Reda: ‘EU copyright reform would benefit fake news sites’

Julia Reda [European Parliament]

Günther Oettinger is leading the EU’s copyright reform efforts. In an interview with EURACTIV Germany, MEP Julia Reda warned this would threaten the freedom of online news publications and benefit false news outlets at the expense of journalists and small publishers.

Julia Reda is a German Pirate Party MEP. She joined the Greens/EFA group and was elected deputy group leader. Reda is a member of the Parliament’s legal affairs committee and a substitute member of the internal market and consumer protection committee. In 2014, she was appointed rapporteur on the EU’s copyright reform.

She spoke to EURACTIV.de’s Nicole Sagener.

Is our freedom to share news on the Internet under threat from the EU’s copyright reform?

Yes, Günther Oettinger’s proposal definitely threatens our freedom. Today, news articles are already protected by copyright. But if you take out just a small quote or heading, it is no longer considered an intellectual product and is not protected.

Unfortunately, the planned European copyright reform for news publications does not limit protection to creative works. Often URLs or hyperlinks to texts contain the words of the title. If, in future, the use of a URL could be considered a breach of copyright law, the use of links would be affected. This will especially be the case when the headline and summary appear automatically under a link, like on Facebook or Twitter, although the news publishers cooperate actively with the social networks because they want to display the content behind the link.

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Would authors and creators really be rewarded under the new system or would the benefits go mainly to big publishers?

Journalists have absolutely nothing to gain from the extension of copyright law to press publishers, we have already seen this in Germany. Similarly, small publishers attract many viewers and readers through social media; their readers come through Facebook, Twitter, Google etc. If users of social networks are only able to link to European news if they have first bought a licence, we will see a massive increase in content from sites not bound by this copyright law.

And what risks does this pose?

Fake news sites and state-sponsored publishers like Russia Today always try to maximise their readership. So they would never use this copyright law. But the EU’s big newspapers would.

As a result, the copyright reform would support fake news websites. Because before linking to any quality publication, you would always have to check whether they apply the new copyright law for publishers. That is a laborious process.

Oettinger has been accused of only taking the views of the publishing lobbies into account. Is this true?

Interestingly, not all publishers are convinced by the copyright reform; the big cheerleaders are Axel Springer and Burda. These are the two companies that pushed through the German copyright law and strengthened calls to act on the issue at the European level. And they are in close contact with Günther Oettinger through the Association of German Newspaper Publishers (BDZV).

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I can understand why these big publishers would want to support the copyright law, because they are less dependent on links from social media. Springer and co. have strong brand recognition and would suffer less if it became more difficult to circulate their articles through social media. But copyright law is always promoted by these companies as a step towards greater pluralism, when in fact the opposite is true. We have already seen this in Spain.

Therese Comodini Cachia, the EPP group’s spokeswoman, said at the EPP hearing on the subject this Wednesday (11 January) that the regulation of copyright was an extremely complex matter. Which part of it causes you the biggest headache?

As I see it, the copyright law for news publishers is purely negative. The fact that survival is becoming harder for the press is not something that can be solved by copyright law. It has more to do with a shift in the advertising market. The analogue era is over; today, adverts can be targeted much more precisely online.

Other aspects of the Commission proposal have both positive and negative sides. For example the regulation on education and innovation. The Commission’s proposal includes a binding exception for the use of copyrighted material in education but only for digital content, such as lectures streamed over the internet. We should make it impossible for member states to give priority to publishers’ licencing in these cases. A school or a teacher should not have to start by checking a publisher’s commercial offering.

The free press in Europe is under great pressure. What could really help?

We should not aim to support journalists through copyright. I think that what today’s users want is a tailor-made offering, like that provided by Blendle, where they pay a few cents per article.

But to make these offerings profitable, the VAT on online journalism must be cut to the same level as print journalism. Germany subsidises the print media but the quality of the content has nothing to do with whether it is printed or online.

How can better whistleblower protection support journalists?

Editorial publications are under enormous financial pressure. They always have to be wary of getting sued. This makes the publication of original documents and dealings with whistleblowers more difficult. But this protection of investigative journalism is not just a question of press freedom; it also has an important financial aspect. If a publisher has to fund a huge legal department, this makes its financial situation more precarious and threatens its very existence.

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In Thursday’s (12 January) debate in the legal affairs committee, the article on the duty of internet providers to filter our uploaded content was also a major point of discussion.

That would be a sharp break with the judgement of the Court of Justice. This clearly says you cannot force providers to filter all of their users’ uploads. So the article would contravene the right to freedom of opinion and data protection, and infringe on the economic freedom of internet providers. The social democrats have also been highly critical of this.

It is interesting that big differences of opinion exist within the political factions. Quite a number of ALDE members like Alexander Graf Lambsdorff are members of the Save the Link initiative, despite the fact that the group’s shadow rapporteur supports the extension of copyright reform to press publishers and the content filtering obligation. That is a contradiction that must be solved.