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Retrospective: A Year of Advocacy at Wikimedia Sverige

2021 marked the 20th anniversary of Swedish Wikipedia, which we made sure to celebrate on several occasions here in Sweden. Today, almost nine out of ten Swedes regularly use the website, and polls show that it is one of only a very few platforms that Swedes find trustworthy across the political spectrum. More and more institutions and organizations realize the importance and value of working with the Wikimedia platforms. In its 2021 report, the Swedish Museums Association finds that out of the 233 million reported digital views of their members’ works, 185 million originated from Wikipedia. And then only 19 out of their 230 members reported Wikipedia statistics, indicating that the real number could be much higher.

Wikimedians don’t, however, operate in vacuum. In 2021, Wikimedia Sverige saw more and more reasons to intensify our efforts to safeguard the free and open internet, especially when it comes to protecting the rights and freedoms of the users. Pretty much everyone loves Wikipedia, but not everyone understands that Wikipedia can only thrive in a digital sphere where legislation allows for creativity and sharing.

In this text, we will try to outline some of the major battles Wikimedia Sverige fought in 2021, some of the achievements – and some of our hopes for the future. On top of the support that we, as always, give our lobbying team in Brussels.

Collaboration as the key to success

The copyright management organisations have been closely connected for decades, with the clear aim of tilting the balance on the creative market to their favor – and have been quite successful in this. As research has shown, “in the age of digital knowledge, the so-called balance that needs to be struck is virtually non-existent and the public domain is being swallowed up by the ever increasing (rights-)claims.”[1] Meanwhile, proponents of a free and open internet have worked more or less in silos. 

In the last few years, Wikimedia Sverige has initiated networks around cultural heritage, users’ rights and education from a digital perspective in an attempt to bring about a shift. These networks, with representatives from various parts of society, have proven increasingly important in the advocacy that we are doing. Especially, it has enabled smaller actors with little or no resources, but with vital perspectives, to share their views and experiences in the legislative processes. Some of the umbrella organizations active in the network represent several thousand small cultural heritage actors, who in turn give voice to a large part of the Swedish cultural heritage but who previously have not been much heard.

Widespread adoption of free Wikimedia-compatible licenses in Sweden and worldwide is one of the main priorities of Wikimedia Sverige. In the summer of 2021, after years of conversations with us, Statistics Sweden changed license on their open data to CC0. Statistics Sweden, according to Wikipedia, is “the Swedish government agency responsible for producing official statistics for decision-making, debate and research.” This means that the troves of data developed and published openly by Statistics Sweden can be imported to Wikidata or Wikimedia Commons, as tabular data. We carried out a small pilot with SDG related data to experiment with the possibilities with collaboration from Statistics Sweden. As a result, Wikimedia Sverige was elected to Statistics Sweden’s Users’ Counsel on Communication, together with representatives from the Government Offices, Swedish Television, Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions and others. Through this Counsel, we will have a direct channel to improve and develop the open data from one of the largest statistics providers in Sweden.  

More and more, we are also realizing our role in the democratic society. In 2018, the Swedish Government commissioned an Official Report on the “Democratic Conversation in a Digital Era – How to Strengthen the Resilience against Disinformation, Propaganda and Online Hate Speech”. The work was finished late 2020, and Wikimedia Sverige is specifically mentioned as one of the “actors working with media and information literacy and other efforts to increase resilience”. Last spring, the largest magazine of the civil society, Kurage, published our feature article about Wikipedia as a democratic tool. On a similar note, OECD highlighted the WikiGap campaign, which we have been organizing together with the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs since 2018, as a successful and concrete example of how to involve citizens in bridging gender gaps. 

Copyright battles

The implementation of the EU Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market in Swedish law was the paramount battle of 2021. Sweden will likely be one of the last countries to implement the directive in national law, a year after the deadline set in the directive. The delay is, however, not due to idleness. The Swedish government, in order to implement the directive in the best way possible, waited for the outcome of two important processes happening internationally. One was the stakeholder dialogue on Article 17 in Brussels and the other the Polish appeal to the Court of Justice, and both had been delayed themselves. In the meantime, an unusually thorough process was taking place. Wikimedia Sverige, along with some 50 other stakeholders, were invited to share their views from the beginning, to help the Ministry of Legal Affairs in their analyses of the directive, article by article. To our knowledge, this is the first time that stakeholders have been involved in this way. 

These views were then incorporated in the Ministry Memorandum that was released on October, 8, 2021, which also marked the beginning of the formal legislative process. As one of the stakeholders that were formally invited to take part, we hope that our views will be incorporated into the Draft Law to be published in the spring of 2022. The draft law will then be negotiated in parliament in April and May, and finally voted upon before the summer. 

