MEPs gear up to vote on Europe's copyright 'black spot' report
Political infighting ahead of NON-BINDING report augurs ill for legislative proposals
On Thursday, MEPs will make their opinions on copyright in Europe known – by voting on Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda’s review of the information society directive, aka the foundations of Europe's copyright rules in the internet age.
You'll be forgiven for thinking that this vote will directly change the EU's rules on copyright. It won't. Reda’s report is a so-called “implementation report,” and MEPs are being asked if they agree with its assessment of today's laws.
Whichever way the vote goes, it will send a clear signal to gaffe-prone digi-commissioner Gunther H. Oettinger, who is drawing up changes to copyright; these proposals are due out before the end of the year.
The MEPs, by voting, will reveal what the parliament will and will not accept: they are being asked to take a position – and that's all they can do, really, take a position – on big issues from the Freedom of Panorama to the so-called Google Tax. Ultimately, the commission writes the laws.
Although a consensus between Europe's political groups was reached on Reda's report at the committee level, last-minute changes to the text are still being proposed ahead of the plenary vote of the whole parliament this week.
German EPP member Angelika Niebler collected enough signatures to push her amendment to the text to the vote. Her tweaks ask the European Commission “to evaluate and come forward with a proposal on how quality journalism can be preserved, even in the digital age, in order to guarantee media pluralism, in particular taking into account the important role journalists, authors and media providers such as press publishers play.”
“This is clearly an attempt to reintroduce a call for a European ancillary copyright law through the back door,” says Julia Reda. “The ancillary copyright is an attack on one of the foundations of online communication: the freedom to link from one resource to another.”
Ancillary copyright allows publishers to extract payment, if they so wish, from Google and other news aggregators that publish snippets of articles in web search results. Reda calls this a Google Tax, suggesting payment is mandatory, but a publisher can choose to license portions of their work liberally for free.
In Germany, publishers successfully lobbied for a law enabling ancillary copyright; Google carried just their article headlines to avoid having to pay any fees; and the publishers – detecting a drop in traffic – relented, allowing the web giant to use snippets of their work for free. In Spain, the result was more brutal: the Google News service simply upped and left the country.
Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake has also put forward an amendment on the “Freedom of Panorama,” provoking a war of words with fellow ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats) member Jean-Marie Cavada.
French MEP Cavada got approval in the Legal Affairs Committee to limit the Freedom of Panorama. “The commercial use of photographs, video footage or other images of works which are permanently located in physical public places should always be subject to prior authorisation from the authors or any proxy acting for them," reads his text.
However many European countries, including the UK, allow photographers and filmmakers to use public spaces, monuments, buildings, etc, without having to apply for a special license. Schaake’s text reflects this, but Cavada has accused her of upsetting “political equilibrium”.
Finally, Labour MEP Mary Honeyball has proposed an oral amendment to paragraph 25 calling for “an unwaivable right to remuneration subject to collective management” for performers for downloads and streaming services.
Whichever way the parliament votes, or indeed what it decides to leave out of the report (paragraphs may still be deleted in entirety), none of the text will become law in the near future, if at all. What it may do, however, is give Oettinger ideas for how to frame his legislation in order to give it an easy ride through the European Parliament over the coming months. ®