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Adapting federal copyright law to digital usage

On 26 March 2019, after months of protest on the streets and in the Internet community, the European Parliament approved the proposal for a new EU Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. Revision of copyright law in Switzerland and the EU: where are the similarities, where are the differences? Text by Andreas Wegelin

Adapting federal copyright law to digital usage

In the EU member states, the reform of copyright law has driven mainly young internet users to protest on the internet and in the streets. Fired up by social media platforms, it is alleged that freedom of expression was seriously at risk because of the new copyright. (Photo: Emmanuele Contini / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

On 12 March 2019, a few days before the decision of the EU Parliament, the Council of States referred the bill for the revision of Swiss copyright law back to the advisory Committee for Science, Education and Culture (CSEC) with instructions to take into account current developments in the EU.

Despite the carefully balanced compromise fostered in the Working Group on Copyright (AGUR) by Federal Councillor Sommaruga, Minister of Justice at the time, the copyright law revision is now threatened by further delays, not to mention the risk that special interests, which had been set aside as part of the compromise, may surface anew.

The main revisions in the EU Directive

The European Directive contains two fundamental improvements in copyright protection which are particularly controversial:

the liability of platform providers for the sharing of content uploaded by consumers
This provision mainly concerns the major social media platforms (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon, or GAFA for short). Under existing EU law, platform operators can argue that they are merely service providers and are not responsible for the content made available on their platforms. This position is rooted in the EU’s e-commerce directive of 2000, which had limited the liability of service providers (under what was termed the “safe harbour” principle) with a view to stimulating the digital economy.

In the meantime, it has been rightly recognised that the uploading of protected content by private persons infringes copyrights. Even providers such as Google have sought contact with major rights owners and collecting societies because of Youtube, but only offered financial compensation on a “voluntary” contractual basis. It is precisely because content-sharing platforms like Youtube make available practically all existing content that they are so popular with growing numbers of music and film enthusiasts.

Article 17 of the new Directive (Article 13 of the original draft) provides that EU Member States must enact rules stipulating that service providers are liable for the content shared (uploaded) on their platforms.

As a result, GAFAs will be obliged either to conclude licence agreements with all rightholders, or to introduce technical mechanisms (upload filters) to prevent altogether the uploading of protected content. It was this latter prospect which inflamed the Internet community and led to demonstrations in front of the EU Parliament against what was feared would lead to drastic restrictions on the freedom of expression and artistic freedom.

Protecting press publishers from the publication of their articles on internet platforms
Article 15 (formerly 11) of the new Directive also proved very controversial in the parliamentary debates. The proposed neighbouring rights protection was designed to grant publishers a participation in the dissemination of their content, e.g. on Google News. Interestingly, however, the simple reference to Google News can serve to increase a press publisher’s reach, and news per se cannot be protected by copyright. Similar regulations in individual EU countries have proved ineffective, particularly because major publishers prefer to benefit from free advertising on Google News rather than threaten Google News with a licence claim and risk being ignored.

The key points of the Swiss revision

Different legal situation compared to the EU
The Federal Copyright Act (FCA) and Switzerland’s legal situation are considerably different to EU law and the copyright legislation of the individual EU Member States. The EU Directive of 2000 on the single market is not applicable in Switzerland. GAFAs cannot invoke the “safe harbour” principle here. In principle, platform operators are already liable for the content shared by their users, but enforcing a liability claim is a complex and hazardous process. Switzerland’s copyright legislation also recognises the principle that, relying on private copying rules, consumers are entitled to use content from the Internet regardless whether or not the source is licensed to make it available. This liberal approach reflects the acknowledgement that only the provider can reasonably license the mass consumption of content from the Internet, certainly not the consumer.

The AGUR compromise
The AGUR compromise was adopted in March 2017 in the context of the Swiss legal framework described above. Relying on that compromise – which contained some grey areas disadvantageous to authors – the Federal Council submitted a revised bill to Parliament. The bill contained a “stay down” obligation designed to reinforce the liability of online content-sharing service providers: once content is qualified as illegal, providers must keep it off their platforms permanently. In addition to other important improvements for authors, which we have already reported elsewhere, the Federal Council’s proposal contains changes for digitisation, such as a “scientific” exception or limitation for text and data mining, and licensing simplifications through extended collective licensing. The last two proposals are also part of the recently adopted EU Directive (Articles 4 and 12).

Remuneration for journalists and neighbouring rights for publishers
On 12 February 2019, the Committee of the Council of States proposed to introduce an entitlement to remuneration for journalists and neighbouring rights protection for publishers whose work is used on Internet platforms. The introduction of an entitlement to remuneration for journalists would certainly be welcome, and might even suffice if journalists, as the original creators, would involve their publishers in the claims. This would avoid having to introduce a controversial neighbouring right with the dubious effect described above.

