Europe-wide amendments to copyright law, which would have given added legal protection to publishers online, have been sent back to the drawing board after European Parliament members voted against it today.
Publishing associations supported the changes and had been encouraging MEPs to vote in favour of the bill, but faced competition from Google who asked members of its Digital News Initiative to persuade MEPS to oppose it.
In today’s full parliament meeting, MEPS voted against the legislation by a majority of 40 (318 vs 278), meaning it is now on-hold before a further debate in September.
If they go ahead, the proposed changes would create a “publishers’ right”, granting legal protection over the unauthorised reuse of published content online. This would mean anyone wanting to reuse the content would have to negotiate terms or pay a fee to the original publisher.
Amendments, under article 11 and 13 of the copyright law, were dubbed the “link tax” by opponents as it would also cover the publishing of snippets and previews of articles, as seen on Facebook and Google.
Hyperlinks would have been exempt under the legislation, however.
Wout van Wijk, executive director of News Media Europe, said: “This is a major setback as the European Parliament succumbed to the misleading appeals by the platforms at the expense of Europe’s creative sectors.
“A publishers’ right would go a long way in addressing the imbalance that currently exists in the online ecosystem where publishers’ investments flow away to the pockets of Silicon Valley.
“We will continue our efforts to secure a more sustainable European news media industry.”
Proponents in the publishing industry wanted protection for the content produced by news publications to help prevent its use without permission or payment – in particular by tech giants such as Google and Facebook.
The two internet giants are expected to take 71 per cent of all the money spent in the UK on digital advertising, according to a report by analysts OC&C.
Press Gazette is campaigning for the pair, known as the Duopoly, to stop destroying journalism and pay more back to news publishers on whose content they rely.
Angela Mills Wade, executive director of the European Publishers Council, said: “A Publisher’s Right will help to make it as unacceptable for newspapers to be copied and monetised without permission online as it has always been offline.
“Meanwhile, consumers will benefit from a diverse and content-rich internet whilst being able to continue to share links as publishers have always encouraged them to do.”
Article 13 of the amendment would have made web platforms, such as Facebook and Google, responsible for checking reused content is licensed, making them liable for any copyright infringements from its users.
Web platforms were vocal in their opposition to the amendments.
A Google spokesperson said: “We’ve always believed there’s a better way than this, and that innovation and partnership are the keys to successful, diverse and sustainable news and creative sectors in the EU.
“For both European creators and consumers, it’s vital to preserve the principles of linking, sharing and creativity on which so much of the web’s success is built.”
A Facebook spokesperson said: “We strongly believe in the importance of protecting copyright online, but we share the concerns raised about the proposals put before the European Parliament, which could have serious, unintended consequences for an open and creative internet.
“We hope that the debate going forwards can refocus on the original mission of protecting copyright and ensuring a vibrant marketplace for content creation.”
Similar laws were introduced in Germany under the ancillary copyright for press publishers law in 2013. The law allowed publishers to claim royalties for the publication of snippets of their articles.
Google’s response to the law was to effectively boycott the German publishers who charged licensing fees, removing them from search results which resulted in lower readership figures for the respective news sites.
Mathias Doepfner, chief executive of German publishing house Axel Springer, admitted he was “afraid of Google” in an open letter.
It read: “In plain language, we and many others are dependent on Google. At the moment Google has a 91.2 per cent search-engine market share in Germany.
“In this case, the statement ‘if you don’t like Google, you can remove yourself from their listings and go elsewhere’ is about as realistic as recommending to an opponent of nuclear power that he just stop using electricity.”
When a stricter law was introduced in Spain, Google’s response was to shut down Google News in the country.
Google highlighted this in a blog post, which read: “We’re disappointed to see a proposal for a new right for press publishers, despite tens of thousands of voices, including ours, calling for a different approach.
“The proposal looks similar to failed laws in Germany and Spain, and represents a backward step for copyright in Europe.
“It would hurt anyone who writes, reads or shares the news, including the many European start-ups working with the news sector to build sustainable business models online.”
Wikipedia raised similar concerns to the copyright directive and included links on its website to contact MEPs.
In a letter to its readers, the Italian Wikipedia site said the proposal “threatens online freedom and creates obstacles to accessing the web, imposing new barriers, filters and restrictions”.
Under the amendment, Wikipedia and other online encyclopedias would be exempt from the changes, according to a European Union report.
Publishing associations including the News Media Association, European Magazine Media Association and News Media Europe have described comments from the US tech giants as nothing but “scaremongering”.
They published a myth debunking article and urged MEPs to support the publishers’ right ahead of today’s plenary vote.
Carlo Perrone, European Newspaper Publishers Association president said: “This vote goes far beyond copyright and reflects a deeper debate which covers not only on press freedom but also the functioning of our democracies which are threatened not only through the economic sustainability of the press but also by unacceptable misleading campaigns led by platforms to influence MEPs.”
News Media Europe and other European publishing associations have pledged to continue to campaign for a publisher’s right and secure a more sustainable European news media industry despite today’s vote going against them.
Picture: Wikimedia Commons