... in european union

Towards a Shared Digital Europe

Today, we are launching a project that i have worked on for the last 6 months: A Vision for a Shared Digital Europe. I started working on this while i was still at Kennisland (where the idea was born) and i have continued this work after my departure from KL with Centrum Cyfrowe and the Commons Network. This vision is an attempt to set the stage for a different way about digital policy making in Europe.

With our vision we are proposing a uniquely European way that refuses to the the digital space as a marketplace alone and that sets out to identify a number of principles that can guide policy makers in developing alternatives for the status quo that go beyond an essentially defensive approach that relies on curtailing and regulating practices and operators that are considered to be problematic. In publishing our vision we hope to kick-start a conversation about what kind of digital environment we want for Europe:

Today we are launching a new vision for digital policy making in Europe: Our Vision for a Shared Digital Europe lays the foundation for a new frame for digital policy making in the EU. We propose an overarching policy framework that brings together varied issues and policy arenas, including copyright reform, platform regulation, privacy, data-protection and data governance, antitrust, media regulation or innovation policy.

Digitalisation has led much of our interaction, communication and economic activity to take place through data or over online intermediaries. What kind of space should this digital sphere be? We believe that seeing this space as a market place only does not do it justice. This space is in effect our society – a society that is experiencing a digital transformation. Therefore we cannot accept the digital sphere as a place where only market dynamics rule. Society is more than an interaction between market players, and people are more than entrepreneurs or consumers.

As supporters of the European project, we believe that Europe needs to establish its own rules for the digital space, which embody our values: strong public institutions, democratic governance, sovereignty of communities and people, diversity of European cultures, equality and justice. A space that is common to all of us, but at the same time diverse and decentralised.

Over the past five months we have worked with a broad group stakeholders on developing a frame that can replace the existing Digital Single Market frame that dominates discussions about digital policy making in the EU. We propose a new, society-centric vision that is intended to guide policymakers and civil society organisations involved with digital policymaking in the direction of a more equitable and democratic digital environment, where basic liberties and rights are protected, where strong public institutions function in the public interest, and where people have a say in how their digital environment functions - a Shared Digital Europe.

The Shared Digital Europe must be based on four principles that aim to ensure that the balance between private and public interests is safeguarded. We believe that a Shared Digital Europe must enable self-determination, cultivate the commons, decentralise infrastructure and empower public institutions.

Combine these four elements with a truly European set of values and a new strategy presents itself. **A strategy that policy makers and civil society actors can use to counter the current lack of democratic oversight in the digital space, the deteriorating online debate, the monopolisation of the digital sphere, the enclosure of knowledge and the means of knowledge production and the increasing violation of human rights in the digital space. **

**Most importantly our Vision for a Shared Digital Europe provides policy makers with an opportunity to work towards a truly European idea about how society should function in the digital age. **

Are you working on digital policies and want to learn more or join our effort? Or do you want us to come by and share and discuss our vision with you? Don’t hesitate to reach out to hello@shared-digital.eu

Equipopulous Europe

14 Sep 2014 | 85 words | border europe european union maps

I am strangely fascinated by this map that depicts the European Union as 28 equipopulous member states (although i would rather imagine this as administrative territories rather than as states):

Equipopulous Europe by Alasdair Gunn

Twenty-eight equally sized European Union Member States, by Alasdair Gunn

Of course this is utterly unrealistic as (re)drawing borders has been one of the most destructive activities in the history of humanity. So the only way to improve on the current situation would be to do away with border altogether.

Public policy vs. ideology

Earlier this week i found myself in the bathtub reading through this list of voting recommendations by the ‘Audiovisual Coalition/EP CULT Committee‘ on the ‘Proposal for an orphan works directive’. The voting list makes voting recommendations with regards to amendments (proposals to change the text of the proposed directive) suggested by various Members of the European Parliament. In total it lists 230 amendments and recommends either to vote for them or against them. Here is one of them (amendment 195 by Jean-Marie Cavada):

CULT voting list on orphan works directive, amendement 195

For me these two boxes full of text pretty much capture a lot of what is wrong with public policy making in the field of copyright. But first, let’s recall what this directive is about:

  1. There is a large class of copyright protected works where the rights holders are unknown or where it is unknown if they are still protected by copyright.
  2. Copyright law makes most uses of a copyright protected work conditional on the permission by the rights holder(s).
  3. Such permission cannot be obtained when the rights holder is unknown when it is unknown if there still is a rights holder.
  4. As a result works without a known rights holder (‘orphan works‘) cannot be used without infringing copyright.
  5. This outcome is highly undesirable since it does not benefit anyone, neither the rights holders nor members of the public who might want to use such works.