Exception for libraries
At the last minute, the Committee of the Council of States also proposed to exempt public libraries from the obligation to pay remuneration for the rental of works – a provision in force since 1993. Public libraries lobbied actively for this exemption; under the existing tariff, libraries do not have to pay a fee on the rental of works provided they charge an annual fee rather than individual fees when they rent out works. Whatever the case, the truth of the matter is that libraries make books, DVDs, CDs or music streaming available to their users for a small fee, in competition with the markets concerned.

Exception for reception in hotel and guest rooms
As with public libraries, the exception for guest rooms deviates from the AGUR compromise to the detriment of authors. Intensive lobbying by the hospitality industry had already led the National Council to propose an exception for the reception of programmes in hotel rooms and holiday flats in December 2018. Moreover, the exception was extended to rooms in institutions and prison cells. This demand also stems from a tariff dispute with the collecting societies. In 2017, the Federal Supreme Court ruled that the use of works in such premises did not qualify as private use if the hotelier or landlord arranges reception and makes the corresponding equipment available. In this case, both are acting with the intent of making a profit, i.e. the provision of reception facilities for protected content is a sales argument for landlords and influences their turnover. Artists should not be required to subsidise the hospitality industry through this exception; their situation would then be significantly worse than under existing copyright law.

Switzerland needs updated copyright legislation now – without any new exceptions!

Switzerland has been struggling to modernise its copyright law since 2010. The AGUR compromise made some progress in adapting the law to the contemporary environment. Individual interests that run counter to this modernisation are liable to emerge in parliamentary debates and may even lead to a worsening in the existing law. This must not be allowed to happen. The situation is somewhat different for journalists: the re-use of press products on the Internet must be seriously examined when the law is updated. Maybe the time is not yet ripe. This was also acknowledged by the Committee of the Council of States in its second consultation on copyright law on 29 April, and it called on the Federal Council, by way of a postulate, to examine the development of copyright law in Europe.

In its 2019 summer session, Parliament would be well-advised to adopt the copyright law revision on the basis of the AGUR compromise without any new exceptions for public libraries or the hospitality industry.

Cautious take-over and adaptation of the EU Directive to Swiss specificities

The new EU Directive could nevertheless serve as a model for additional changes to Swiss law in the future. As mentioned above, the CSEC of the Council of States has asked the Federal Council to produce a report on the situation of journalists and newspaper publishers in particular; in this context, the liability of online content-sharing service providers should be examined more closely. What is more, the sharing or uploading of protected content on the Internet is even less controllable than private copying. The EU Directive therefore rightly establishes a liability on the part of GAFAs, because they are the ones who make sharing possible and attractive in the first place. However, it will be difficult for GAFAs to license each uploaded contribution from the individual rightholders.

One option might be to oblige the platforms to remunerate rightholders on a lump-sum basis for the sharing of content on their platforms. Anything demanding unreasonable technical effort to control should generally be allowed; on the other hand, online content-sharing service providers would be obliged to compensate authors and other rightholders via the collecting societies under a legal licence similar to private copying. In the next few years, the Swiss Parliament will have to revisit these issues again in more depth with a view to implementing the EU Directive across the borders.

Post-revision is pre-revision

Swiss copyright legislation is likely to remain a work in progress for some time to come. Digitisation, the easy global exchange of protected works on the Internet, and technological advances such as artificial intelligence or machine learning mean that legal standards will have to be reviewed again. The current revision of Swiss copyright law, hopefully to be completed in June 2019 based on the AGUR compromise, is not final but merely the prelude to the next revision.

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On 26 March 2019, after months of protest on the streets and in the Internet community, the European Parliament approved the proposal for a new EU Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. Revision of copyright law in Switzerland and the EU: where are the similarities, where are the differences? Text by Andreas Wegelin

Adapting federal copyright law to digital usage

In the EU member states, the reform of copyright law has driven mainly young internet users to protest on the internet and in the streets. Fired up by social media platforms, it is alleged that freedom of expression was seriously at risk because of the new copyright. (Photo: Emmanuele Contini / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

On 12 March 2019, a few days before the decision of the EU Parliament, the Council of States referred the bill for the...read more

Copyright law revision: compromise is the key to success – no exceptions for hotel rooms

The revision of the existing Copyright Act is entering the decisive phase this year. After seven years’ preparatory work, parliamentary debates have now started. The revised act could come into force on 1.1.2020 if both federal houses respect the delicate compromise. Text by Andreas Wegelin

