European Rights Holders Call on EU to Scrap Copyright Directive in Current Form

European Parliament
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European Union member countries' national flags wave in front of the European Parliament on Oct. 12, 2012 in Strasbourg, eastern France. 

"The proposed approach would cause serious harm by not only failing to meet its objectives, but actually risking leaving European producers, distributors and creators worse off," warn music industry bodies.

A group of rights holder organizations is calling for policy makers to not proceed with the latest version of the European Union's controversial Copyright Directive, saying it risks leaving producers, distributors and creators worse off.

An open letter published Feb. 7 signed by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) and European indie label trade group Independent Music Companies Association (IMPALA) warns that the European Council's latest draft proposals for the directive -- and its two most controversial elements, Articles 11 and 13 -- fail to tackle the so-called value gap or sufficiently protect the interests of rights holders.   

"Despite our constant commitment in the last two years to finding a viable solution, and having proposed many positive alternatives, the text -- as currently drafted and on the table -- no longer meets these objectives, not only in respect of any one article, but as a whole," says the damning letter, which is also signed by the International Confederation of Music Publishers (ICMP) and football organizations La Liga and The Premier League.  

"As rightsholders we are not able to support it or the impact it will have on the European creative sector," it states.

Although the music industry has long supported the copyright directive, IMPALA and IFPI are specifically opposed to the latest draft text of the copyright directive, as proposed by the European Council and circulated Wednesday.

Having undergone numerous revisions and amendments since the legislation was first approved by the European Parliament in September, the latest draft text makes what rights holders regard as significant concessions to tech companies -- most notably around exceptions for small and micro digital companies and Article 13. These include the proposal that digital services that have been publicly available within the EU for less than three years, with fewer than 5 million unique monthly users and annual revenues of less than 10 million Euros, must comply with notice-and-takedown obligations (as they currently do) and demonstrate that they have made best efforts to obtain a license. Platforms exceeding those criteria, such as YouTube, will have to adopt notice and stay-down measures to prevent infringing content. As well, all user generated content services will be required to seek a license from rights holders. But certain rights holder groups feel that the directive, as it stands, doesn't go far enough.

The new set of exceptions for small and micro businesses are also notably less extensive that the European Parliament has previously resolved to accept.

"Far from levelling the playing field, the proposed approach would cause serious harm by not only failing to meet its objectives, but actually risking leaving European producers, distributors and creators worse off," warn the music industry bodies.

They conclude, "Regrettably, under these conditions we would rather have no Directive at all than a bad Directive. We therefore call on negotiators to not proceed on the basis of the latest proposals from the Council."

Last month, a scheduled closed-door 'trilogue' meeting between all three branches of the European government (Parliament, Commission and Council) was cancelled. That was because the Council -- made up of representatives from the 28 EU member states and chaired by current presidency holders Romania -- failed to agree upon key parts of the copyright directive, including the carve out for small and micro businesses.

The newest Romanian Presidency draft text is an attempt to resolve those divisions between council members, who will meet at a COREPER ambassadors meeting on Friday to discuss the revised proposals. If a 55 percent majority can be reached, a rescheduled trilogue will take place shortly after, most likely in the second or third week of February.

If a majority of council representatives don't approve the text -- as IMPALA and IFPI hope -- policy makers will be forced to go back to the drawing board and make further revisions. The clock is ticking, however, and if significant progress is not made on the Copyright Directive before a new European Parliament is elected in May, the fear among some in the music industry is that the bill will be subject to more scrutiny and further delays.