The proposed directive on orphan works seeks to address this issue by allowing certain uses of orphan works on the condition that a diligent search has been carried out and that this search has failed to locate the rights holder. The core of the proposal is relatively undisputed. The discussion in the European Parliament (and in other places) centers on the scope of the above mentioned ‘certain uses’ and the question who should be entitled to make such uses.

This is where the above snippet from the voting list becomes intresting. MEP Cavada proposes (left box) to add a new article to the directive that would allow broadcasting organizations to use recognized orphan works (i.e works where a diligent search to locate a rights holder has been unsuccessful):

4a. For this Directive to be fully effective, broadcasting organizations need to be able to use recognized orphan works, under the conditions established by this directive, in the course of their normal activities.

In response, the voting list compiled by the CULT committee indicates that MEP’s should vote against this amendment and provides the following argument to support this recommendation (right box):

The inclusion of commercial broadcasters is not compatible with the public policy objectives of this proposal.

Now the interesting part of the argument is the reference to a ‘public policy objective’ that is said to underpin the proposed directive. As i have outlined above the objective of the proposal is to make copyright protected works that have been rendered inaccessible by a dysfunctional copyright system available again.

Available for the public to access these works, but also available for the public to re-use them, and to build upon them. So the public policy objective of the proposed directive is to provide access to these works and it should be self evident that (commercial) broadcasting organization are an important platform facilitating such access.

For some reason the CULT committee of the EP (and many other stakeholders in this debate) seem to have completely lost track of this objective. Instead of promoting access to works that are rotting away in archives (often at enormous costs to the public that is paying for archiving and preserving them), every possible effort is undertaken to limit access to orphan works as much as possible.

The general consensus seems to be that only non-commercial uses by non-commercial cultural heritage institutions who have the actual works in their collections should be allowed. Quite obviously this is not in line with any public policy objectives, since it keeps the works out of reach of most of the public.

The reference to the public policy objective in the voting recommendation perfectly illustrates to what degree the discussion about orphan works (and more broadly copyright) has been captured by special interests. Those trying to limit the scope of the directive are willing to risk enormous amounts of collateral damage in order to make sure that the ideology of unalienable exclusive rights of authors does not get undermined.

It is pretty disappointing to see that the CULT committee of the European Parliament seems utterly incapable to distinguish between special interest driven ideology and public policy here.

I am a record industry lawyer and I can't be bothered

17 Jun 2011 | 171 words | copyright european union

So one of the more memorable moments of this mornings rather dystopian ICT and management of creative content session at the Digital Agenda Assembly came when the representative from EMI publishing tried to make an argument by stressing that consumers can already buy music via iTunes under clear terms. In reaction to my interruption that these clear terms consist of 60 pages of legal gibberish he replied ‘i am a music industry lawyer and even i don’t read them’, which in return made everybody laugh a little bit and continue the discussion.

I don’t know how often i have heard this or a similar reaction before but it starts to really irritate me. If the very people who are responsible for these insane terms of use think that they are a joke, then maybe legislators should seriously consider mandating a ‘i think these are a joke’ option or a ‘i am a record industry lawyer and i can’t be bothered’ button next to the ‘i accept button.

itunes terms of use

Europe without barriers

08 Jan 2009 | 30 words | europe european union signs

Looks like the Czech are a little bit overburdened by the EU presidency [or they are trying to be funny in a kafkaesque way ] [ceske noviny via boing boing].

Rain vs. the border (long live the rain!)

26 Oct 2008 | 116 words | africa border european union europe migration rain

A storm washed away part of a wall designed to keep out illegal immigrants crossing into Spain’s North African enclave of Melilla on Sunday and heavy rains flooded many of the city’s streets (via reuters).

Update from bbc news [27/10/2008]:

As many as 30 African migrants have taken advantage of flood damage to cross into the Spanish enclave of Melilla, from neighbouring Morocco.

Update from typicallyspanish.com [29/10/2008]:

Three Guardia Civil were injured in Melilla yesterday when a second wave of immigrants tried to cross over the border fence from Morocco into the Spanish enclave. […] Despite the help of the Moroccan security services several Sub Saharans made their way into Spanish territory at 7am yesterday morning.