Copyright law revision: compromise is the key to success – no exceptions for hotel rooms

The jurisprudence in Switzerland and Europe is clear: when a hotel receives radio or television broadcasts and retransmits them into its guest rooms, it is a use which is relevant for copyright purposes. (Photo: Piovesempre / iStock)

The long road to a minor partial revision started nine years’ ago: in 2010, State Councillor Géraldine Savary asked the Federal Council to propose solutions to prevent the use of illegal online offers. The Federal Council rejected the request arguing that authors could simply give more concerts to make up for the loss in earnings caused by the slump in CD sales. This answer outraged musicians, and rightly so: not all composers can perform their own works.

In summer 2012, Federal Councillor Sommaruga responded to the protests by creating a working group to prepare proposals for the revision of the Copyright Act. AGUR12, as the working group was called, submitted its recommendations in December 2013. Based on those recommendations and on a wealth of additional unacceptable proposals, the Federal Council produced a preliminary bill in 2015 which met with widespread criticism in the consultation process. FC Sommaruga was obliged to reconvene the AGUR in autumn 2016. AGUR12 II concluded its work in March 2017 with a compromise. At the end of 2017, relying largely upon this compromise, the Federal Council submitted a revised bill to Parliament.

Main points of the revised bill

The relevant key elements of the compromise for musical authors are:

  • Obligation for the hosting provider to remove illegal content and to prevent further uploading of such content (Article 39d); provision for processing personal data to facilitate prosecution of illegal uploading of protected music (Article 77i). Additional demands by authors and producers, e.g. to block access to illegal offers on the Internet, met with strong resistance from consumers and network operators, and were disregarded in the compromise. In this context, one should also consider that such blocking in the musical field would in any event have come ten years too late. Thanks to a wide range of affordable, legal and easy-to-use music streaming services, file-sharing networks and illegal services in the musical field have been greatly reduced.
  • SUISA’s right to information from users in tariff negotiations and accelerated procedure for the approval of copyright tariffs (Articles 51 and 74(2))
  • Extended collective licence (Article 43a): this provision, for instance, enables users to obtain a licence from the collecting societies for publications from archives.

Remuneration for video on demand – unnecessary for composers

The Federal Council also proposed to introduce a remuneration claim for music with regard to video on demand (Articles 13a and 35a). Music creators do not, however, need this: Article 10(2) already entitles them to authorise or refuse the use of their works (in this case, film music). SUISA has already concluded licence agreements for VoD services with all main providers. No new remuneration claims are needed. The existing legislation is adequate.

The VoD remuneration claim was primarily designed to enable Swiss filmmakers to receive fair compensation when their films are viewed on new platforms like Netflix. This would reduce the “value gap” that filmmakers suffer because they participate neither in the direct “pay per view” revenue nor in the platforms’ indirect revenues from advertising and the sale of usage data. Conversely to film music composers who are well organised in rights’ management organisations worldwide, Swiss filmmakers have very limited bargaining power and are therefore dependent on this new remuneration claim.

Against the recommendations of AGUR12 II, the Federal Council extended this claim to music authors who, as mentioned above, do not need this special entitlement. Regrettably, the National Council did not follow our reasoning in the detailed discussion of the law in December 2018 and failed to provide for an exception for music authors. The last hope now lies with the Council of States, which will probably deal with the subject in its March session.

New exemption from the obligation to pay remuneration for radio and TV reception in hotel rooms?

In December 2018, the National Council decided, via the back door so to speak, to follow the parliamentary initiative of Valais FDP MP Nantermod and add a new clause in Article 19(1)(d) FCA providing that the retransmission of radio and TV broadcasts, but also of music or video channels, on demand in hotel rooms, rented holiday apartments, hospital rooms and prison cells, are exempted from copyright fees. As a result, authors would be in a worse position than under the existing legislation, and the revision of the law would work largely to their disadvantage.

What is at stake? If a hotel retransmits radio or TV broadcasts to its guest rooms, the retransmission qualifies as a “rebroadcast” within the meaning of Article 10(2)(e) FCA. This was decided by the Federal Supreme Court in 2017. The providers of TV sets and audio players in guest rooms are hoteliers, landlords of holiday apartments, or hospital operators. All of them operate for profit. Such usage does not, therefore, qualify as private use. The jurisprudence in Switzerland and Europe is clear: this is a relevant usage under copyright law.

