, the lack of regulatory oversight only serves further to impose a liability for content onto the ISPs, and further erode the mere conduit principle“ (pdf) Monica Horton from the University of Westminster points out.
It is feared that ISPs will be permitted both, to put detecting software on the users computer and – in case of copyright infringement – to sanction users by suspending or terminating Internet access (“three strikes and you’re out”).
In the past couple of months different NGOs tried to counterbias the drafting of the law text in order to prevent this kind of consequences. Especially the French organisation La Quadrature Du Net and the German network around netzpolitik.org monitored the drafting process and explained their concerns to all interested parties. The Internet played a crucial role for content creation, knowledge transfer and mobilisation. The digital right activists set up wikis, published blog articles, used twitter and contacted media and Members of the European Parliament.
Shortly before the decision different parliamentarians edited another draft called “Bono amendment”, stating that that citizen’s fundamental rights, including freedom of speech, can only be restricted by the judicial authority. This amendment has been voted by today and the “citizens lobbyists” count that as a considerable success.
From a eParticipation point of view this case is impressive in that the use of the Internet has apparently enabled NGOs and citizens to catch up with powerful economic interest groups. The European Commission’s eParticipation Initiative is currently financing different projects to enhance citizens eParticipation in legislative processes – this is an example for a bottom-up approach.
Here is a video interview with Markus Beckedahl form netzpolitik.org on the same subject which has been recorded on the BerlininJuly summit.