Telecom Package: we are not going to take it

The French/European advocacy group La Quadrature du Net (Squaring the Net) has issued an urgent appeal to act against a number of entertainment industry sponsored amendments to the legislative undertaking to reform the European law on electronic communications (“Telecoms Package”) which are currently being discussed by the European Parliament in Brussels. These amendments are aimed at closing the open architecture of the Internet and to introduce more control and surveillance of users as well as the introduction of censorship of internet communications by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) at the request of the entertainment industry and/or national governments:

European Internet users could be blocked from lawful activities by mandatory spyware, in the interests of their security. The right to use free software for internet access would therefore not be assured anymore. The neutrality of the Internet is also directly attacked, as is the principle that technical intermediaries have no obligation to prior surveillance of contents. Other amendments will de facto enable administrative authorities to obligate ISPs to work with content producers and rights-holders’ private police, including the sending of intimidating messages, with no judicial or regulatory oversight.

These measure goes further than the French “graduated response” project, which has been subject to widespread opposition, including by the European Parliament on April 10th. That is undoubtedly why those amendments have turned up on early July, and why those drafting them use subtle rhetoric and crossed-references to make the overall text harder to understand (more than 800 amendments on 5 directives were tabled).

“The politicians who engage in these summer manoeuvres dishonour Europe and their mandate. They rely on the fact that nobody watches them a week before Parliamentary holiday, to divert the Telecoms package from its primary objectives of consumer protection. They pave the way for the monitoring and filtering of the Internet by private companies, exceptional courts and orwellian technical measures. It is inconceivable for freedom but also for European economic development. We call on all MEPs to oppose what they have already rejected.” said Christophe Espern, co-founder of La Quadrature du Net (Squaring the Net).

These torpedo amendments are currently subject of a series of secret, back-room negotiations between a handful of MEPs who do not always understand all the implications of these issues. Accomplices of lobbyists who hold the pen are in every political party. Instructions for the plenary vote will be established this week for a vote in IMCO and ITRE committee on Monday, July 7th.

La Quadrature du Net has compiled detailed instructions on how to contact the Members of the European Parliament involved in this process and how to attempt to convince them that these amendments are extremely harmful to the interests of all European Internet users. More background information on the amendments in question can be found in this excellent (and very timely!) draft briefing paper on the Telecoms Package by Monica Horton. The paper also contains a very good summary of the core argument against introducing legislative measures that transform the position of ISPs from neutral providers of a bitstream into chain-dogs of the content industries and governments:

Why we should protect “mere conduit”?

The political issue here is that the “mere conduit” status of the ISP was put in place to protect individual privacy and freedom. Once this change to telecoms framework law is in place, “mere conduit” is effectively eroded, and this apparently small legal change will give corporations and governments control over the Internet which they have not previously been able to get. If it is legally possible for Internet content to be monitored and blocked to support copyright infringement, what is to stop it being used for other forms of censorship, including political purposes?

Under the current legal framework, we are protected from such censorship by the “mere conduit” status, combined with data protection law. It is therefore vital to retain that “mere conduit” status, in order to protect citizenship rights to communicate freely using the Internet.

And if we are going to make any changes at all to the ISP status, it must be properly and publicly debated and go through the full legislative scrutiny in a transparent manner, so that all stakeholders, including civil society, can input to it.

Apart from straightforward censorship at the ISP level these amendments also pave the way for the graduated response (three strikes and you are out) type regulation currently under discussion in France and the UK. If these stealth amendments will pass the EU parliament and get enacted they would undermine (if not reverse) the explicit condemnation of activities aimed at cutting off internet access from European Citizens passed by the same parliament back in April. Cory Doctorow has a spot-on observation regarding these insane propositions in yesterdays guardian which underlines why these henchmen of incompetent and inflexible corporate interests must be stopped.

So if you have a little time to spare, go contact your local MEP (especially in case (s)he is in the ITRE or IMCO committee) or bring this whole mess to the attention of friendly journalists to shine a bit more light on the whole affair.

p.s: The title of this post obviously refers of the song ‘we are not going to take it‘ by twisted sister.

Re-erecting the border fences to combat piracy?

Yesterday a number of eastern european countries (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia & Slovenia) implemented the schengen agreement, by removing border control posts on the internal Schengen border crossings. Of course this does not mean that there will be no more border controls between these countries as there will be ‘random’ border police checks up to 30km away from the actual border.

