The very essence of a free press is now a cherished freedom under threat, whether from the rampant theft of publishers’ content for the commercial gain of others, attacks on journalists, to state-sponsored misinformation campaigns designed to undermine democracy.
A newspaper’s popularity is no longer dependent on whether they do better than the next news media website in gaining reader attention and advertising spend. The decisions about who gets to see what are now determined - and continually changed without any transparency or redress - by a few global players.
Four European parliamentary committees (LIBE, ITRE, IMCO, JURI) have now voted in favour of a neighbouring right for press publishers which is part of a package of measures in the draft EU copyright reform directive that has been going through the EU’s legislative process since 2016.
Four committees of MEPs have scrutinised the proposal and agreed that it is necessary for the future of the press, for professional journalism, for press freedom and for a modern, thriving internet that will benefit every user, including consumers.
Four committees of MEPs have confirmed that individuals will not be prevented from sharing links and journalists will be entitled to a fair share of any revenue generated by a publisher's right.
The proposal for a publisher’s neighbouring right has been one of the most contentiously fought issues in Brussels with radical anti-copyright campaigners and vested interests who benefit from free-riding on publishers’ valuable content running outrageous campaigns, misleading politicians and consumers alike with claims that individuals who share links will be criminalised, memes will be outlawed and, somehow, the internet will break.
They have used scaremongering tactics entitled “savethelink” and “savetheinternet” designed to frighten consumers, and indeed politicians, into blocking the copyright reform.
The campaigners have bombarded MEPs with more than 35,000 emails and used automated telephone messaging; they have collected thousands of signatures on petitions that make false claims that any of us would sign, were they true.
The proposed publisher’s neighbouring right in article 11 gives press publishers legal standing over their published product (as opposed to individual articles).
"The very essence of a free press is now a cherished freedom under threat"
They need this because, in the digital world, companies routinely scrape, copy and monetise thousands of articles at a time, making any legal challenge totally unrealistic.
The publisher’s right will promote negotiation as opposed to litigation. It will encourage companies to the table to negotiate licences.
It does not oblige publishers to seek licences or remuneration but, importantly, it gives publishers the important option of being able to decide if and how their valuable content is used and on what terms.
It gives publishers the legal standing already enjoyed by music, film and broadcasters which the press needs to assert its copyright online and it will benefit publishers large and small, local, regional or national.
The European Commission proposed the reform to create “modern EU copyright rules for European culture to flourish and circulate”, and to make copyright fit for the digital age.
"The Publisher’s Right will promote negotiation as opposed to litigation. It will encourage companies to the table to negotiate licences"
Why is a Right that makes it harder for companies to steal and monetise publishers’ valuable content so contentious?
Publishers no longer have the final say about significant aspects of their own business, and, increasingly, no control over how their content is presented and prioritised by algorithms designed not to provide facts and diversity of opinion, but to maximise revenues for the platforms.
Publishing companies are commercial entities, but their raison d’être is to seek the facts, to hold our leaders to account, to investigate and to inform as well as to entertain.
They fund, train, equip and legally protect their journalists so that they can ask the difficult questions and sort the truth from the noise or propaganda.
In this era of “fake news”, it is worth remembering that journalists and editors are the ultimate fact-finders and fact-checkers.
"In this era of “fake news”, it is worth remembering that journalists and editors are the ultimate fact-finders and fact-checkers"
The publishers bear the financial risk and legal liability, pay the journalists and photographers, and, most importantly, go on the record and defend what they publish in court if necessary.
If, as we expect, the plenary is asked to vote this week on the EU copyright reform, we ask MEPs to consider what is at stake if publishers cannot adequately fund and protect professional journalism; if Europe’s cultural diversity is impacted by the decrease in press titles; if consumers cannot find fact-checked, professional content on the internet.
We ask MEPs to vote for this EU copyright reform - a vote for a fair and equitable digital ecosystem which works for the content-providers, creators, the distributors and the consumers.
Voting against this reform would play right into the hands of the internet giants and endorse their abuse of publishers’ intellectual property rights.