• Startup Economy

    Discover how the Found.ation helps tech startups build in SE Europe

    Filippos Zakopoulos the Executive Director of the Found.ation, discusses the evolution of the start-ups ecosystem in Greece and the Balkan region and how the European Union is supporting and enabling further growth. The Digital Post: How the Found.ation [read more]
    byThe Digital Post4 min read
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    Filippos Zakopoulos the Executive Director of the Found.ation, discusses the evolution of the start-ups ecosystem in Greece and the Balkan region and how the European Union is supporting and enabling further growth.

    The Digital Post: How the Found.ation operates to help tech startups build?

    Filippos Zakopoulos: Found.ation has been a key player in the startup scene since 2011. Starting as a co-working space and then acting as an incubator, it has provided a great number of startups with valuable advice and access to a big network of key players of the startup ecosystem, such as mentors and investors. Also, having some of Greece’s largest companies as its clients, Found.ation has contributed in organizing acceleration programs, innovation competitions and hackathons, thus contributing in creating more opportunities for Greek startups, as well as startups from the greater Balkan region.

    Looking more specifically into the acceleration and incubation pillar, a number of the companies that have taken part in Found.ation’s programs have raised 6M Euro in funding from local and international VCs. This corresponds to 15% of all VC-backed technology companies in Greece during 2013-2016.
    Moreover, Found.ation acts as the local touchpoint for many international institutional investors, VCs and accelerators. Found.ation events have hosted so far Seedcamp, TheFamily, T-Ventures, Hub:raum, Axel Springer Plug&Play, Eleven, Launchub, Kompass Digital, Mojo Capital, 212 Ventures and the European Investment Fund, among others. Since 2015, Found.ation signed an exclusive agreement with the European open innovation organization EIT Digital, under the Arise Europe Program, with the objective of strengthening the Greek startup ecosystem, through the implementation of common, well-structured initiatives. The aim of the collaboration is to foster the ecosystem, support startups, give them faster access to the wider European market and hook them up with potential investors.

     

    TDP: What are the plans for the forthcoming future?

    FZ: Found.ation originally established in 2011 as one of the first co-working spaces in SE Europe, but has evolved also as a digital transformation consultant for corporations and a tech education hub. Our team strongly believes in the interaction between established corporations and startups. One of the key roles of Found.ation is to highlight these opportunities for cooperation between these two polar opposites and we already work with companies and organizations such as COSMOTE (Greece’s top telecommunication provider), Eurobank (one of the country’s largest banks) and the Municipality of Athens to make this happen. But startups are not the only ones to benefit from this kind of cooperation. Incumbents need to transform in order to stay agile and competitive and Found.ation helps them design innovative digital strategies, by teaching them how to adopt a more entrepreneurial mindset.

     

    TDP: How do you see the European startups ecosystem evolving?

    ZP: Europe is still far from becoming a new Silicon Valley, but on a more local level there are a lot of cities emerging as mature hubs, providing fertile soil for entrepreneurial bloom, like Amsterdam, Paris and Stockholm, among established spots like Berlin and London. The rest of the European countries are following their lead –Hungary and Estonia are emerging nods–, although they have yet a lot of distance to cover. Even in Southern and Eastern Europe, where the financial situation poses a significant barrier for prosperity, one can see optimistic signs of progress.

     

    TDP: Is the European Union doing enough? What further actions should be taken in your view?

    ZP: The first step towards solving a problem is identifying it. Europe has understood that it needs to take action and help local startup ecosystems in order for them to help boost their countries’ economies. A good example in this direction is the launch of EquiFund in Greece, part of the Commission’s Investment Plan for Europe. The new €260m Fund-of-Funds program, managed by the European Investment Fund, aims to boost entrepreneurship, by attracting private funding to all investment stages of the local equity market. But unlocking the equity potential in the market is only one part of the equation. The next step is to create policies that will enhance survivability and strengthen the ecosystem, such as tax and regulatory incentives. These measures need to be applied in local as well as pan-European level.

     

    Source: pixabay.com

     

     

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  • Future of the Internet

    Time to Make Content Neutrality into Law

    Nowadays, the main issue are not monopolies, not pricing levels. The issue is free and open space for innovation and the exchange of ideas. A law on internet content neutrality would ensure it.   The previous battle in the war for a free and ope [read more]
    byŽiga Turk5 min read
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    Nowadays, the main issue are not monopolies, not pricing levels. The issue is free and open space for innovation and the exchange of ideas. A law on internet content neutrality would ensure it.

     

    The previous battle in the war for a free and open Internet was about net neutrality — equal access for all to the plumbing level of the Internet. The next battle is about content neutrality — equal access for all to the content level of the internet. Content neutrality is more important than net neutrality. It is not about what speed is available to what service but about what voices are heard and what are suppressed. It should be made into a law.

     

    Net Neutrality
    I was one of those ministers in charge of information society that pushed hard for enshrining net neutrality into Slovenian law and into EU directives. We had some success. While the net neutrality hardliners would not be entirely satisfied, provisions have been made that ask for internet service providers and telecommunication companies that deal with the lower (plumbing) levels of the internet to treat all traffic equally. And not, for example, give faster lanes to Netflix and slower to YouTube, faster to CNBC.com and slower to CNN.com. A policy has been set up that is making sure that the competition among the service providers remains open and fair.

