Members of the European Parliament have struck down two controversial amendments from a report on copyright reform – rules over the right to take photos of buildings and an EU “Google Tax”.
The Google Tax would require internet search engines to pay fees to publishers when they list news in search results.
The other amendment could have led to photos of copyrighted buildings and landmarks to only be published with legal consent. The right to publish such pictures without consent is known as the “freedom of panorama”.
The European Parliament approved the copyright report, which was led by German Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda, with 445 votes to 65 and 32 abstentions. The report is supposed to give non-binding guidelines to the European Commission outlining the Parliament’s stand on copyright. The Commission has announced it will propose new copyright laws by the end of this year.
Current EU copyright legislation is laid down in a directive passed in 2001. Legislators have said the EU needs to update it for digital use and close gaps with national laws.
Reda previously expressed disappointment with some amendments made last month in the Parliament’s legal affairs committee. Last week, she blogged about two out of the hundreds of amendments to her report that she saw as particularly threatening.
At a press conference yesterday, Reda warned that she would drop her support if those two amendments were not removed.
Google Tax and digital journalism
MEPs also struck down the Google Tax amendment Reda had cautioned against in the lead up to today’s vote. In a blog post on Monday, Reda said German MEP Angelika Niebler was trying to impose an ancillary copyright law for press publishers.
Niebler, who is from the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), submitted an amendment just last week asking for a measure to “guarantee media pluralism.”
She told EurActiv that Reda’s reading of her amendment was wrong, saying it is not a proposal for an ancillary copyright law for press publishers.
“The amendment simply calls on the Commission to evaluate how quality journalism can be guaranteed also in the digital age. So the Commission should look into different possibilities, collect best practice examples and then come forward with a proposal. This does not need to be a one to one transmission of the German solution into a European law,” Niebler said following the debate.
In Thursday’s debate, Niebler refuted accusations that her amendment was an attempt to protect European news media.
Oettinger has previously called for a European ancillary copyright law. At a panel discussion last month in Brussels, he said, “It’s my personal ambition to create a modern European ancillary copyright law for press publishers by the end of 2016.”
Germany and Spain both passed similar legislation in the last two years. Those national laws have been criticised for targeting Google to weaken the company’s dominance in the search engine market and attempting to bring revenue to Europe’s struggling media companies. In Spain, Google News stopped running altogether after the law went into effect.
There will likely be some opposition from Parliament if the Commission includes ancillary copyright law in its proposal later this year.
On Thursday, Austrian MEP Evelyn Regner (Socialists & Democtras) said the precedents in Germany and Spain show a “huge barrier to innovations on the internet”.
Vicky Ford, a British Conservative MEP, flatly replied, “Incidentally, Ms Niebler, we don’t need an internet tax across Europe.”
Freedom of panorama
A number of MEPs spoke out in defence of freedom of panorama during the morning plenary debate. French MEP Jean-Marie Cavada (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) said that although he’d submitted the amendment, he accepted Reda’s call to vote against the measure.
Commissioner Günther Oettinger, who is responsible for the digital economy, dismissed freedom of panorama as a “phantom” issue during the Parliament debate and said the Commission wasn’t planning a ban on photos taken in public.
Some member states have laws that don’t require permission from rightsholders before photos of public buildings or monuments are published. In the UK, that’s legal. A number of British MEPs were among the critics of Cavada’s amendment.
British MEP Vicky Ford (ECR) said an EU limitation of national laws was “not acceptable”.
Several MEPs also called for an end to geo-blocking, which prevents content from being accessed in some countries within Europe.
Oettinger and Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip have clashed before on geo-blocking.
On Thursday, Oettinger suggested he’s sticking with his earlier comments in favour of geo-blocking.
“Territoriality will persist in our proposal,” Oettinger said, adding that the film and sports industries would be damaged if the new copyright rules allowed commercial content to be available without national restrictions, all over Europe.
“You cannot simply get rid of this from one day to the next,” he said.
John Higgins, director general of tech trade association DigitalEurope: “As the Commission fleshes out its reform plans for copyright in the digital single market, the European Parliament appears to favour 'reform lite'.”
Cécile Despringre, executive director of the Society of Audiovisual Authors: “We know this resolution has had a long and difficult path to adoption but every side seems to defend the importance of authors receiving fair remuneration but fails to put forward any concrete proposals to correct current failings. The Commission mustn’t fall into the same trap. A legislative proposal on authors’ rights has to include something for authors.”
Monique Goyens, director general of consumer organisation BEUC: "Denying consumers access to audiovisual content on geographical grounds is an anachronism in a single market. We welcome the European Parliament's clear stance that geo-blocking urgently needs to be addressed. The European Commission should follow suit on the European Parliament's recommendations if it is sincere about fulfilling its promise for a modern and ambitious copyright reform as a key component of a digital single market that delivers to consumers. The creative economy depends upon consumers using its products, which provides a clear-cut case for strengthening consumer rights when it comes to using and accessing copyrighted material."
he modernisation of copyright law is one of the priorities of Jean-Claude Juncker's presidency of the European Commission.
"All sectors of the economy and society are becoming digital. Europe should be on the front line of this digital revolution for its citizens and businesses. Obstacles to digitalisation are obstacles to employment, prosperity and progress," he said during his announcement of the European executive's work programme.
President Juncker's strategy for a single European market is as follows: to build confidence between stakeholders, to bulldoze obstacles, to guarantee connectivity and access to digital technology across the EU, to build a digital economy, to promote e-society and invest in research in technology and information. Andrus Ansip, the Vice-President of the Digital Single Market, is leading this initiative.