Chairman, European Publishers Council; CEO, de Persgroep.
If someone told me that the Internet will break and that I could be prosecuted for sharing links to articles with my friends and family if a certain law is passed, I would be first in line to sign the petition calling for that law to be blocked. If I was told that voting for the EU Copyright directive would be the end of Wikipedia, memes and an open Internet, I would vote against it.
Luckily for us all, no such law is being proposed. Sadly, however, a ferocious and often hysterical campaign fuelled by ardent anti-copyright radicals – backed by a US$36-million lobbying campaign by US Internet giants – would have you believe that an European Union proposal for a publisher’s 'neighbouring right,' which is currently going through the legislative process, will be the end of the Internet as we know it. Rubbish!
Or at least that’s what you’ll find on the Internet if press publishers cannot continue to finance professional, fact-checked journalism; if small, niche publishers fail; if press publishers cannot continue to finance correspondents bringing you the news, entertainment, comment and analysis from all over the world that populates the Internet with information that we publishers are legally accountable for.
A copyright law is being proposed – that much is true – for a publisher’s neighbouring right. Currently, publishers do not have their own rights to protect their press publications under EU copyright law: the sum of the contributions from journalists, photographers, designers and editors, is not protected at publisher level.
A Publisher’s Right would make publishers the rights-holders of the finished published product. Four important committees in the European Parliament have approved the publisher’s right over the past two years, acknowledging that publishers need this legal tool to make copyright fit for the digital age, to address the current situation whereby publishers’ valuable content is routinely copied, re-used and monetised by other companies without permission or recompense.
However, Big Tech won an important vote last week in the European Parliament to get the chance to amend the mandate adopted by the legal committee for the draft directive. It is difficult to fight against a lobby that peddles lies and populist propaganda. We cannot emphasise more strongly what is at stake for the future of Europe’s press if we lack the legal tools to bring companies to the table to licence our content, so that we can continue to invest in our journalists, freelancers, and photographers.
We hope that we will get to the point where it is as unacceptable for newspapers to be copied and monetised without permission in the online world as it has always been in the offline one. Meanwhile, the publisher’s right would be a good start, one that would encourage negotiation rather than litigation. The fairer the digital ecosystem, the better we can finance professional journalism and the more valuable we can make the Internet.
So, next time you’re asked to sign a petition against this copyright reform (cynically named #SaveTheLink), know what you’re putting your name to: the right to steal and profit from others’ efforts and investments and the protection of US Internet giants. Next time Wikipedia goes dark and tells you the end is nigh, know that even Wikipedia has admitted that it knows that online encyclopaedias are exempt from this directive. Ask yourselves why they would deploy scare tactics based on untruths, or why they always seem to appear top of Google’s rankings!
A free, independent press is essential to our precious democracy. Links and the open Internet are absolutely safe. What we need to worry about is what kind of news ecosystem we would like and whether or not we cherish our diverse, independent press in Europe.