     

    Content Neutrality
    I define content neutrality as such policy of internet service providers that treats content of all users equally. User content is what a user of a service hosts or publishes to the service. Such as videos, writings, tweets, domain name address-books …

    A non-net-neutral internet would discriminate the speed of access to two different services, for example Facebook and Youtube. A non-content-neutral internet would discriminate between different YouTube videos, different Facebook posts, different hosted blogs, different apps in the AppStore, different services running on its cloud, different names in the domain name service … If such a discrimination is not based on technical attributes such as size, processing intensity etc. but is the discrimination based on the meaning of the content then it would constitute a breach of content neutrality.

     

     

    Content neutrality ensures an open and fair competition of ideas.

     

    Real world examples
    A real world analogy to net neutrality would be a highway authority that would offer trucks of one company priority lanes over trucks of another company. Or a post office that would be delivering packages sent by Amazon faster than the packages sent by a small independent merchant. Or an electricity company that would deliver electricity to household A but not to household B.

    A real world analogy to content neutrality would be a highway authority that would be inspecting the cargo on the trucks and allow milk to be transported, because it is good and healthy, but trucks with soda would have to turn around, because some believe drinking sugary drinks is bad for people. Or a post office that would deliver promotional material in favor of candidate A but refuse to deliver material for candidate B. In fact, the Spanish post office just did something like that with mail related to the Catalan referendum on independence. An example would be an electricity company that would deliver electricity to all except those that use it to electrocute animals because the CEO of the electricity company is a vegan.

     

    Host’s dilemma
    The real danger is not that some services or some content or some foods or some activities are prohibited, the real danger is that the companies providing the infrastructure — the hosting of the content or services — are arbitrarily deciding what they will host and what not. Much like the post office deciding it will not be carrying mail if it does not like what is written in the letter. Content neutrality means that all mail and all email is delivered regardless of the content. Net neutrality means that an email from Gmail travels as fast as email from Yahoo Mail. This example should make it clear how much more important content neutrality is than net neutrality.

    While some infrastructure service providers have already stared the practice of not treating all content equally — the notorious examples include de-platforming alt-right content on YouTube and denying Gab app on iTunes and Google Play — I do not believe that the infrastructure providers have much interest in policing the internet for inappropriate content. After all it is not highway authorities that are trying to catch drug traffickers on the highways. It is the police.

    Policing content is an added effort and nuisance for the Googles, Facebooks and Godaddys of the world. It opens them for all kinds of pressures and litigation. It is not their business, it is not their expertise, they should not have that authority. Currently they are caving in to pressure from interest groups and politicians that would like to have some content suppressed without the effort of going to court.

    Some companies are implementing voluntary codes of conduct. I do not believe this is a solution: serious offences and illegal content should not be left to voluntary measures. Legal content should not be subjected to any kind of measures.

     

     

    Arbitrary suppression of content means the end of the competition of ideas, the end of democracy, not to mention the end of open and free internet.

     

    Policy Recommendations
    Politicians should relieve the infrastructure providers and hosting services from the obligation to police their platforms and for the responsibility for the content someone has put there. And more. Infrastructure providers should be required to carry any legal content regardless of its perceived meaning.

    Voluntary codes of conduct should be about conduct and not about content. Shouting from the audience in the middle of a theater performance can be and is prohibited. People that do that are thrown out regardless of what they shout! But the company providing electricity should not decide if play Hamilton deserves its electricity or not. The law enforcement and the courts should police the cyberspace, not the voluntary militias like the Anti Defamation League, nor the algorithms of the infrastructure providers, nor the Wild-West vigilantes.

    Some argue that internet companies should be regulated as utilities and some of what has been suggested above would definitively be solved if they are treated as a utility. But that would be two wide. Digital world is different than the world of utilities of the 20th century. The issue are not monopolies, the issue are not pricing levels. The issue is free and open space for innovation and the exchange of ideas. A law on internet content neutrality would ensure it.

     

    Picture credits: TheNewOldStock

     

     

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  • Digital Single Market

    E-health in all politics: Connecting patients to better healthcare

    Today e-health has emerged as a concrete pathway to help tackle one of the greatest challenges of contemporary Europe: creating health systems that are sustainable and inclusive. The European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG), which is taking place in Bad Hofga [read more]
    byClemens Martin Auer3 min read
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    Today e-health has emerged as a concrete pathway to help tackle one of the greatest challenges of contemporary Europe: creating health systems that are sustainable and inclusive. The European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG), which is taking place in Bad Hofgastein from 4-6 October 2017, is a splendid opportunity to highlight this potential in all politics.

    Not too long ago, e-health was no more than a concept that offered a promising glimpse of what the future of healthcare might look like. Today e-health has emerged as a concrete pathway to help tackle one of the greatest challenges of contemporary Europe: creating health systems that are sustainable and inclusive, with the potential to function as the cornerstone of flourishing economies.

    The twentieth anniversary conference of the European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG), which will gather policy makers, researchers, as well as representatives from industry and civil society in Bad Hofgastein from 4-6 October 2017, is a splendid opportunity to highlight the potential of e-health in all politics.

    The theme of the EHFG 2017 – “Health in All Politics” – underscores the need to build bridges between health and all other areas of political and societal action and debate. to break silos, and to increase awareness of the interconnectedness of every choice we make, as policy makers, but also as citizens.

    Amid the challenges posed by ageing populations requiring more healthcare resources, e-health can be a powerful tool in facilitating these goals. With the help of e-health, policy makers now have the possibility to cater to population, but also to individual citizens’ needs, and directly cater to individual needs.

    E-health provides a pathway for improving access to medicines and care, for reducing wasteful spending, and improving the quality of overall care. E-health also allows for effective disease monitoring and, consequently, prevention.

    This year’s EHFG will provide a forum to address some of the challenges we face. I am referring in particular to cyber security, and the importance of striking a balance between the opportunities offered by e-health and free flowing data on the one hand, and ensuring patient safety and privacy on the other.

    We also need to ensure the interoperability of systems and overcome the existing barriers between jurisdictions. Finally, we need to address scepticism among citizens and patients about what e-health can do for them.[1]

    The horizontal nature of these challenges requires an “all-politics” approach. We have every reason to be optimistic in this regard. The European Commission has been taking initiatives on e-health and digital health as part of its Digital Single Market Strategy.

    In July 2017, it launched a consultation, which is still underway, to define the need and scope of policy measures that will promote digital innovation in improving people’s health, and address systemic challenges to health and care systems. And as co-chair of the e-health Network, I have seen the commitment of EU Member States to cooperate on boosting e-health.

    For instance, in 2016, 20 Member States decided to set up e-Health National Contact Points, to facilitate cross-border data exchange. E-health is also one of the priorities of the Estonian Presidency of the European Union (July-December 2017), and I am looking forward to the outcomes of its high-level conference, shortly after the EHFG in October.

    Healthcare systems are increasingly counting on technology to help them meet the needs of Europe’s citizens. We need a “Health in All-Politics”-encompassing strategy to make effective use of the e-health structures and tools, and to make Europe’s healthcare systems work better for patients, in a sustainable manner. I look forward to discussing these important issues at the EHFG.

    [1] The European Commission’s mHealth Green Paper consultation (2014) indicated that Europeans often lack trust in mobile health applications

     

    Picture credits: BEV Norton

     

     

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  • Media

    How the ‘fake news’ crackdown could end up with almighty social networks

    The soon-to-be-appointed EU expert group on fake news should seriously look into the overlooked danger that entrusting social networks with policing hate speech and fake news (for instance through voluntary codes) might actually give them a disproportiona [read more]
    byŽiga Turk6 min read
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    The soon-to-be-appointed EU expert group on fake news should seriously look into the overlooked danger that entrusting social networks with policing hate speech and fake news (for instance through voluntary codes) might actually give them a disproportionate power to shape public opinion.

    For me personally, the most enjoyable moment in that whole “fake news” commotion has been the re-discovery of the concept called truth by the progressives. Finally the pudding of post-modernist relativism was made available for eating. And it did not taste well.

    However, fake news and related phenomena, such as echo chambers and social bots, are a matter of concern for the entire political spectrum. Politicians and media feel challenged or even threatened by it. Some are even suggesting that in order to save democracy we need to regulate social media just like the printed press.

    The issue boils down to the balance between the right of free speech and the danger of false information. There is a growing tendency to make the danger look bigger and the issue of freedom of speech smaller in order to achieve balance and thereby justify more governmental control of the social media at the expense of freedom of speech.

    The advocates of tighter regulation of social media base their argument on a couple of wrong and unproven assumptions.

    The first wrong assumption is the gravity of the problem. It is simply not as bad as that “The functioning of democracies is at stake. Fake news is as dangerous as hate speech and other illegal content.”

    It is not as dangerous as hate speech and it is not illegal. Functioning of democracy is not at stake if two elections made “wrong” decisions.  Good arguments have been given that fake news did not have a serious impact on either the US elections or Brexit. And even if they did. Politics has always played dirty. Information war, lies, deception, false promises are fair game.

    The second wrong assumption is that possession of truth is possible. Most of the stories in mainstream media are supposed to be fact-checked and yet this does not prevent bias or falsehoods. What would be fact-check on a story claiming Iraq does not have WMD in 2003? If would be labelled fake news and suppressed.

    The belief that “the lack of trusted bearings undermines the very structure of society” shows a deep contempt and distrust in the citizens as if they are unable to form an opinion without an authority. In the past this was the Church, then the state and in the future it will be the “fact-checkers”.

    How wrong! Truth is not established by an authority. We are approaching truth in a confrontation of ideas and arguments. This should be preserved without limitations.

    The third wrong assumption is that those in position of truth can be impartial. The war of ideas will simply move from debating the ideas on the Web to the meddling with the “fact-checking” authorities. Who nominates them? Politicians? I am sure they would be happy to.

    Or will they be “experts”? The “reporting” of hate speech is, as we speak, left to the organized soldiers on the internet and bots. The fight is increasingly not about ideas but about how to get Twitter or Facebook close, silence or demote accounts that spread “wrong” arguments.

    The fourth wrong assumption is the attitude towards free speech. Advocates of regulation of social media claim that “freedom of speech is not limitless. It is enjoyed only within some sort of framing, such as ‘enhancing the access to and the diversity and quality of the channels and the content of communication’.” This is wrong. Freedom of speech is limited with other freedoms, not by nice-to-haves diversity and quality!

    They say that “it would be rather naïve to guarantee totally unrestricted freedom of speech to those whose long-term aim is to destroy democracy and its freedoms altogether.” Then the whole idea of the freedom of speech is naïve. If it is not hate speech, if it is not a credible call to commit a crime, if it cannot be privately prosecuted as libel, it has to be free.

     

    The real problem

    In the effort to exaggerate the problem on one hand, and to water down the issue of free speech on the other we are missing a bigger issue. And that is the danger that the authority to control thought and speech is outsourced to the industry. There is also an emerging danger that the “big-social” (Facebook, Twitter, Google, Snap …) will abuse its power to shape public opinion and to form, in bed with big government, a controlled cyberspace environment.