The view of Wikimedia Sverige was that the proposed implementation of Article 17, in the debate commonly referred to as “upload filters”, was, relatively speaking, positive. It balanced the demands on the service providers with clarifications on which service providers are included, and what can reasonably be expected for a service provider in performing “best efforts”. Foremostly, it introduced strong safeguards for user’s rights, such as the opportunity for organizations of users to take legal action when users’ rights are infringed. We will analyze closely what that means for an NGO such as Wikimedia Sverige. 

Unfortunately, the Ministry Memorandum does not require that content stay online when it is being reviewed – something which would be especially important for satire, caricature or other reuses of content that depend on actuality. It also doesn’t introduce any sanctions for rightsholders that repeatedly misuse their right to notices.

While the proposed version of Article 17 might be seen as mostly positive, the proposed implementation of article 14, on the other hand, is, unfortunately, very vague and restrictive. In a Sweden whose copyright exceptions are backed by extended collective licensing (ECL), the lawmakers as well as the copyright management organizations showed little understanding of the need for the article. The lawmakers dismissed it as bad lawmaking, an unnecessary political product. 

The proposed implementation will not be technically neutral, will likely soon be outdated, and does not really bring about a safeguard of the public domain. Our fear is that new ways of digitizing cultural heritage material will not necessarily be included under the Swedish law, meaning that 3D digitizations, for example, might be copyrighted. The definition of what kind of art will be covered is also very narrow. 

We worked hard to build support among coalition partners and friends to the movement, to improve the proposal on article 14, based on these points of views. We hope this will be seen in the draft law, and will continue to push for it when the proposal is negotiated in the Swedish Parliament.

The government’s proposal is still not published, but it will be debated in the parliament in April or May 2022. Several amendments are also tabled on improved exceptions and limitations to copyright, and from our perspective, most importantly on modernizing the freedom of panorama exception to digital and online environments. We will engage our networks, and continue contacting the relevant Members of Parliament, to push for this change.

Educational resources: long way into the open

Another battle concerns education, namely an OER Recommendation (open educational resources) that calls for both policy change and increased use of OER, as this contributes to the UN Sustainable Development Goal 4: “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” Even though Sweden, along with the other UNESCO members, adopted the Recommendation in 2019, little has happened. The Ministry of Education has barely acknowledged its existence and the Swedish National Commission for UNESCO cannot implement it on their own. 

A network hosted by Wikimedia Sverige has made an unofficial translation of the Recommendation into Swedish, and has held a conference for decision makers and OER stakeholders in the education and GLAM sectors. This has gained some attention around the topic, and we plan to take further action in 2022. There are also some signs that OER is getting a bit more attention. The Swedish government has assigned the National Library to map open educational resources in Sweden, and the UNESCO OER Recommendation is now getting an official translation as well.

Wikimedia Sverige was also asked to write a referral on a public enquiry concerning teaching materials. The entire report focused on promoting printed books at the expense of digital teaching materials, defining teaching materials as resources produced by professional publishers only, and not talking about OER at all. Our referral, of course, addressed OER and digital resources, showcasing the possibilities they offer for both students and teachers. The public enquiry has been handed over to the government, and we will see if it turns into a proposition to the parliament during 2022 – and in that case, if our comments will be taken into account.

Looking ahead with hope

The Ministry of Legal Affairs have, themselves, realized that the Swedish exceptions and limitations to copyright are outdated. We are hopeful that a major revision will start in 2022, and will make sure to be a central actor of the awaited change. To that end, we will work to find majorities especially in support for freedom of panorama.

We have also worked with several UN Agencies and others to help them adopt Wikimedia-compatible licenses and share their content on Wikimedia. Many of them have now shared their content, allowing us to use the content to enrich Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects. The Encyclopedia of Life  is one of them and it includes descriptions of 2 million species in 14 languages under CC0. The UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) have shared their flagship publications and graphics. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has released 30 publications and their graphics to Commons and are adding information they provide to Wikipedia. UNESCO has shared over 1,000 images from their archives. We have also made progress with many of the other agencies moving towards open licenses. Within the context of the content partnerships hub, this means that we will hopefully be able to make large amounts of really valuable content available on the Wikimedia platforms.

[1] Bruncevic, Merima (2014). Fixing the shadows: access to art and the legal concept of cultural commons. Diss. Göteborg : Göteborgs universitet, 2014, s. 276.

Eric Luth is Project Manager for Advocacy and Involvement at Wikimedia Sverige, and former Conference Manager at Wikimania in Stockholm, 2019