“Have you ever heard of Desmond Child?” I was asked while talking to the Irish singer-songwriter Eleanor McEvoy. I hadn’t heard of the individual in question.
“Living on a prayer,” she added, as an example of the importance of copyright, an issue that the European Parliament will debate next week in what is described as a pivotal moment in the history of European copyright law.
“People tell me that online platforms offer exposure. That’s all fine and well if you happen to be the performer, but if you’re the songwriter who has spent hundreds of hours working alone, you lose out, both in terms of exposure and money” McEvoy said.
Indeed, it seems that while performers receive all the benefits of online exposure, the person behind the hit is often relegated from the chain of value creation.
McEvoy, working alongside the European Grouping of Societies of Authors and Composers (GESAC), is a staunch advocate for one of the most sweeping pieces of copyright legislation in the history of the European Union: the copyright bill.
A vote on the bill will take place in the European Parliament on 12 September in Strasbourg. The directive aims to ensure that producers of creative content are remunerated fairly online. A number of artists, including Sir Paul McCartney, have supported the bill.
“The royalties do not come through in the way that they used to,” Eleanor told EURACTIV. “I am delighted for platforms like YouTube to use my music, but I think they should be paying a fair amount for the use of my work.
“We singer-songwriters have seen our earnings decimated over the last number of years.”
However, the plans have not been without their opposition, with a number of stakeholders citing the danger of censorship.
Articles 11 and 13 present the most contentious points for warring factions within the European Parliament to agree on.
Article 11, referred to by supporters as ‘neighbouring rights’ and opponents as the ‘link tax’, obliges internet platforms that post snippets of information to contract a license for the original publisher of the material.
Article 13, otherwise known as the ‘upload filter’ or ‘censorship machine’ clause, would call upon platforms to monitor user behaviour as a means to stop copyright infringement.
Speaking to EURACTIV, Raegan MacDonald, the head of EU public policy at internet giant Mozilla, highlighted concerns that Article 13 would have a negative impact on smaller players in the World Wide Web’s subterranea, effectively contributing to a censorship of information and making it harder for EU tech firms to pursue innovation.
“We’re concerned about the impact of this on the internet ecosystem,” MacDonald said. “We don’t want laws passed that would hamper open-source software.”
Indeed, should Article 13 be passed, the costs of implementing the so-called “censorship machines” could be huge.
YouTube’s very own copyright infringement machinery, Content ID, cost $60 million and has faced a barrage of criticism in the hordes of material it has blocked, such as videos that incorporate parodic or satirical elements.
If we allow automatic enforcement of #copyright, say goodbye not just to memes, but also to the public domain. These algorithms are built on the assumption that all culture is privatized and eventually this will be true. Code is law. https://t.co/oIB8OgnbXg #SaveYourInternet
— Julia Reda (@Senficon) August 30, 2018
However, amid discussions with stakeholders this week, Axel Voss, the rapporteur responsible for the file, suggested that micro-enterprises and SMEs could be excluded from the restrictions.
Nevertheless, in Thursday’s (6 September) edition of Le Monde, the French music producer Pascal Nègre directly confronted the issues that could arise as a result of Article 13, saying that the proposals could have a “negative impact on creativity because they would lead to a form of automatic and systematic censorship.”
“I fully support rights holders and creators who defend copyright protection and fair remuneration,” he added.
“It is essential that platforms behave responsibly and maintain their agreements with labels, publishers and collecting societies. This is undeniable. But Article 13 of the European Copyright Directive does not go the right way.”
However, the claim that Article 13 will result in a censorship of online content is anathema to many others in the creative industries.
“For artists, censorship is the antithesis of what we believe in. We have never supported censorship, and we never will do,” McEvoy said.
Moreover, the European Composer and Songwriter Alliance issued a statement on Wednesday that read: “Authors are at the very origin of the copyright value chain, and freedom of expression is the cornerstone of creativity: we could not support a legislation that would limit it in any way.”
Amendments to Article 13 were tabled by at least four different parties, EPP, ALDE, GREENS, and GUE this week.
The most vociferous opponent has been the Green’s German MEP Julia Reda.
Referring to the restrictions that Article 13 would put in place, her amendment reads:
“The implementation of such agreements shall respect the fundamental rights of users and shall not impose a general obligation on information society service providers to monitor the information which they transmit or store.”
Such a revision, if approved, would devolve a significant degree of responsibility from platforms in the monitoring of content on their sites.
Will European content lose out?
So how much exactly will European content suffer if Reda doesn’t get her way? Will the ramifications of Article 11 prove too costly for tech giants to promote European content?
Kwame ‘KZ’ Kwei-Armah Jr is a producer and writer from London and has worked with the likes of Wretch 32 and Emily Sandé. He has been involved with the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA) in support of the copyright reforms.
“Europe has dominated the market in terms of creating innovative musical trends,” he told EURACTIV.
“From performers to producers to writers, Europe has historically led the way. The American market seems to regurgitate the music that we create. They will never pull away from the content we produce.”
Such a sentiment has been echoed by Voss himself, who claimed that big tech companies would never consider turning their backs on EU content.
Facebook and Google have for many years enjoyed the benefits of distributing European material across their platforms and an association of around 20 news agencies accused them on Tuesday of “plundering their news for free”.
And last week, AFP correspondent Sammy Ketz declared that “the freedom of the press is at stake,” in an open letter signed by journalists from over 20 EU countries calling on MEPs to back the bill.
However, the failure of similar copyright programs in Germany and Spain has been well publicised and the volume of discontent amongst some MEPs sent the copyright proposal back to the drawing board after its first reading in July.