    To make the “big-social” fight the fake news, they would be treated as newspapers. If they are newspapers they can legitimately lean to one or the other political side, as most newspapers do. This would then allow Facebook or Twitter to actively promote certain political parties. If they are forced down that road, image how much worse the echo-chamber problem would get, when the other side organizes their own social network. We will have, for example, the left on Twitter and the right on Gab!

    I am convinced that it is important that the big-social offers a neutral and impartial platform for the exchange of ideas. If anything this is something to regulate – in the direction of content neutrality, transparency of algorithms and of decisions whose accounts are to be disabled or punished in some other way for bad behavior. Internet promised to be an open space for the exchange of ideas. Let’s not ruin that! Let the big-social offer communication platforms and let’s not drag them into policing what people think!

    All that the legislators should demand are that the platforms are available for free and open exchange of ideas. Not “voluntary code of conduct” and not for big-social to “have their own guidelines to clarify users what constitutes illegal hate speech”.

    What is illegal hate speech should be defined by law and enforced by courts. Censorship should not be outsourced to social media companies. If we go down that road we may end up with the alliance of the big-government and big-social to create a controlled and biased cyberspace that would dwarf the worst Orwellian nightmares.

     

    Freedom of fake news

    Freedom of speech includes freedom of fake news. Existing laws for hate speech, libel and copyright infringement should be used against the authors not against the big-social. Measures are needed to strengthen individual responsibility and not to ask the big-social to police the internet. Real name policy should be promoted by labelling content that has real name and thus responsible authors. This is also a cure against the future threat of AI and bots interfering in places where humans socialize. Verified accounts are a good step in this direction.

    The disease of politics are fake politicians, fake policies, fake statistics, fake promises. Fake news are just a symptom. We should be treating the disease. And the best way to make a distinction between the bad and fake and the good and real is through a clash of ideas. The future of our civilization depends on preserving the internet as an open space for a free exchange of ideas. Any kind of ideas.

     

    Picture Credits: ciocci

     

     

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  • Innovation

    Meet the first European Junior Olympiads in Informatics

    The Digital Post talks with President of the International Olympiad in Informatics Krassimir Manev about the first European Junior Olympiads in Informatics, taking place in Sofia from 7 to 13 September 2017. His recipe to fix Europe’s digital skills gap [read more]
    byThe Digital Post4 min read
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    The Digital Post talks with President of the International Olympiad in Informatics Krassimir Manev about the first European Junior Olympiads in Informatics, taking place in Sofia from 7 to 13 September 2017. His recipe to fix Europe’s digital skills gap: Regular teaching of Informatics and Information Technologies from the first to very last year of school education.

    The Digital Post: The first European Junior Olympiads in Informatics are opening today. How the will it work?

    Prof. Krassimir Manev: International Olympiads in Informatics are not new. Back in 1989, Bulgaria organized the first international contest for school students – the International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI).  In 2007, Serbia hosted the first Olympiad in Informatics for students aged 15,5 in the middle of the year of the contest – the Junior Balkan Olympiad in Informatics (JBOI) – it is a small contest and is not organized every year.

    The event that is starting today – the first European Junior Olympiad in Informatics eJOI (http://ejoi.org/) gathers students of the abovementioned age from 22 Council of Europe member countries – more than the number of countries that took part in the first IOI. Among them are four of the first five countries in the eternal ranking of IOI (Russia, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria). We expect to have a very interesting and unpredictable competition of the best European young programmers. And we are also confident that eJOI will soon become one of the most successful events in the area of competitive programming and the results of the contestants from Europe will improve.

    The Digital Post: What is its main purpose of the initiative?

    Prof. Krassimir Manev: Our main goal is to demonstrate that teaching algorithms and programming for students of age 13-15 is absolutely possible. And more specifically, that  young students could achieve better level of knowledge and skills in Informatics when thay start early. We are sure that this is the right way to go and a guarantee for successfull career in the filed. Тhat is why me and my colleagues have made significant efforts to organize international competitions for junior students – the JBOI first and eJOI now.

    The Digital Post: The International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI) are a well known, thirty-year long successful story. Where do you see it going in the following years?

    Prof. Krassimir Manev: The IOI made significant progress in the past 30 years. First contest had one competition day and contestants had to solve a single task for 4 hours. Now IOI  is two day contest with three tasks each day for 4 hours each day. In 1989, in order to solve the task, contestants had to modify a classic algorithm from the textbooks (BFS, for people that know what this means). Today,  if somebody proposes such task for a contest of the  juniors it will be rejected as too easy.

    For 30 years IOI made a substantial progress and evolved a lot – instead of reproducing and modifying classic algorithms from textbooks nowadays contestants have to construct/invent algorithms that are not published in any textbook. Sometimes  students that participate in IOI create algorithms that are eligible to be published in a scientific journal. My imagination is not enough to predict what will happen in IOI in 10 years. The only thing that I am sure of is that the progress will continue.

    The Digital Post: Digital skills gap is still a major challenge for Europe despite the increasing efforts to address it. In your view, what might be the good recipe to tackle the problem, especially on the side of education?

