EU Copyright Reform Directive debate with MEP Victor Negrescu

Friday, June 23rd, ApTI along with ANBPR (The National Association of Librarians and Public Libraries of Romania) and CJI (The Center for Independent Journalism) organized a meeting about the European Commission’s Directive proposal on the copyright reform Directive. Romanian MEP Victor Negrescu took part in the event.

This came in the context of the Europe-wide effort to mitigate the damage that the EU Copyright Directive threatens to inflict on human rights and on the Internet in the EU. The biggest two problems are Article 11, which would introduce an ancillary right for press publishers, a.k.a. “the link tax” and Article 13, which would mandate all EU-based online platforms that allow user-made content to implement upload filters, under the guise of protecting copyrights.

MEP Negrescu shed light on some background information about the driving forces behind the EU Copyright Directive. Although already known by some, intuited by others, this information is relevant nevertheless:

“Sadly, this directive didn’t start from the needs of journalists, it started from the desire of some countries, and, implicitly, of the lobbies from these countries, to hurt their large American competitors. This bill has been created against Google, YouTube, Yahoo! with this clear purpose in mind. And you should be aware of the fact that this is their official position. I took part in meetings with European Commission representatives who were clearly stating that this is their official objective.”

This was something of an open secret anyway. Not something being discussed in polite company, but known by anybody at least tangentially interested in the subject. He continued by talking about the German ancillary copyright legislation which was lobbied for and ultimately adopted at the behest of the press publishers’ lobby:

“In Germany, what was tried is, indeed, to force the news aggregators to pay a tax to the publishers and newspapers for the content used as snippets. But at some point, there was some talk about hyperlinks as well, because hyperlinks contain a few words and it is now written in the law how many words one can use without breaking the law. What happened immediately: the large aggregators, Google News in particular, shut down in Germany, causing a massive fall in the number of page views for these sites. But they introduced in the law something that created a big problem: the possibility for the content creator to freely provide access to their content. What happened immediately afterwards was that the large publishers offered Google free access to publish links to and snippets of their content. But they didn’t offer this to Yahoo!, or to the German competitors. Because there were German competitors on the market. What happens now? Google News exists and is offering links while their competitors, which were supposed to be helped by this law, are out of business.”

Aside from the fact that the law failed in exactly the way its detractors were warning it will fail, it is very interesting to note that what ancillary copyright/the link tax, at its core, is, essentially, the repeal of one of the most important exceptions to copyright law: the right of quotation. It will be interesting to see how sustainable the current copyright regime is when essential copyright exceptions such as the right to quotation are eliminated. What is going to happen when you will be able to quote from a book or other type of written work, but you won’t be able to quote from a news article? Or when journalists will be incentivized not to quote their sources, or, if they quote them, then at least not to link to their sources. This goes against basic journalistic good practices and the press as a whole will suffer for it, the result being that instead of being the saviour this directive’s advocates hoped for, ancillary copyright is going to be the death knell of the press in the EU.

The German experience should have proven to everybody interested that the concept of having to ask permission and to make payments in order to be able to quote is unworkable and that the results are going to be the exact opposite of the assumed goals of the legislation’s promoters. Unfortunately, it seems like the Spanish were either not paying attention or, if they were, they were drawing the wrong conclusions:

“Moving on to Spain! In Spain, they didn’t add this provision about the ability to allow free access to one’s content. Automatically, it’s supposed to be a payment involved. Google pulled out of the market. Yahoo! pulled out of that market. Now, like a coincidence, a new company appeared and it provides just an Android app on which you can access news articles. It’s like Google News but in paid application form. It’s being talked up as a very interesting company, innovative, dynamic, a highly successful European startup. Behind the scenes, it’s owned by a very large corporation: Axel Springer, from Germany, who, just by happenstance, is the main driver behind this type of legislation in Germany, as well as in Spain and at the European level.”

Again, the fact that Springer was behind this is no news to anybody even remotely interested in this topic. That they would stoop so low as to create a paid app, ostensibly through a “highly successful European startup”, to fill the void left after everybody else was driven out of the market, is, at the very least, in seriously poor taste.

The hypothesis that the ones pushing the whole ancillary copyright concept forward have been dismissing all evidence that the concept doesn’t work, and focusing on all the wrong reasons for why it doesn’t work instead of accepting the truth has been confirmed soon thereafter:

“Germany, being one of the main drivers behind this directive, is thinking that the reason their law failed was because it is very difficult to enforce such a law at the national level and that it will be applied and enforced at the European level, it would be easier to do because you can put more pressure on news aggregators in order to force them to pay the content and link creators. That’s their reasoning. That’s the logic behind all of this.”

This tells of a blatant refusal to accept the simple reality of the fact that the world doesn’t end at the external borders of the EU. One immediately starts to wonder what will they be trying next, when this is going to fail at the European level as well because people will be using news aggregators without any EU presence to which this piece of legislation means nothing. Are they going to try and have this go global? Through one of those opaquely negotiated trade agreements maybe? Or are they going to start working on some Great Firewall of Europe, or on the banning of VPNs and of Tor?

Video of the entire event [Romanian]:

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