The decisions are based on the Bern Convention, the most important international treaty in copyright law, and on other international treaties such as the WCT and the WPPT. Switzerland cannot disregard these treaties. If it did, it would expose itself to sanctions because the obligations under the Bern Convention are also enshrined in the WTO Agreement on the Protection of Intellectual Property (TRIPS). To avoid sanctions if Switzerland were to incorporate this new exception into its law, the exception could only apply to the works of Swiss authors – a totally unacceptable discrimination.

“Hotel rooms would hardly be cheaper if the small copyright fee was eliminated.”

What does it cost hoteliers today? Fees are calculated based on the surface area covered by the TV/audio usage. Up to 1000 m2, the monthly licence fee is CHF 38. Hotels with up to 50 rooms of 20m2 each pay less than CHF 1 per room per month. The rate is slightly higher for larger areas. Hotels with 100 rooms pay CHF 91.80, which is still less than CHF 1 per room per month. The cost for hotels is therefore modest. However, all things being equal, the shortfall for authors and other rightholders would add up to some CHF 1 million per year.

Hoteliers pay their other suppliers for all other services delivered to their hotels. These range from electricity and cleaning to soap in the bathrooms. These goods and services are not provided free of charge – they are part of the hotel supply chain. Hoteliers run their hotels for profit, and in-room entertainment contributes to the price of a room and, therefore, to the added value of the hotel. Why should hoteliers who offer this service to their guests not have to pay the music and film rightholders? Exempting hotel rooms from the copyright remuneration obligation would discriminate against authors and other rightholders compared with other suppliers. And consumers would not even benefit from the exemption because hotel rooms would hardly be cheaper if the small copyright fee was eliminated.

The compromise and the FCA revision both at jeopardy

As mentioned above, the compromise bill for the revision of copyright law put together by AGUR12 II and the Federal Council is now on the finishing straight. If Parliament were to significantly worsen authors’ situation by introducing the hotel room exception, authors would feel slighted and might present further demands for revision. With the risk that no new law is adopted and nearly nine years’ revision efforts will all have been for nothing in the end.

If the revision were to deprive them of the right to allow their works to be rebroadcast in hotel rooms against remuneration, music authors would probably be better off under the existing law.

It is essential that we defend the delicate compromise in the coming months and impress on the Councils that no further changes to the detriment of authors are admissible.

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The revision of the existing Copyright Act is entering the decisive phase this year. After seven years’ preparatory work, parliamentary debates have now started. The revised act could come into force on 1.1.2020 if both federal houses respect the delicate compromise. Text by Andreas Wegelin

Copyright law revision: compromise is the key to success – no exceptions for hotel rooms

The jurisprudence in Switzerland and Europe is clear: when a hotel receives radio or television broadcasts and retransmits them into its guest rooms, it is a use which is relevant for copyright purposes. (Photo: Piovesempre / iStock)

The long road to a minor partial revision started nine years’ ago: in 2010, State Councillor Géraldine Savary asked the Federal Council to propose solutions to prevent the use of illegal online offers. The Federal Council rejected the request arguing that authors could simply give more concerts to make up for...read more

Invoicing licence fees for background music and TV reception in businesses as of 2019

Businesses that play background music on their premises or show broadcasts on screens are required to pay licence fees in accordance with Common Tariff 3a. As of 2019, SUISA will once again manage all customers under this Tariff directly. Text by Martin Korrodi

Invoicing licence fees for background music and TV reception in businesses as of 2019

Under copyright law, playing background music in a shopping centre like in the above example qualifies as a use outside the private sphere. That is why businesses need a licence, which they can obtain from SUISA in accordance with Common Tariff 3a. (Photo: Unsplash, Victor Xok)

Pursuant to the Federal Copyright Act (Article 10(2)(f)), the reception of broadcasts in businesses is a use outside the private sphere and is therefore subject to a licence. As a result, in addition to paying Billag reception fees – and conversely to private households – businesses which play radio or TV sets on their premises need to licence the authors’ rights under Common Tariff 3a (CT 3a). These licences are granted by SUISA.

Hitherto, Billag AG would invoice the licence fees under CT 3a for SUISA’s account. Since Billag was also responsible for invoicing radio and TV reception fees, the cooperation generated advantageous synergies. Both invoices could be issued to customers from a single source, saving time and effort on all sides.

Meanwhile, owing to a number of developments, this cooperation cannot be continued after the end of this year: thus in 2015, the Federal Act on Radio and Television was revised and the device-based reception fee was replaced by a general levy. This levy is collected from all households – regardless whether or not they actually possess a reception device.