    Prof. Krassimir Manev: My answer is clear. I have stated this many years ago, I did not change my opinion since that time and probably I’ll dedicate the rest of my life to plead for implementing this – regular teaching of Informatics and Information Tecnologies from the first to very last year of school education. The Olympiad that we start today is one of the arguments in favor of the idea!  I hope that the authorities from European institutions will understand what I’m pleading for and will support our efforts – in general and in particular to make eJOI a tradition.

    For more information check the webpage of the initative: http://ejoi.org/

    Picture credits: slimmer_jimmer

     

     

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  • Digital Single Market

    New season in the EU Copyright Reform saga

    Discussions in the European Parliament on the EU copyright reform are taking a new, worrying turn. EU decision-makers should seize on the summer break to reflect on how to put the legislation on a more forward-looking path. ”Winter is coming”. While [read more]
    byLaura Blanco7 min read
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    Discussions in the European Parliament on the EU copyright reform are taking a new, worrying turn. EU decision-makers should seize on the summer break to reflect on how to put the legislation on a more forward-looking path.

    ”Winter is coming”. While ‘Game of Thrones’ fans will associate this with the recent launch of the new season, those involved in EU copyright reform discussions are likely to be feeling rather ‘chilly’ in view of recent developments. The original Commission proposal for a Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive was already highly problematic, but with the unexpected change of leadership of the dossier in the European Parliament last month, our initial concerns have escalated.

     

    New Leadership, New Direction

    German Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Axel Voss has replaced former MEP Therese Comodini Cachia as Rapporteur following her election to Parliament in Malta. Despite representing the same political group, Mr. Voss diverges in opinion from her views in the draft Report on all the controversial provisions.

    We supported Ms. Comodini for having taken a very balanced and reasonable approach on the upload filter provision (Article 13), the press publishers’ right (Article 11), and the text and data mining exception (Article 3). The proposed amendments by Mr. Voss, however, and the recently adopted joint position by his political group (EPP), are unfortunately a sharp turn in the wrong direction for advancing forward-looking copyright reform.

    The fact that the adopted EPP position essentially mirrors that of the European Commission demonstrates a lack of critical thinking and ambition towards the problems posed by the proposal.

    It also represents a missed opportunity to go further in truly modernising and harmonising key aspects of the copyright framework. For example, the EPP position explicitly rejects user-empowering tools, such as a mandatory panorama exception across the EU and a user-generated content exception.

     

    Parliamentary Committees Adopt Misguided Amendments

    In the meantime, the Legal Affairs (JURI) Committee leading the dossier in Parliament is receiving input for consideration from four other committees; three of which have already adopted their Opinions.

    The Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) was the first Committee to adopt its Opinion, which resulted in a somewhat bittersweet outcome. Concerning the press publishers’ right (Article 11), the Committee unfortunately stuck by the Commission’s proposal.

    Minor mitigating amendments were nonetheless adopted, such as a proposal to safeguard referencing systems (e.g. hyperlinks) from falling in the scope of the provision; and the deletion of the retroactive application of Article 11. Yet, the adopted Opinion is generally critical of the role of news aggregators and search engines vis-a-vis press publishers’ bargaining power, and moreover proposes to extend this new neighbouring right to ‘print’ publications.

    We agree that securing sustainable funding for a strong free press is essential, but the use of such search and referencing tools has not proven disproportionately harmful to press publisher’s revenue flows since it drives traffic to their websites. The latter had been rightly pointed out by Ms Comodini in her draft Report.

    In regards to the upload filter provision (Article 13), IMCO adopted the sensible amendments proposed by the Civil Liberties (LIBE) Committee rapporteur, MEP Michal Boni.

    While we continue to believe that Article 13 is best deleted altogether, this is a welcomed development, as Mr Boni ensures in his amendments that the provision and corresponding recitals do not conflict with the intermediary liability exemptions enshrined in the e-Commerce Directive, as well as with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. Being an associated Committee on Article 13, the IMCO Opinion has added ‘weight’ on this precise point; a strong message which the leading JURI Committee should acknowledge and adopt moving forward.

    While the IMCO vote included balanced elements, the most recent Opinions adopted in the Committees on Culture and Education (CULT) and Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE), were a disaster on all fronts, making a bad proposal worse.

    Both CULT and ITRE differed in views on the proposal for ancillary copyright (Article 11), but ultimately adopted amendments that broadened the scope of the original proposal to non-digital publications. In an attempt to appease public criticism, CULT adopted several amendments such as lowering the protection of this new right from twenty years to eight, and including additional text on “fair share of the revenue generated going to journalists”.

    It also proposed for Article 11 to not to apply for non-commercial use of press publications by individual users, but it is difficult to see how this would work in practice when such users tend to share press snippets via commercial platforms. This adds legal uncertainty rather than mitigate the provision’s impact. Perhaps most shocking was the amendment adopted in ITRE which makes press publishers’ rights also applicable to scientific publications, whereas this committee, representing research interests, should have affirmed its support for open access.

    When it comes to Article 13, ITRE was somewhat more benevolent, trying to do away with some of the worst elements of the provision such as the reference to “content recognition technologies”. It nonetheless left the prospect of using measures to block the availability of copyrighted works or “other subject matter”, leaving the latter open to interpretation whether this would constitute some sort of ex-ante filtering.

    CULT, on the other hand, took the most radical approach of all committees in support of Article 13, so much so that the legality of its adopted text is put to question. Amongst its amendments is the extension in scope to ‘Information society service providers that store and/or provide to the public access to copyright-protected works or other subject matter uploaded by the users’, essentially banning the storage of legally acquired copyrighted material in the cloud. European cloud storage services would be forced to either install filters to impede uploads or conclude licensing agreements with rightsholders for uploaded content. This definitely does not remove barriers for European entrepreneurship and innovation.

