Ever since I became involved in the #PublishersRight and #LoveMusic campaigns – led by creative industry professionals, to support the proposed EU Copyright Reforms – I have been keeping my eyes peeled for any updates on the trilogue debates between the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers comprising governments of the 28 member states. After the initial Copyright Directive was voted down by the Parliament in July, we increased our campaigning efforts on behalf of the artists and content creators and won the second vote on 12 September.
Since then I have only heard the Copyright Directive reported a few times in UK media – unsurprising, given how the Brexit melodrama currently dominates all headlines. But on the occasions the directive has been discussed, I have been concerned by the biased narrative around the proposed reforms and a blatant lack of balance, in particular, from our national broadcaster, the BBC.
The myths being peddled by the Big Tech platforms against the reforms have been presented as fact, with little or no voice given to the counterargument – despite the fact that online news platforms and virtually the whole of the UK music industry support the reforms.
In addition, I have on many occasions seen the Copyright Directive being linked to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, where Brexit is presented as a solution to this “obscene regulation from the over-sized regulatory machine that is the EU”, which is apparently trying to ban our rights to share memes and enjoy parody videos on YouTube.
“HOORAY FOR THE FREEDOM, SOVEREIGNTY AND DEMOCRACY THAT BREXIT WILL BRING!
DOWN WITH EU BUREAUCRACY, REGULATION AND RED TAPE!”
Except, as with most arguments presented by the Brexiteers, when you pick them apart, it doesn’t quite work like that.
Let me try to explain…
The two most debated issues in the Copyright Directive are Article 11 and Article 13.
Article 11 concerns the Publisher’s Right, which is being dubbed a ‘link tax’ by the opposition campaign. The proposals would require platforms like Google and other “news aggregators” to pay a licensing fee for news content that is being shared on their platforms. They are making profit from advertising revenue, so it’s only fair that the journalists and publishers who produce this content are fairly remunerated for their work. This would not charge the right of individual social media users to share the content, as is frequently claimed – after all, it is in the interest of news providers that users share their articles online as widely as possible. Hence they include social media ‘share buttons’ on their sites.
However, to ensure quality news and the future of the press it is essential that big tech platforms, search engines, news aggregators and other companies who abuse content without permission or remuneration share the profits that they are generating with the journalists, editors, writers, bloggers, publishers, etc. who create the content.
Professionals are joining forces to back the proposals which address the long-term predation of the news industry in the digital era, which has seen revenue streams sapped by tech platforms, ultimately threatening the diversity of our press. A joint letter signed by the European Magazine Media Association and the European Newspaper Publishers’ Association argues that: “The digital ecosystem needs to work fairly for everyone: the content creators, distributors and consumers, not just the few powerful and dominant internet giants.”
However, it is not just the creative industries who should be concerned about their future livelihoods. As EU citizens, we are all stakeholders in the proposed copyright reforms, because the power, freedom and quality of the press directly influences our democracy. With the rise of Fake News, online propaganda, ‘bot’ accounts on social media and foreign interference in our elections, the proposed reforms are a necessary and essential step to ensuring quality content can be delivered to citizens by safeguarding the future diversity and pluralism of Europe’s press. As the letter says, at a time when our democracy is under attack, “Europe cannot afford to give up its sovereignty by weakening the role of the press in the democratic debate.”’
Likewise, Article 13 is lauded by the opposition, and condemned as “upload filters” that will “ban memes and YouTube parody videos”. This of course is untrue. It is just another myth being pushed by the internet giants’ misinformation campaigns to bolster resistance to the reforms, which are in fact about protecting the rights of YouTube creators.
After the Copyright Directive was voted through the European Parliament, YouTube stepped up its efforts, churning out propaganda that has been largely targeted at children. Of course, YouTube has a financial incentive to quash the proposed reforms and prevent creators and authors from enjoying a far bigger protection from copyright violations.
This is precisely why the reforms are needed in the first place: to readdress the imbalance of power and the influence of big tech companies on the digital landscape. The European Commission’s proposed reforms aim to foster and protect creativity and “strengthen the influence and position of authors and artists, including YouTubers, and give them a stronger voice.” In many ways, the Copyright Directive has become a power battle between the creators and the profit hungry tech giants who are exploiting their content.
This hostile situation is somewhat worrying in itself. Content creators and online platforms should be trying to work in harmony. Both require the other to operate and provide users with a quality service and access to material. The crux of the issue is the power balance, which has progressively slid from the former to the latter.
In any business partnership, it is essential that all parties feel like they are working under fair terms, and that their rights are protected. The relationship is not healthy and cannot flourish successfully if one party dominates and controls the whole operation at the expense of the other. Politico has reported that, “MEPs want to help foster “cooperation” between right holders and platforms to fight against copyright infringing content,” and, “they stand by the idea that platforms perform an act of communication to the public and are therefore liable for copyright infringing content.”
