EU copyright law urgently needs reforming

The ever-changing technological landscape means Europe urgently needs updated, harmonised copyright rules, writes Axel Voss.

Axel Voss | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Axel Voss

Axel Voss (DE, EPP) is a member of Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee

12 Sep 2017

A reform of EU copyright law has been a long time coming and there are several areas in which new regulations are urgently needed. This is why I welcome the Commission's proposal. Now that Therese Comodini Cachia has been elected to the national Parliament in Malta, I am rapporteur and I am hoping for a lively debate to find a balanced solution.

It is important to find a European solution. In the digital world, the possible uses of copyrighted works have become more and more varied.

However, the current legal situation is no longer appropriate. Leaving the issue to the member states is not helpful. We need uniform European regulations in order to effectively protect and make commercial use of our works, both within and outside the EU.


However, the legal situation is becoming more complex thanks to new technological developments.

More extensive questions arise, such as who can actually profit from a volume of collected data if the data comes from copyrighted works. The economy has already developed entire business models based exclusively on the marketing of data obtained as a result of text and data mining. It is therefore high time that legislators introduce reforms.

I believe that publishing rights require urgent reform - so-called ancillary copyright law. This is probably one of the most controversial topics and my view is quite clear: We need a European ancillary copyright. 

The behaviour of publishers, search engines and end users has changed in the digital age. We need our own publishing rights in order to recognise the economic value of press articles and protect them from exploitation. The fact that publishers provide the structure for publications makes them legally and economically responsible. As a result they should also have their own rights.

An assigned right, as stipulated by Ms Comodini in her report, is, in my opinion, no longer relevant and, above all, insufficient. Not all, and in particular not all secondary entitlements, are assigned to publishers in the same way. Furthermore, the assigned copyright does not include smaller extracts (snippets). This makes it extremely difficult for publishers to enforce rights.

After all, when issuing press products, a large number of rights need to be verified along with their assignment, which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to clarify entitlements. The economic damage in this instance lies with the publishers. Publishing rights provide effective legal protection to protect press content against unauthorised reproduction and unauthorised public access in the digital world.

Publishing rights should also encourage quality journalism, not least in terms of increasingly frequent fake news. The internet age means that it is more and more difficult for individuals to distinguish between lies and truth. 

We want and should at least try to strengthen quality journalism by providing a secure structure and sustainably financing press content. 

Obviously fake news cannot be eliminated, but at least individuals have the opportunity to follow quality journalism. Therefore, it is important that press publishers are financially independent and have clear rights that they can enforce.

Besides ancillary copyright law, the compromise proposal also deals with the responsibility of online platforms.

These also need to be urgently redefined. Platforms that grant access to copyright works that have been uploaded by users and/or store such content, must assume more copyright responsibility for this content and enter into licensing agreements with authors. I also believe that platforms should check content for copyright infringements.

The exclusion of liability for platforms from the eCommerce directive should not apply if platforms make data available to the public.

The discussion has been created to find a balance between authors who no longer earn money for publishing their works and the platforms that build their business by publishing works on their portals - the so-called value gap. This also concerns European culture. Content and works created in Europe must be protected and we need to prevent profit from being made exclusively outside Europe.

Overall, the proposal is a great opportunity, not only to adapt the legal situation, but also to generate economic success for European works, i.e. profits, within the EU. In this connection, we need to strive for a good balance between all players. Ultimately, we are protecting cultural diversity in the EU and thus our European identity, thereby helping to make sure that it is still worthwhile to be creative. 


Read the most recent articles written by Axel Voss - Steering Europe towards an ethical, innovative AI future