     

    Evidence-Based Policy Making Under Threat

    Developments ringing alarm bells are not only taking place within the walls of the European Parliament. The copyright debate in Europe has become so political that certain stakeholders are testing the boundaries of reliable and legitimate policy making.

    In Spain, since 2015 an ‘ancillary right’ for press publishers similar to the one proposed under Article 11 has been tried, and has failed. This is evidenced not only by the reported impact it has had on start-ups and small businesses, but also by its strong rejection by one of the largest newspapers in Spain, El Pais.

    Nevertheless, the Spanish copyright collection society CEDRO announced in late June this year that it had finalised its first licensing agreement with the online news aggregator Upday.com and claimed it as proof of the success of the system. What’s the catch? Well, Upday.com is owned by Axel Springer, the German publishing giant that is one of the most ardent supporters of the ancillary copyright for press publishers in Germany (and the EU). It appears that publishers that support the ancillary rights idea are paying themselves in an effort to justify this widely discredited proposal.

    On a similarly disheartening note, the European Vice President responsible for the Digital Single Market, Andrus Ansip, in a recent statement claimed that upload filtering technology is ‘cheap’. He referred to presentations made by the company Audible Magic, whose filtering solution he says is available for “400, 500 bucks” per month.

    Armed with these ‘alternative facts’, VP Ansip tries to counter the arguments we and others have made that mandatory filtering technology on a massive number of platforms, many of them start-ups and SMEs, would severely hamper European innovation and entrepreneurship. However, the actual costs of filtering tools are far higher, and probably prohibitive for start-ups. Ansip’s statement is factually incorrect, and contradicts the Commission’s own Impact Assessment as well as recently published research.

     

    Our Summer Wish-List

    So what’s next? In September, LIBE will be the last Committee to vote and adopt its Opinion, which will focus particularly on Article 13. Leading Committee JURI is currently finalising the tabling of compromise amendments and is set to vote in October. The Parliament in principle will vote in plenary in December.

    With the Parliament entering its summer break next week, we sincerely hope its members will take this period to reflect upon the evidence laid down on the table by numerous legal experts and academics (some examples hereherehere, and here); and work towards a reaching a consensus incorporating views across the board. As for us, we’ll brush the current gloomy climate aside, and continue to take any opportunity to advocate for genuine forward-looking copyright reform.

     

    Picture credit: Hive Mind

     

     

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  • Periscope

    Why the Fox-Sky merger should worry the EU

    Four MEPs write in an open letter why they believe the merger between 21st Century Fox and Sky might be a danger for Europe as a whole. Though recently cleared by the EU antitrust regulator, the controversial merger between media giant 21st Century Fox a [read more]
    byThe Digital Post5 min read
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    Four MEPs write in an open letter why they believe the merger between 21st Century Fox and Sky might be a danger for Europe as a whole.

    Though recently cleared by the EU antitrust regulator, the controversial merger between media giant 21st Century Fox and Sky keeps raising eyebrows also in Brussels. Now it is the turn of 4 prominent MEPs of the Socialist group (Brando Benifei, Neena Gill, Catherine Stihler, Julie Ward).

    In a letter addressed to Karen Bradley, UK Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and Matthew Hancock , UK Minister of State for Digital and Culture, they warn that the merger “sparks serious questions about news plurality in the United Kingdom”.

    Worse: the letter points out a wider danger at European level. “The merger poses similar questions [of plurality] regarding the broadcasting of sport in Europe, taking into account Sky’s position of dominance,” write the four MEPs.

    They quote a report of the Media Reform Coalition which notes that the transaction would “result in the merged entity being the only news and media provider present on all four media platforms at the wholesale level, with a significant presence across them. In particular, the merged entity will effectively become: the largest newspaper provider; the third largest TV news provider; the second largest provider of radio news content; the fourth largest online news provider.”

    The letter spells a clear message. Such a huge concentration of power in news media is as much a European as a British problem. Not only given Mr Murdoch operations in other EU countries (Sky offers television, broadband and telephone services to nearly 22 million customers in Austria, Britain, Germany, Ireland and Italy). The point is that if the merger is allowed without enough safeguards, it might sooner or later inspire similar endeavours in other countries of the EU.

    A number of EU member states are already taking a worrying path when it comes to media pluralism (take Hungary). The European Union’s commitment to respect freedom and pluralism of the media is firmly enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights and has been stressed in Council conclusions. Europe should watch carefully any move that might jeopardise such principle.

     

    Picture Credits: Thomas Van Selus
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  • Media

    Is the German bill on “fake news” a threat to democratic freedoms?

    The challenges posed to our democracies by “fake news,” hate speech, and incitement to violence are matters of deep concern. But laws that undermine individuals’ due process rights and co-opt private companies into the censorship apparatus for the s [read more]
    byEmma Llansó5 min read
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    The challenges posed to our democracies by “fake news,” hate speech, and incitement to violence are matters of deep concern. But laws that undermine individuals’ due process rights and co-opt private companies into the censorship apparatus for the state are not the way to defend democratic societies.

    Anticipating federal elections in September, Germany’s Minister of Justice last month proposed a new law aimed at limiting the spread of hate speech and “fake news” on social media sites.

