With less than 24 hours to go before the European Parliament votes on a radical overhaul of copyright law, stakeholders on both sides of the debate are making one last push to influence decision makers.
On the music side, European trade organizations are issuing a final call for Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to pass the Copyright Directive, which supporters say would address the so-called value gap and carry huge consequences for user generated content (UGC) services like YouTube.
Naturally, technology companies are not so keen on the reforms, which have the potential to transform how internet platforms host and distribute music, movies and fan-made videos by requiring them to negotiate licenses with rights holders.
The proposed measures will also require UGC services like YouTube and Dailymotion to introduce automatic content recognition systems blocking any works that infringe copyright, as well as to set up “easy redress” systems for works mistakenly taken down.
Opponents to the reforms say that could put an end to memes, remixes and other user-generated content. Supporters of the Copyright Directive strongly refute those claims.
In the run-up to Wednesday’s vote, which takes place in Strasbourg, France, both sides have been fiercely lobbying policy makers, with international trade body IFPI reporting that more than 6 million emails have been sent to MEP and officials from representatives of the tech sector as part of a huge “disinformation campaign… unprecedented in scale and type.”
IFPI cites figures previously compiled by umbrella organization UK Music (using the European Union’s Lobbying Transparency Register) reporting that YouTube owner Google spent more than €31 million ($36 million) in 2016 to try and influence policy. The EU register does not report how much Google spent on direct lobbying in 2017 nor the first half of this year.
“No-one could have foreseen the scale of the cynical and manipulative behaviour of some platforms to protect their interests,” says a joint statement from IFPI, IAO (International Artists’ Organisation), IMPALA and EMMA (European Music Managers’ Association), published Tuesday (Sept. 11).
“Online services, such as YouTube, allow users to upload music onto their services, place adverts against it that generate huge profits and then refuse to return a fair share to the producers and artists who create the work in the first place,” said the statement.
It goes on to warn: “The choice is clear — do we allow ‘big tech’ to bully and subvert this vote, or do we do the right thing and give European culture a fair deal? This Wednesday, the choice is with MEPs.”
GESAC, the European Grouping of Societies of Authors and Composers, representing over 1 million authors, has also issued a last-ditch call for Parliamentarians to approve Article 13, the most contentious part of the Copyright Directive, which removes safe harbor provisions and, most controversially, requires platforms to systematically detect and block any copyright-protected content except when a license agreement has previously been agreed.
“This vote will not only be about protecting creators and ensuring they have a fair share of the benefits generated by their works, it will also be about the safekeeping of democracy from heavy-handed tech giant pressure,” said GESAC in a statement.
That’s not a view shared by YouTube’s chief business officer Robert Kyncl, who last week published a blog post warning that some parts of the Copyright Directive, and Article 13 in particular, “potentially undermine [the] creative economy, discouraging or even prohibiting platforms from hosting user-generated content.”
Addressing creators, Kyncl writes, “This outcome would not only stifle your creative freedom, it could have severe, negative consequences for the fans, the communities and the revenue you have all worked so hard to create.”
He points to YouTube’s “sophisticated copyright management tools,” including Content ID and the recently launched Copyright Match Tool among the mechanisms that YouTube already uses to manage and monetize re-uploads of creators’ content.
“The solution to the challenges of the internet isn’t to tear it down, it’s to build on top of it. Instead of pointing fingers, we should be having productive conversations,” Jeans writes in an op-ed published last week by Politico.
IMPALA’s Executive Chair Helen Smith responded to that article in her own op-ed, also published by Politico, stating copyright reform was not about “tearing down the internet. What we are asking lawmakers to do is to make sure that it works for everyone.”
“The EU’s copyright directive would make much-needed changes in the structure of the music industry,” says Smith. “Fans will be able to discover, share and enjoy more music. Licenses will automatically cover their uploads. Meanwhile, artists will have a say and capture more revenue, no matter how big they are or where they come from.”
She concludes, “All artists are born equal. It’s Europe’s job is to make sure that means something in the online world.”