Uses outside the private sphere are subject to licence fees

Under the new system, only businesses with turnover in excess of CHF 500,000 have to pay the licence fee. The State estimates that about 75% of Swiss businesses will not be required to pay the licence fee even if they receive broadcasts on their premises.

The minimum turnover limit does not, however, apply to authors’ rights. All uses of works outside the private sphere are relevant in terms of copyright law. In public areas like shops and restaurants, for example, background music – whether piped in from the radio, internet or a sound recording – is subject to a fee in accordance with CT 3a. And the showing of broadcasts or videoclips, from Youtube for example, also requires a licence from SUISA. Accordingly, many small businesses that do not pay radio and TV fees will still have to pay fees under CT 3a.

In addition to the change in the radio and TV remuneration system, in March 2017 the Federal Office of Communications (OFCOM) decided not to renew Billag’s collection agency mandate. Henceforth, household radio and TV fees will be collected by Serafe AG. For businesses, the fees will be collected by the Federal tax authorities in the framework of the VAT collection procedure. As a result, Billag has lost its main business activity and will wind up operations at the end of 2018. This is another reason why SUISA is obliged to reorganise its CT 3a-invoicing system as of the coming year.

SUISA to manage CT 3a for businesses as of 2019

After considering a number of options, it was decided in autumn 2016 that SUISA would once again manage CT 3a for businesses starting in January 2019. SUISA already issues invoices to about 2000 companies which do not have radio and TV reception but play background music from other sources (CDs, DVDs, etc.).

As of 2019, Billag’s 106,000 business customers will be taken over by SUISA; this six-fold increase in SUISA’s active customer count – realised in a single stroke – will trigger huge growth in processing volumes. Therefore task-oriented processes and largely automated IT infrastructure solutions will be essential to ensure the smooth and proper functioning of customer relations in the CT 3a area.

The necessary steps in this regard were initiated in the current year: a project team working in close cooperation with Billag is preparing the take-over of the customer portfolio at the technical and organisational levels. A customer centre is being established with the equivalent of 12 full-time positions (17 persons overall) to provide support and guidance, in writing or by phone, to CT 3a customers.

Multilingual CT 3a customer centre

To ensure as little change as possible for customers, the customer centre will take over Billag’s existing hotline number (0844 234 234). Moreover, an online portal will be set up to secure access to all relevant services. The customer centre will cater to all users, nationwide, in four languages (English, German, French, Italian).

The new team will also be responsible for market coverage. Since there are very few spontaneous declarations from users of background music, potential customers will be contacted and questioned about their practices as regards background entertainment. SUISA plans to conduct four direct mailing campaigns per year, each designed to reach about 10,000 businesses across all economic sectors.

The customer centre team started work on 1 November 2018. By the end of the year, the team will have received appropriate training, and systems and processes will be in place and fully tested. Officially, the customer centre is to open in the new year; it will be at the disposal of 3a customers as of 7 January 2019.

Complaints procedure
The tariff for background music and TV reception, CT 3a, was negotiated with the representative user associations (Gastrosuisse, Hotelleriesuisse, the umbrella association for rights’ users DUN, the Swiss Retail Federation, inter alia) in 2015 and 2016. It proved impossible to reach a consensus, and the proposed tariff was submitted to the Federal Arbitration Commission for Copyrights and Neighbouring Rights (ESchK). The draft tariff submitted by the Swiss collecting societies proposed an average increase of 14% in the fees for Billag customers. In November 2016, the Federal Arbitration Commission decided in favour of the collecting societies and approved the proposed tariff. However, several user associations appealed the decision to the Federal Administrative Court; proceedings are still pending. The appeal does not have suspensive effect and SUISA can start collecting fees based on the new CT3a in 2019. However, the distribution of the proceeds to the entitled parties must be stayed until a definitive ruling on the tariff is handed down.
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All comments will be moderated. This may take some time and we reserve the right not to publish comments that contradict the conditions of use.

Your email address will not be published.

Businesses that play background music on their premises or show broadcasts on screens are required to pay licence fees in accordance with Common Tariff 3a. As of 2019, SUISA will once again manage all customers under this Tariff directly. Text by Martin Korrodi

Invoicing licence fees for background music and TV reception in businesses as of 2019

Under copyright law, playing background music in a shopping centre like in the above example qualifies as a use outside the private sphere. That is why businesses need a licence, which they can obtain from SUISA in accordance with Common Tariff 3a. (Photo: Unsplash, Victor Xok)

Pursuant to the Federal Copyright Act (Article 10(2)(f)), the reception of broadcasts in businesses is a use outside the private sphere and is therefore subject to a licence. As a result, in addition to paying Billag reception fees – and conversely to private households...read more