    But the proposal, called the “Social Network Enforcement Bill” or “NetzDG,” goes far beyond a mere encouragement for social media platforms to respond quickly to hoaxes and disinformation campaigns and would create massive incentives for companies to censor a broad range of speech.

    The NetzDG scopes very broadly: It would apply not only to social networking sites but to any other service that enables users to “exchange or share any kind of content with other users or make such content accessible to other users.”

    That would mean that email providers such as Gmail and ProtonMail, web hosting companies such as Greenhost and 1&1, remote storage services such as Dropbox, and any other interactive website could fall within the bill’s reach.

    Under the proposal, providers would be required to promptly remove “illegal” speech from their services or face fines of up to 50 million euros. NetzDG would require providers to respond to complaints about “Violating Content,” defined as material that violates one of 24 provisions of the German Criminal Code.

    These provisions cover a wide range of topics and reveal prohibitions against speech in German law that may come as a surprise to the international community, including prohibitions against defamation of the President (Sec. 90), the state, and its symbols (Sec. 90a); defamation of religions (Sec. 166); distribution of pornographic performances (Sec. 184d); and dissemination of depictions of violence (Sec. 131).

    NetzDG would put online service providers in the position of a judge, requiring that they accept notifications from users about allegedly “Violating Content” and render a decision about whether that content violates the German Criminal Code. Providers would be required to remove “obvious” violations of the Code within 24 hours and resolve all other notifications within 7 days.

    Providers are also instructed to “delete or block any copies” of the “Violating Content,” which would require providers not only to remove content at a specified URL but to filter all content on their service.

    The approach of this bill is fundamentally inconsistent with maintaining opportunities for freedom of expression and access to information online. Requiring providers to interpret the vagaries of 24 provisions of the German Criminal Code is a massive burden.

    Determining whether a post violates a given law is a complex question that requires deep legal expertise and analysis of relevant context, something private companies are not equipped to do, particularly at mass scale. Adding similar requirements to apply the law of every country in which these companies operate (or risk potentially bankrupting fines) would be unsustainable.

    The likely response from hosts of user-generated content would be to err on the side of caution and take down any flagged content that broaches controversial subjects such as religion, foreign policy, and opinions about world leaders. And individuals – inside and outside of Germany – would likely have minimal access to a meaningful remedy if a provider censors their lawful speech under NetzDG.

    The proposal is also completely out of sync with international standards for promoting free expression online. It has long been recognized that limiting liability for intermediaries is a key component to support a robust online speech environment. As then-Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Frank La Rue, noted in his 2011 report:

    “Holding intermediaries liable for the content disseminated or created by their users severely undermines the enjoyment of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, because it leads to self-protective and over-broad private censorship, often without transparency and the due process of the law.”

    The Council of Europe has likewise cautioned against the consequences of shifting the burden to intermediaries to determine what speech is illegal, in conjunction with the report it commissioned in 2016 on comparative approaches to blocking, filtering, and takedown of content: “[T]he decision on what constitutes illegal content is often delegated to private entities, which in order to avoid being held liable for transmission of illegal content may exercise excessive control over information accessible on the Internet.”

    Shielding intermediaries from liability for third-party content is the first of the Manila Principles on Intermediary Liability, a set of principles supported by more than 100 civil society organizations worldwide. The Manila Principles further caution that “Intermediaries must not be required to restrict content unless an order has been issued by an independent and impartial judicial authority that has determined that the material at issue is unlawful.” It is a mistake to force private companies to be judge, jury, and executioner for controversial speech.

    CDT recommends that the German legislature reject this proposed measure. It clearly impinges on fundamental rights to free expression and due process. The challenges posed to our democracies by “fake news,” hate speech, and incitement to violence are matters of deep concern.

    But laws that undermine individuals’ due process rights and co-opt private companies into the censorship apparatus for the state are not the way to defend democratic societies. Governments must work with industry and civil society to address these problems without undermining fundamental rights and the rule of law.

    Picture credits: Medienfilter.de
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  • Digital Single Market

    Brexit may be an opportunity for UK digital economy

    Free of the shackles of EU law when Brexit becomes a reality then the UK can offer businesses the flexibility that is needed in a modern world. But we need to ensure that key personnel have the ability to travel to and from the UK with as little hindrance [read more]
    byThe Digital Post4 min read
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    Free of the shackles of EU law when Brexit becomes a reality then the UK can offer businesses the flexibility that is needed in a modern world. But we need to ensure that key personnel have the ability to travel to and from the UK with as little hindrance as possible, says conservative MP Andrew Bingham.

    The Digital Post: What Brexit means for the UK digital economy? A danger? An opportunity?

    Andrew Bingham: Brexit presents huge opportunities for the UK in all areas of the economy and the digital economy is no different. Free of the shackles of EU law when Brexit becomes a reality then the UK can offer the flexibility that is needed in a modern world. The digital economy by its very nature is changing rapidly as new technologies emerge, grow and become commonplace. Countries wishing to benefit from these innovations need to be responsive and agile. The UK out of the EU can and, in my opinion, will be both these things.

     

    TDP: Do you think there is a real risk of digital companies relocating outside the UK? How do you plan to counter this?

    Andrew Bingham: No I don’t feel that digital companies will look to move out of the UK. The country has a proud record of being at the forefront of technology and innovation and this will continue. The UK is and will remain a good place to do business.

     

    TDP: Broadly speaking, what policies are needed to ensure that UK digital economy will keep thriving outside the EU?