As we have argued before the Schengen agreement is not so much about abolishing border(control)s but intended to modernize the system of selective admission to the national economies of western (and now central) Europe. From the perspective of nation states the ability to control the border-crossing public is traded-in for having a centralized database containing background information about suspected individuals (and stolen property) from all the member states.

Drawing of the bunker containing the SIS in a sleepy suburb of Strasbourg

For some reason this deal seems to make sense to most people (those inside the Schengen zone that is, as the external borders of the Schengen zone are much harder to cross for people trying to gain access) and so there have been various celebrations over the last couple of days. The only people who are not celebrating are those idiots from the GVU (the German equivalent of the RIAA/MPAA):

In an interview GVU’s director, Ronald Schäfer, warned that they were expecting more pirated CDs/DVDs in Germany now that the border with the Czech Republic would open (he comes short of suggesting that we should re-erect the iron curtain in order to keep those evil warez out of Germany). What a moron! He should shut the fuck up and go x-mas shopping! He probably also believes that region coding was a good idea and that piracy funds terrorism.

EU also sponsors trash bins

20 Jul 2007 | 239 words | development lebanon european union branding

I had noticed the questionable priorities of the EUs ‘reconstruction’ efforts in south lebanon when I was down there in January. Now bech over at remarkz confirms (the rest of his post is pretty interesting as well) that there indeed some unusually incompetent people at work for the EU in south Lebanon: not only do they waste their money on street lighting, they also seem to sponsor all the trash bins:

The Iranians make themselves visible all right from billboards in villages they financed reconstruction efforts, to stickers on trucks and any piece of machinery used to that effect. Qatar has a different way of doing things: Only one or two huge billboards in the entire south with the ruling prince on it and an “I love you” type of note from Qatar. The process of naming here is crucial it creates political clout by referencing help. It is not just aid, it is aid from this or that party. Of course in can border the ridicule: The European Union for example has a sticker on each trash bin you can find in the south. But Winston Smith can tell you more about all that.

Makes you hope that they are not using the uninspiring European flag but that they at least have the decency to use stickers with the funky new logo of the Portuguese EU presidency. that would be esthetically much more pleasing if you ask me…

Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs)

I have just finished uploading my pictures from last weeks trip to lebanon to my flickr account. Among them are five or so that show massive energy saving light-bulbs (or CFLs as they are officially known) used for outdoor lighting of shops and a gas station.

This is a trend that i had already noticed last December in China (not sure if in India): Energy efficient CFLs seem to be all over the place in areas like the Pearl River Delta with it’s rapidly growing energy consumption or Lebanon, whose power generating capacities have been severely reduced in the 2006 war (If you look closely at my pictures from Lebanon you will see that all but one light bulb are of the CFL type).

This is in stark contrast with the situation in Europe where these types of light-bulbs still seem to occupy a niche position. Now most likely this is due to the fact that we do not have the same energy constraints (yet) and can thus afford to happily wast our electricity, but a little bit of googling reveals that the fact that you do not see many CFLs around here (i do not have a single one in my house) is probably due to an altogether different reason:

Since 1998, China has become the world’s largest producer and exporter of the energy-saving lamps, changing the structure of a global market that was once monopolized by European and American companies such as Philips, GE, and Siemens-Osram. Chinese manufacturers supplied close to 1 billion CFLs worldwide in 2004. […] In the face of intense international competition, the low price of the Chinese-made bulbs has been the leading factor behind this growth.

[…] The European Commission imposed the five-year CFL duty in 2001 after the European Lighting Companies Federation, a trade group for European producers, claimed that China was flooding the market with cheap bulbs. The anti-dumping tariff was a huge blow to Chinese CFL manufacturers, who were dependent on exports for a large share of their market. Half the country’s CFL enterprises went bankrupt within the year, reducing the number of domestic producers from 4,000 to 2,000 in 2001, then to some 1,400 in 2002. To stay afloat, Chinese manufacturers shifted their attention to Asia and the Americas, regions that have imported more than 70 percent of China’s energy-saving bulbs in recent years. [source: worldwatch.org: China Pushes for Even Greater Share of World CFL Market]

So the real reason for not seeing lots of CFLs in Europe lies in the fact that the EU Commission decided to apply import duties on cheap CFLs from the PRC so that companies like Phillips, GE and Siemens can continue to make a little profit while we are happily wasting electricity. Makes me wonder about the European Commission’s sense of urgency even more than i did last week

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

Other things that i have made online: