European Lawmakers Urge Tightening of Safe Harbor Exemptions

Carnival whack-a-mole.
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Carnival whack-a-mole.

The push comes just one day after a historic joint letter aimed at U.S. regulators.

Fifty-eight members of European Parliament have signed on to a letter urging the European Commission to protect rights holders by clarifying the status of YouTube and other services that operate under safe harbor laws.

"Despite the fact that more creative content is being consumed today than ever before, on services such as user-uploaded content platforms and content aggregation services, the creative sectors have not seen a comparable increase in revenues from this increase in consumption," the EMP's letter reads. "One of the main reasons is being referred to as a transfer of value that has emerged due to the lack of clarity regarding the status of these online services under copyright and e-commerce law."

The letter, timed to the EU's upcoming copyright review, argues that safe harbor provisions under existing e-commerce laws shield platforms like YouTube from copyright infringement liability for the actions of their users. These user-upload sites say they are "passive and neutral hosting services" and entitled to exemptions from copyright law, the EMPs write.

But these large hosting sites are too big to be docile bystanders to infringement, the letter argues, and therefore should be held accountable. "In view of the upcoming copyright reform, we would like to once again call on the Commission to create legal certainty by presenting solutions which will suit creators, right holders and consumers alike. We believe that there will not be a Digital Single Market without content," the letter states, referring to the proposal to unite industries and consumers online across all 28 EU countries. "Therefore the upcoming copyright reform should make clear that liability exemptions can only apply to genuinely neutral and passive online service providers, and not to services that play an active role in distributing, promoting and monetising content at the expense of creators."

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Helen Smith, executive chair of European indie label trade group IMPALA, applauded the EMP's, who "recognise the true value of Europe's cultural and creative sectors, and see that there is a problem when so many works are being accessed on certain platforms while so little money is returning to creators."

Smith added that "tackling the transfer of value is essential not only for musicians, but for the entire value chain, and of course ultimately for the fans themselves. The Commission has already committed to fixing this problem which is a source of friction and inefficiency in the licensing market."

Across the pond, a new ad running in three influential Washington D.C. publications is calling on reform of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which regulates copyright online in the United States. Like in Europe, the DMCA gives services like YouTube safe harbor from liability for their user's actions, as long as they respond to takedown notices. Signees of the ad include Taylor Swift, Paul McCartney, Carole King and dozens more.