Commission pushes for more digital content access but also stricter copyright protection in EU

By Ana Ribeiro

The European Commission is proposing measures to bring down barriers to accessing digital content across EU member states’ borders. Meanwhile, it is calling for digital publishing to be given similar status under copyright law as traditional broadcasting and record and film productions.

Social media and copyright_900X600 The Commission is proposing changes to digital copyright law amid the rapidly evolving new media landscape. Such reforms, which are subject to parliamentary approval, are causing controversy among the media - especially those related to increasing legal protection for companies publishing digitally as platforms and users post and share their content. (Image: public domain)

The announcement came on 14 September within the framework of the Digital Single Market strategy, which aims to transfer the concepts of the EU common market to the online arena. At the related State of the Union address, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker stated:

I want journalists, publishers and authors to be paid fairly for their work, whether it is made in studios or living rooms, whether it is disseminated offline or online, whether it is published via a copying machine or commercially hyperlinked on the web."

The Commission has stressed three main priorities for its proposals.

The first includes removing restrictions from content broadcast in one member state to be shown online in other member states. This would increase online audiences’ access to European-produced content, and give them more choices and opportunities to get to know other European cultural products.   

The second priority entails allowing students and teachers special access to digital materials and technologies to use in their courses. It also calls for allowing visually impaired people greater online access to copyrighted content (as they have difficulties reading print materials).

Thirdly, the Commission would like to make digital publishers right holders on the level of publishers and broadcasters in other media (often there is cross-publishing, so the news and entertainment industries would hold rights in both areas). They would thus have more clout in negotiating with online “video-sharing platforms such as YouTube or Dailymotion” monetary compensation and protection of content for which they hold the copyright.

“The new [proposed] right recognises the important role press publishers play in investing in and creating quality journalistic content, which is essential for citizens' access to knowledge in our democratic societies,” says the Commission’s press release.   

The EU Commission’s proposals are subject to approval and adoption by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union.

Europe in globe The EU Commission is being both criticized and praised for its attempts to regulate access to online content across national borders. (Photo: public domain)

Media reaction to EU Commission’s proposed Internet reforms

The Commission’s proposals have prompted swift, widespread reaction from international media. While they portray it from different angles, the point calling for increased copyright protection is usually their focus.

A headline in the Financial Times states: “EU copyright reforms to strip likes of YouTube of legal protection.” The 14 September article explains that while video platforms currently remove content after receiving notification from right-holders, the new EU rules “would require them to run proactive software checks to determine whether content they are hosting contained copyright material,” which could be particularly tough on small platforms for the financial burden involved.  

It is the latest episode in the long dispute between publishers who are losing revenue due to content being freely available (and often pirated) on the web and the online platforms that make that possible. The FT also points out that the Commission’s 2014 announcement on the impending reforms prompted intensive lobbying from both sides – and that not everyone in the European Parliament would agree with the change. The article quoted MEP Julia Reda, from the German Pirate Party, as saying the change “is clearly aimed at YouTube and Facebook,” and predicting it would “would have catastrophic consequences.”

An opinion piece from SpiegelOnline, also published on 14 September, announces that “Oettinger endangers the Internet.” This refers to EU Commissioner Günther Oettinger, who is responsible for coming up with Digital Single Market legislation, including “modernising copyright rules.” The author of the newspaper article says that while EU online copyright reforms are urgently needed, she fears the current proposal under Oettinger could actually prevent Internet users from sharing links with headlines and snippets. She states:

The free link is the backbone of the Internet.”

Meanwhile, an article from the same day in The Guardian is headlined “New EU copyright law could boost media groups.” The article takes the angle that, by forcing big platforms to pay more for displaying published content, the reforms the EU Commission is proposing offer “hope for news publishers, some of which have been vociferous in their criticism of firms such as Google for making money from their content without paying.”

A 19 September editorial from El País (“Protecting the creators”) is also more positive. In commending the initiative - also on behalf of newspaper publishers seeking greater protection from content aggregators - the newspaper states: “Via the Digital Single Market, the EU aspires to translate a common norm that looks after copyright, eradicates piracy, fairly compensates authors for the exploitation of their work on electronic platforms and surpasses territorial barriers in the diffusion of audiovisual work.”  

Google has publicly expressed disappointment in the copyright reform proposal. Some in the entertainment industry are concerned, rather, with the proposal the Commission is simultaneously pushing to lower restrictions to broadcasting across borders, according to Variety.

The ECPMF will continue to follow this story as it develops.

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