European consumer activism on online copyright infringement may help fans?

At the end of May, UK consumer and citizens’ rights groups joined together to call on regulators to ensure new rules on online copyright infringement properly protect consumers (PDF).

Past research has shown that many service providers give in far too easily to claims by third parties regarding copyright infringement. Administrators remove material that is being complained about without consulting users or even checking the accuracy of the claim.

Some European countries are taking steps that may stop service providers being so quick to take action. Iceland’s parliament will soon be debating the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative. Prompted by concerns about press freedom, the initiative may also help fans: when passed, it’s likely to require copyright holders to obtain an order from a judge before they can approach service providers to demand material is taken down.

This is in stark contrast to the lack of due process in the “three strikes” programs already in place or being proposed in many European countries. These will allow ISPs to sever the connections of broadband users accused of illegal file sharing on three occasions on nothing more than the word of a third-party company monitoring network traffic. Regulators seem determined to press ahead with these measures despite research published in France earlier in the year showing that copyright infringement has actually increased since France introduced its “three strikes” HADOPI law in 2008. May 2010 saw Irish ISP Eircom launch the pilot of its “three strikes” program, and Ofcom in the UK has just released a draft code of practice for a similar scheme.

It seems likely, therefore, that consumers’ rights groups in Europe will face an uphill struggle in persuading legislators and regulators to adopt policies that will start with a presumption of innocence on the part of consumers and allow fair use and transformative use of copyrighted or trademarked work. The Committee for Legal Affairs (JURI) of the European Parliament will be voting in June on a report on “strengthening intellectual property rights” which advocacy group La Quadrature du Net has called “copyright and patent dogmatism at its worst”.

With the Archive of Our Own committed to defending fanworks against legal challenges, the OTW agrees that European service providers should not be required to give in too easily to copyright owners’ legal threats in the absence of any independent judgement about infringement. Without attention to consumers’ rights, “three strikes” policies could interfere with access to fanworks.