The big tech platforms need to take responsibility. Abusing their power to exploit creator content and rights is not acceptable. The trilogue negotiations between national governments and the Parliament must find an arrangement that respects the interests of all parties, and addresses “the existing imbalance of bargaining power between the press and platforms”.
However, the battle wages on. Whilst the majority of the British music industry backs UK Music’s #LoveMusic campaign and news industry professionals are championing the #PublishersRight to protect their creative industries, the tech giants are ploughing resources into propaganda opposing the Copyright Directive and disseminating it on their own platforms. In this scenario, it is essential that the media, especially national broadcasters, report on the debate in a balanced and impartial manner that presents arguments from both sides of the debate.
So I was somewhat alarmed, when I recently caught an episode of BBC Two’s ‘Politics Live’ show, which included a feature on the Copyright Directive that failed to properly voice the concerns of artists and creators. A compelling voice from the opposition campaign churned out the anticipated myths, which went entirely unchallenged. The biased reporting was compounded by taking the issue back to the panel guests, (including two MPs) none of whom exhibited any particularly great understanding of the proposed reforms, but did not withhold on condemning the EU red tape machine for over regulation.
Furthermore, they presented the EU Copyright Directive as a case in point to justify Brexit, “because now finally the UK will be free from the wrath of the EU’s regulatory control.” Of course, nobody bothered to mention how the proposed reforms will benefit citizens, by strengthening their rights as creators of content and safeguarding the future of the press, strengthening our democracy and ensuring a healthy, diverse creative ecosystem.
They ended the piece by highlighting a tweet sent by one of their panel guests, the MP Jess Phillips, whose children had apparently fallen victim to the YouTube propaganda: “Both of my children have lobbied me this weekend about some copyright law change that is apparently “gonna ruin memes, mooooom”. It seems that on YouTube they are watching videos about obscure copyright law which if I’m honest is a relief.” This only served to illustrate how citizens, (including our members of parliament!), who have little understanding of the legislation, are being taken in by the YouTube propaganda campaign without realising the importance and necessity of the reforms. The fact that this campaign is being targeted at children, left me incensed, and compelled me to post a twitter thread responding to Phillip’s tweet, imploring her to present the counter argument to her children:
Unfortunately, Big Tech’s fear campaign seems to be having its intended impact. Politico reported that national governments fear “unexpected consequences”. This fear is, of course, influencing the current trilogue negotiations. To those who in principle accept the need to reform legislation but oppose the proposed reforms because they worry about infringing on citizen’s rights to parody and satire, I make the following argument: if the law forces them to do so, Big Tech will innovate to implement the legislation.
We have allowed tech platforms to prey on creators for too long. Just because we are accustomed to this situation, does not make it acceptable. Since the imbalance of power in the digital era has been identified and is generally accepted to be a problem that needs resolving, those responsible need to act to find a solution. It is in some ways a shame they have to pushed to do so.
Having spent three days in the capacity of a blogger at the European Commission’s #ICT2018 conference in Vienna, I was hoping to have some interesting conversations about the proposed reforms and what impacts they might have on Europe’s tech industries. However, I was disappointed that very few people who I spoke to at the conference knew anything about the Copyright Directive. Despite specifically hunting out the “Creative Industries” and “S-M-ARTS” stands, to talk to content creators who work in the tech sector,I was struck by the deficit of awareness. A woman representing the BBC and promoting an app called “Cognitus” which they have developed to allow their audience to film live footage on their phones and upload it for broadcast use, spoke to me extensively about their efforts to prevent copyright violations. But when I asked her for her views on the proposed reforms she didn’t know about the legislation and didn’t want to comment. Of those people I spoke to who were aware of the ongoing Copyright Directive trilogues, they viewed the reforms with great scepticism, “I just don’t see how it’s going to work, I have my doubts.” Was one response I received from a techie who was in principle, sympathetic to the content creator’s cause. Chatting to a creative industry professional who has developed software “Visual Music” that “Live paints with music” to produce dynamic stage back drops at events, he was completely unaware of the legislation; but wholeheartedly agreed with the need for tech platforms to remunerate creators, such as himself, for the content that is generating advertising revenue on their platforms. Chatting to one of my fellow bloggers, an Austrian Tech journalist, who was unsurprisingly in favour of the proposed reforms but emphasised the vested interests of the dominant Tech platforms. “The technology can be developed to implement the legislation,” He explained how blockchain is able to trace back digital content to its original source. But ultimately, it all boils down to a “matter of political will”. So at the conference, I was privileged to interview Manuel Mateo, a copyright expert in the cabinet of Commissioner Mariya Gabriel:
The 13th is intended to be the final trilogue on the Copyright Directive. It is my sincere hope that MEPs and national governments will come to a resolution that will benefit content creators. But it will also, ultimately, benefit the tech giants, who should appreciate the value of safeguarding the quality and diversity of content that is shared on their platforms, even if they have to be forced into paying fair remuneration.