Business

Music Biz Goes to War With Itself Over European Copyright Directive

European Parliament
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European Parliament

Trade organizations are split over the legislation's current form.

For the past two years, the music and tech industries have been warring over the European Union's plans to reform copyright law -- one party (music) strongly in favor of it; the other (tech) strongly opposed. Now, as negotiations enter their critical final phase, the music business has itself become divided over the latest draft of the Copyright Directive -- and it's two most controversial elements: Article 11, otherwise known as link tax, and Article 13, requiring user-generated content platforms like YouTube to conclude "fair remuneration deals" with rights holders and making them legally liable for the hosting of unlicensed content.

On Thursday, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) and European indie label trade group Independent Music Companies Association (IMPALA) called for policy makers not to proceed with the current version of the directive, saying that the latest draft text risks leaving producers, distributors and creators worse off.

In a strongly worded letter, the rights holder groups said they were not able to support the directive, as it currently stands "or the impact it will have on the European creative sector."  

"Regrettably, under these conditions we would rather have no Directive at all than a bad Directive," concluded the letter, which was also signed by International Confederation of Music Publishers (ICMP) and football organizations La Liga and The Premier League.

Less than 24 hours later, a different set of music organizations sent out a very different message to policy makers negotiating the finer details of the directive in Brussels.   

"While the current text could be improved and still includes some problematic provisions, it is a compromise," states a combative open letter published Friday (Feb. 8), signed by the UK Council of Music Makers (CMM), comprising the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA), Featured Artists Coalition (FAC), Music Managers Forum (MMF), Music Producers Guild (MPG) and the Musicians' Union (MU).

"Without this Directive, creators will be entirely deprived of any means to get a fair remuneration in the online environment: the market will be entirely driven by the commercial interests of free-riding tech giants," state the trade bodies.  

They warn that scrapping the directive can "only be interpreted as an endorsement of the unfair and manipulative practices of some tech giants that refuse any responsibility."

Responding to IFPI and IMPALA's letter, the British music maker representatives say, "It is hugely disappointing to see the music labels and publishers disregard the interests of their creators and artists in this way. They are trying to overturn years of collaborative work at the 11th hour by killing the Copyright Directive. Like YouTube, they have lobbied negotiators hard without consulting or informing the creative community."   

Hitting out at it what it calls "heavy-handed tactics of heavyweight businesses," CMM says it is "saddened that the short-term commercial interests of these companies can be put before modernization of copyright legislation that will benefit the whole industry."

"The labels and publishers have shown an unsettling disrespect for the talent that they have the privilege of representing, raising serious questions about their suitability to be the custodians of copyright," states the umbrella organization.  

IMPALA subsequently issued a statement clarifying its position. "We are raising the alarm about the text on the member states’ table, which has fundamental problems. Urgent action is needed to move forward with a text that achieves its original purpose," wrote chief executive Helen Smith. 

She went on to say, "The recipe still has some holes in it and they need to be fixed before the cake can go in the oven." Smith concluded by saying IMPALA has "backed this proposal from the very beginning, but our support is not at any price."

Meanwhile, GESAC, the European Grouping of Societies of Authors and Composers, representing over 1 million authors, has also given its backing to the directive, which it says is "essential for the future of creators."

"The Directive as a whole—and in particular the provisions in Article 13—creates the long sought after level playing field for creative content in the online market," says a statement published by the organization on Friday -- the same day that council members meet at a COREPER ambassadors in Brussels to discuss the latest Romanian Presidency draft text.

Contrary to IFPI and IMPALA's position, GESAC says the current draft text by the European Council "is a compromise that goes into the right direction," although acknowledges that further improvements still need to be made."

The Brussels-based organization calls upon policy makers to reach an agreement on the directive, so it can quickly proceed to the next "trilogue" stage of the legislative process and reach a final vote ahead of May's Parliamentary elections.