On Thursday (July 5) in Strasbourg, the European Parliament will vote on whether online platforms can be regulated in a way that reduces the “value gap” between the royalties paid by services like Spotify and those paid by online platforms like YouTube. It’s an important step in the process of updating the European Union Copyright Directive.
The directive, which has been developed and lobbied over for several years, represents the first major attempt to update EU copyright law in almost two decades, and it’s likely to pass eventually, in one form or another. But two provisions are especially controversial: Article 11 gives news publications an “ancillary content” that would let them license content to online platforms, while Article 13 gives online platforms some liability for copyright infringement.
Online, the debate has devolved into exaggerated claims. Google has characterized Article 11 as a link tax, although it’s not a tax and it involves text rather than links. The major group against Article 13, Copyright for Creativity — which has received “main current grants” from the Computer and Communications Industry Association — is arguing that the directive would essentially censor the Internet, which is a hard claim to make, although it would impose some regulation. One Copyright for Creativity website, encourages Europeans to call, email and tweet at the members of Parliament who represent them, but it allows users to claim to be from anywhere. I sent a tweet from the website claiming to be from “Facebookistan.”
Whatever happens Thursday won’t resolve the issue either way — a vote in support of the current text will begin a “trilogue” process (where the final version is negotiated by European Parliament, the European Commission, and the European Council), while a vote against it will re-open an amendment process. But both creators groups and technology companies see it as a crucial step in the process, and both sides are lobbying furiously.
As Members of European Parliament [MEPs] prepare for Thursday’s vote in Strasbourg, Helga Trüpel, a German Member of Parliament from the Green Party who champions creators rights, spoke to Billboard about what’s happening. Earlier Wednesday, she published a Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung op-ed (in German) about how Google and the other “Internetgiganten” have a very libertarian idea of online freedom that makes it hard to establish much regulation at all. It’s an especially interesting point of view now that politicians are realizing that the unregulated internet has costs as well as upsides.
How do you think the European Parliament will vote tomorrow?
As of this morning, I heard that there were 231 MEPs who are going to vote to challenge the mandate, out of about 630 who we believe will vote. So if it’s not much more than 231, we win.
Has the online campaign against Article 13 put more pressure on MEPs to vote against the mandate?
It did, but that seems to be turning around a bit. The lobbying from Google and the technology companies is furious, but now Paul McCartney and [German rock icon] Udo Lindenberg are speaking out in favor of Article 13 and that’s making a difference.
Do the MEPs know how easy it is to game the site? I’m an American citizen in New York, and I was able to list my country of residence as Germany and email and tweet “my” representatives.
Most of the MEPs know that, but some of the older ones don’t. That’s the advantage the digital natives have in terms of building their own narratives.
You’re a member of the left-leaning Green Party, which seems to be divided on this issue. What’s that like?
The party is divided. Part of the party says this is about the wonderful freedom of the Internet — we’re not exploited because we don’t have to pay for the product. They don’t want any kind of boundaries online. Some years ago they said everything online should be free.
I’m a left-liberal Green politician and I’m defending a level playing field and good market regulation. If you don’t pay creators, you will not have the kind of content you want — which is often the kind of content these platforms depend on.
The op-ed you wrote in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung was very interesting.
Google has a very neoliberal narrative about freedom — they don’t want any regulation. My concept of freedom is more progressive — it’s a combination of freedom and responsibility. It’s not about censorship, and it’s not about bringing down freedom online. But we have to make online platforms responsible for fake news and hate speech, and they have to be responsible for the commercial use of creative content. This is not about no one being able to upload anything. We want these platforms to license content from collective management societies, not use upload filters.
Are you surprised by all of the pushback to Article 13?
I expected this, since it happened with ACTA [the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement]. These companies want to keep everything private – they want to regulate the market only by private agreements. But we need to have some laws, because with laws we have transparency. When they only do private deals, there’s no transparency and we don’t know what’s in there.
What happens after tomorrow?
If the mandate gets voted down, there will be an amendment process, starting in September, and we will vote on the whole thing again. If we get the mandate tomorrow, they can start the trilogue process [when the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament negotiate a final text of the bill] next week. That means we could finalize this before the next elections, and I think we have to do that.
Is there anything else that Americans should know about this?
Only that it’s not against innovation. It’s about having reasonable rules for innovation. They say that people my age don’t understand this, and I’m not a digital native — but you don’t need to be a digital native to understand this.