    Andrew Bingham: The freedom of movement is a very hot political topic but whilst retaining the ability of the UK to control its own borders, we need to ensure that key personnel have the ability to travel to and from the UK with as little hindrance as possible. During a recent visit to Barcelona looking at the impact of Brexit on the creative sector this was a message that came across. Companies who operate in the EU and the UK have personnel shuttling between their two offices and thereby the two countries regularly. They need to be able to continue to do so.

     

    TDP: The UK startup ecosystem seems very concerned about possible restrictions to freedom of movement for workers resulting from Brexit. That will stop them from recruiting high qualified staff from other countries. What is your opinion?

    Andrew Bingham: In line with the previous answer, however I believe that this can easily be addressed. Things operated efficiently before freedom of movement came into being and I believe a return to a similar arrangement is perfectly feasible. With regard to recruiting from other countries, I feel that the UK will remain a centre for digital technologies where the brightest and the best will wish to come and work. The Governments stated aim to create a business friendly environment through a variety of taxation policies and finance initiatives will provide great incentives to start up businesses and encourage existing companies to retain a UK presence.

     

    Picture credit: Kalle Paulsson

     

     

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  • Innovation

    Brian Ager: Innovation is the key to Europe’s future

    Innovation is the backbone of Europe's capacity to export products and hence to support its economy. This is why any policy adopted by our decision makers should always take account of its impact on the ability to innovate, says Brian Ager, Secretary Gene [read more]
    byThe Digital Post5 min read
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    Innovation is the backbone of Europe’s capacity to export products and hence to support its economy. This is why any policy adopted by our decision makers should always take account of its impact on the ability to innovate, says Brian Ager, Secretary General at the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT).

     

    The Digital Post: How the global rise of protectionism with increasing adoption of trade restrictive measures, is playing out in Europe? How could it impact on Europe’s competitiveness in the innovation and digital sectors?

    Brian Ager: Although protectionism is on the rise worldwide, it is not the silver bullet to address imbalances, as some argue. On the contrary, protectionism is likely to damage European economies.

    BA

    The EU is a very open economy. While global markets have overall expanded over the last ten years, the EU remains the most important exporting region (in terms of goods and services combined). More than 30 million jobs in the EU depend on trade. Therefore market access, the elimination of trade and investment barriers and adherence to a rules-based global trading system are crucial to the competitiveness of the EU economy and to safeguard employment.

    Protectionism may hamper international competition by limiting opportunities to invest abroad. Competition is however essential for economic and technological development, not only in manufacturing, but in particular in the services sector. The EU  remains the biggest foreign investor globally and the biggest destination of FDI (although with a sharp decline over the last decade).

    We also look forward to positive signals from the US, the most important trade partner for the EU, especially after the protectionist opinions expressed by President Trump. The transatlantic partnership should also include the digital arena. For example, the international free flow of data is a prerequisite for European industry to optimise global business operations through digital technologies.

    Existing direct and indirect restrictions to the free flow of data, introduced by countries around the world, however tend to be unnecessarily protectionist and undermine the competitiveness and growth of European companies.

    The digital economy is rapidly developing worldwide thanks to the many innovations made. However, we should remain aware that these innovations heavily rely on easy access to market, knowledge and capital – and are characterised by global value chains.

    Take for instance micromechanical sensors invented and produced in Germany to equip cell-phones assembled in Asia and then distributed worldwide. From this perspective, the temptation of protectionism seems to go against the tide and put at risk countries that would take this route.

     

    TDP: What are the main findings of your latest Benchmarking Report regarding Europe’s performance in innovation?

    Brian Ager: The merits of this report is that it points out where the big key issues are, like the relatively slow pace of digitisation in Europe or the tough global competition in the innovation area. It also recognises that innovation is becoming a critical factor for competitiveness.

    In addition, the Benchmarking Report emphasises the strengths of Europe and the EU in particular. For instance, the innovation performance is overall good, with some countries obviously more advanced than others.

    Innovation is the backbone of our capacity to export  products and hence to support our economy. This is why the report also highlights that policies should take account of their impact on the ability to innovate.

     

    TDP: What are your main recommendations to Europe’s decision-makers as regards supporting Europe’s innovation and digital sectors?

    Stimulating innovation and adoption of new technologies as the main driver of sustained economic growth in Europe. Evaluation of every legislation and policy measure with respect to its impact on innovation throughout the policymaking process. (Innovation Principle).

    Strengthening of the internal market, in particular by completing the Digital Single Market.

    Unleashing the benefits of digitisation by investing in digital infrastructure, key technologies and skills development; supported by a robust regulatory framework, covering security in cyberspace.

    Enabling start-ups to scale up by boosting entrepreneurship, access to funding and cutting red tape.

    Last but not least, ensuring access to foreign markets while maintaining a level playing field.

     

    TDP: Is the Digital Single Market strategy delivering on its promises to boost Europe’s competitiveness in the digital sector?

    Brian Ager: The construction of the Digital Single Market is a key example showing how European cooperation can bring benefits to all.

    Europe should strive to achieve a global leadership role in the digital revolution by swiftly implementing an EU-wide harmonised framework, and by setting up standards for the Digital Single Market. This will boost the European economy, make it more competitive and create new jobs across all sectors.

    Digitisation brings new opportunities for innovation and for the deployment of new technologies. Europe – as an innovation-driven economy – should grasp these opportunities and turn them into a real competitive advantage for its companies.

    Progress made by the European Commission in delivering its Digital Single Market Strategy is a step in the right direction.

     

    Picture credit: Andrew Stawarz

     

     

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