“Tech Giants Win a Battle Over Copyright Rules in Europe” was the headline of the New York Times following the vote in the European Parliament on 5 July which delays the adoption of the Copyright Directive in the Digital Single Market.
The public debate has been dominated by a rhetoric of fear about the end of the internet, now it is time for a real discussion on which copyright rules are needed online.
Opponents of the Copyright Directive think that the proposal would result in censorship and restrict individuals’ freedom of speech, and ultimately end the Internet as we know it. The cultural and creative sectors contrarily believe that without fair copyright rules, authors will choose alternative professions, which will be the end of a creative Europe. Opposing MEPs would disagree that their position is based on fear: instead they argue that a public and transparent debate is needed to reach a more balanced proposal. MEPs in favour said that such a debate already took place; the Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) spent endless hours negotiating compromise amendments that would ensure a balanced report.
The tech industry is an increasingly present lobbyist in the European Parliament. Since the JURI mandate to enter into interinstitutional negotiations with the EU Council and the European Commission was put to the vote on 5 July, the tech industry has flooded MEPs with emails threatening that a vote supporting the mandate would endanger the ‘free and open’ Internet. Google and Facebook even went as far as to meet with children of MEPs, said Axel Voss, the JURI report rapporteur. The Directive would indeed require online sharing platforms such as YouTube to take further actions to ensure that authors are remunerated for the use of their works. In the offline world, remuneration obligations are not new: a 1992 Directive provides for an unwaivable right to equitable remuneration for authors and performers for the rental of their works and performances. Maybe it is because the Web was created without a governing body in mind that some find such a regulation strange. Yet, the EU General Data Protection Regulation demonstrates that regulation is possible. Before the vote, Mr Voss tried (unsuccessfully) to tell his colleagues that they had been subject to misinformation and to reassure them that the JURI report does not target the general public; individuals will still be able to set up links and upload content.
After the summer, the European Parliament will put forward its amendments and vote for the Copyright Directive they want before entering into negotiations with the other EU institutions to finalise the text. Let us hope that the fear-based communication is over, and that leading MEPs will find space in press and on social media to explain their vision of online copyright rules before the vote on 12 September. It is time to move from a simplistic “against or in favour” rhetoric to a debate on the appropriate rights and obligations of authors, producers, publishers, online sharing platforms and video-on-demand services. Together they make up the backbones of the digital economy. Julie Bertuccelli, French director and screenwriter said it well:
“Authors, producers, on-demand platforms, we are on the same boat - we therefore need mutual respect. This is about sharing not only the risks, but also the profits thus helping authors to carry on their creative job”.
126 prominent screenwriters and directors across Europe have come together to call on the legislators of the European Union to seize the momentum of the adoption of the Copyright Directive in the Digital Single Market to support Europe’s creators in the online environment.