Copyright Law shifts to the Requirements of the Digital Single Market – An overview

by Mark Peters and Stanislav Lechzier | 24. June 2021 | Know-How


The media world is constantly changing and developing at a rapid pace. This trend is leading to numerous conflicts between our information society, which is heavily influenced by Internet culture and authors, who may be slowly losing track of the ways in which their work can become “content”. In order to take sufficient account of the interests of both sides, copyright law must also adapt to the changing requirements. In Germany, therefore, the Act on the Adaptation of Copyright Law to the Requirements of the Digital Single Market came into force on June 07, 2021. The Act provides the most comprehensive changes to German copyright law since the national implementation of the InfoSoc Directive (Directive 2001/29/EC) in 2003. For this amendment Germany is one of the first EU member states, alongside the Netherlands and Hungary, to implement the Directive on Copyright and Related Rights in the Digital Single Market, in short the DSM Directive (Directive (EU) 2019/790).

Among the numerous changes introduced by the amendment are the extension of statutory permissions for the reproduction of works (Art. 3 to 7 DSM Directive, implemented by the new version of Sec. 60d German Copyright Act (UrhG)), a new right for the benefit of press publishers (Art. 15 DSM Directive, implemented by the new version of Sec. 87g UrhG) and, of course, the often critically discussed Art. 17 DSM Directive (implemented by the new Copyright Service Providers Act (UrhDaG), better known as the “upload filter”. The aforementioned innovations will be summarized below in an overview.

Overview of innovations

Legal permissions for the reproduction of works [Art. 3 to 7 DSM Directive / Sec. 60d UrhG]

Even before the implementation of the DSM Directive, legal permission was necessary in Germany for the reproduction of copyrighted works for so-called text and data mining. This is the automatic evaluation of already existing digital or digitized works in order to obtain further knowledge from them. Such procedure results in permanent, not just ephemeral, reproductions of copyright-protected content. The permissibility of this practice under copyright law was previously stipulated in accordance with Sec. 60d UrhG (old version) for research for non-commercial purposes. Now, the permissibility of reproducing works has been extended by the German legislator as part of the implementation of the Directive to digital and cross-border teaching activities as well as for the preservation of cultural heritage.

Right for the benefit of press publishers [Art. 15 DSM Directive / Sec. 87g UrhG]

Until now, online providers could profit from journalistic online media by displaying so-called snippets, i.e. short concise excerpts of press articles. This practice was controversial, particularly in the view of publishers, because users would no longer visit their websites. The publishers did not receive any financial compensation. Even when Germany introduced a right for the benefit of press publishers in the German Copyright Act in 2013 (Sec. 87g (4) UrhG (old version)), nothing actually changed. Compensation was still not paid. Publishers resigned themselves to the fact that their articles would at least continue to be displayed in the hit lists, and at least some of the users would follow the links to the respective articles. Ultimately, the German law was even overturned in 2019 by the European Court of Justice on formal grounds for lack of notification to the European Commission (CJEU, judgment of September 12, 2019 – C-299/17 – VG Media/Google).

Now, the implementation of Art. 15 DSM Directive is intended to introduce a new right for the benefit of press publishers not only in Germany, but also throughout the EU. Whether this right can actually induce large providers to make compensation payments to publishers as a result of its implementation throughout the EU is questionable. It seems unlikely that European press publishers together will be able to conduct more successful negotiations with search engine operators since media reporting is often oriented nationally. In addition, search engine operators are left with the option of shortening their snippets to “very short extracts” (according to the rather nonspecific wording of the directive and the German implementation), which can continue to be used license-free.

Liability of platform operators for copyright infringements by users (“upload filter”) [Art. 17 DSM-RL / UrhDaG]

Probably the most important and most discussed innovation in German (as well as EU-wide) copyright law is the change in the liability regime of platform operators for copyright infringements by their users.

Previously, under German law, platform operators could be held liable for injunctive relief as a “Störer” (vicarious infringer) for illegally uploaded works by users if they violated examination obligations. These obligations were only triggered by a notification from the rights holder of an obvious infringement; there was no general monitoring obligation (BGH, judgment of August 17, 2011 – I ZR 57/09 – Stiftparfüm).

This is now changing to a large extent with the introduction of the UrhDaG. Platform operators that fall under the service provider definition of Sec. 2 UrhDaG fulfill the criteria of communication to the public if they provide the public with access to copyrighted works that have been uploaded by users of the service (Sec. 1 para. 1 UrhDaG). As a result, they become liable as perpetrators for copyright infringements committed merely by users – regarded from a standpoint under previously applicable law – if they do not obtain comprehensive licenses from the authors in advance (Sec. 4 UrhDaG) or proactively take sufficient measures to counteract the upload of infringing content (Sec. 7 para. 1 UrhDaG). At the same time, there are numerous exceptions for legally permitted (Sec.s 5 et seq. UrhDaG) and presumably permitted uses (Sec.s 9 et seq. UrhDaG). Whereas the former constitute a general element of permission, in the case of the latter, the works or parts of works in question are to be communicated to the public on the basis of a rebuttable presumption of their permissibility until a complaint procedure provided by the platform operator is carried out (Sec. 14 UrhDaG).

Several months, if not years, will certainly pass and some conflicts will be fought before it becomes clear how the new regulations will be implemented in practice. This way, it will also be pointed out where the regulation proves to be purposeful, and where there is a need for improvement on the part of the legislator.

What is certain, is that Art. 17 DSM Directive presents platform operators with new challenges, which they will arguably have to meet individually for each member state. While some member states have set different emphasis for implementation and have adhered more closely than Germany to the rather vague wording of the Directive, other member states will still have to implement the “upload filter”, and may also be guided by the recently published guidance of the EU Commission. According to Art. 8 para. 1 of the Rome II Regulation, which implements the Lex loci protectionis principle, the law of the country in which the infringement is alleged applies. When user content is made available on the Internet throughout Europe, this results in platform operators being liable according to the individually implemented liability rules of every single member state.

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