Copyright crunch point - please write to your MEPs now

THE EUROPEAN Federation of Journalists is asking all journalists to write to the Members of the European Parliament in support of a piece of legislation on copyright.

Whatever happens with Brexit, the outcome will have important effects in the UK.

In the run-up to this 12 September vote, MEPs have been bombarded by automated phone calls and software-generated emails demanding that they instead weaken your copyright (see the report below). These messages purport to come from "grass roots" campaigns - but there is increasing evidence that they are facilitated by those internet corporations that make a fortune by reproducing your work and selling ads on the strength of it.

So the EFJ proposed that it would be a very good idea to write a letter, print it out and put it in the post in good time. We may not have the funding of the anti-copyright forces: but we do have the authenticity of our well-informed and factual concerns.

06 Sep 2018

IT'S GETTING a bit late to put letters in the post. Do please email your MEPs (email addresses available from the link below).

This morning they received a slew of amendments. We're digesting them. The short message is: the compromise amendments proposed by rapporteur Voss are tolerable. Those proposed by the sole Pirate Party MEP, Julia Reda - and to a slightly lesser extent those proposed by the ALDI Group (the LibDems in the UK) are wrecking amendments and need to be opposed.

Below is a draft of the letter I shall be sending. Use it for inspiration as much as you like - but write your own letter, telling your MEPs of your own experience.

It would be safest to post it to your MEPs at both the Brussels and Strasbourg seats of the European Parliament: addresses below. You can find their names and office numbers at www.europarl.europa.eu/meps/‌en/search.html?country=GB. You could consider sending a copy to your UK MP for their information as well. And please send a PDF of your letter to eu@londonfreelance.org - or, indeed, post it to Headland House. I look forward to seeing it.


Dear {MEP},

I am writing to you as a journalist - and thus as someone whose existence as an independent professional capable of ethical reporting in the public interest depends on being able to make a living from that work.

I know you have received a barrage of electronic messages about the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. I am writing to correct misinformation in those messages.

I ask you to vote on 12 September to accept the report of the Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee on the Directive.

Copyright and authors' rights have nothing to do with censorship. They are the time-tested way to ensure that our societies can benefit from the work of dedicated, professional authors who are independent because they can make a living from their work. If a shopkeeper objects to you taking carrots without permission, that is not "carrot censorship" nor even "rationing": it is the basis of our economy.

If I had to rely instead on sponsorship or patronage to pay my bills, my independence would be crippled. I believe my independence as a journalist and as an author is an essential - if in my case small - ingredient of the functioning of a democratic society.

We are already seeing the results of the weakening of journalism, in successful efforts to sway citizens' votes on the basis of appeals to prejudice, rather than to the facts that all independent ethical journalists strive to report. The campaign against the Directive, which serves the interests of dominant internet corporations, is an example of this.

None of the fears raised in the "astroturf" campaign against are justified. Specifically, I note:

  • That Article 11 is a necessary measure to prevent free-riding by internet corporations on newspapers and the journalists who produce words and images for them. I note that the European Federation of Journalists has agreed [1] with European newspaper publishers' organisations proposed wording for Recital 35 that, in conjunction with this Article, will ensure that the benefits deriving from the future publishers' neighbouring right are shared fairly between journalists and publishers. Contrary to the anti-copyright campaign, hyperlinking is clearly protected and the Legal Committee's text poses no threat to individuals, only to the financial interests of commercial "information society service providers".
  • That the European Data Protection Supervisor found [2] that the monitoring requirements in Article 13 are proportionate - contrary to what you may be told by lobbyists who oppose regulation of any kind. Licensing through collecting societies will provide my colleagues who are news photographers with some compensation for the rampant unauthorised use and consequent devaluation of their work; and such licensing, rather than filtering, is the logical outcome of this Article.
  • That the "transparency triangle" proposals in Articles 14, 15 and 16 provide a basis for me - and other authors and performers - to receive the fair payment that I need in order to continue to work as a dedicated professional who can make a contribution to democracy, through ethical independent news reporting.

Again, you will have received many semi-automated messages offering opinions that contrast starkly with these facts. Those opinions are crafted to give the impression of being the views of "civil society". But at least one of the dominant internet corporations has been found to be facilitating and funding them.

As The Times concludes [3]: "The grassroots opposition to the bill appears to have been orchestrated, in part, by OpenMedia, which describes itself as an organisation working to keep the internet open, affordable, and surveillance-free"; and OpenMedia.org lists Google as a "platinum supporter" [4]. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has published a summary by Volcker Reick: "Anatomy of a Political Hack" [5].

I again urge you to vote for the entire report of the Legal Affairs Committee - in defence of European culture and democracy.

References


Addresses

Parlement européen
Bâtiment Altiero Spinelli, {office number}
60, rue Wiertz / Wiertzstraat 60
B-1047 Brussels
BELGIUM

 

Parlement européen
Bâtiment Louise Weiss {office number}
1, avenue du Président Robert Schuman
CS 91024
F-67070 Strasbourg Cedex
FRANCE

You can find your MEPs' names and office numbers at www.europarl.europa.eu/meps/‌en/search.html?country=GB

House of Commons
LONDON SW1A 0AA

You can find your UK MP's name at www.theyworkforyou.com/mps/

 


4 August 2018

A copyright crunch point

CRUNCH TIME is coming up for the effort to improve authors' rights in the European Union. On 12 September the European Parliament is due to vote on a draft Directive on copyright. Anti-copyright forces mobilised powerfully to delay the progress of the Directive when the Parliament fairly narrowly rejected the recommendations of its Legal Committee on 5 July.

Please check back here at www.londonfreelance.org/fl/1808copy.html for suggestions on trying to persuade your Members of the European Parliament that they should pass the Directive. It will affect your rights as writers and photographers, regardless of what happens about Brexit.

Many of the anti-copyright organisations involved are quietly funded by internet corporations in an effective "astroturfing" operation - called that because Astroturf may look like "grass roots" but is not. As we went to press allegations were emerging about the rôle of OpenMedia.org - which counts Google as a "platinum supporter" - in a Brexit-like political spam operation.

What's the argument about?

First there is Article 11, which would give newspaper publishers a new "neighbouring right" to the copyright in the words and pictures, permitting them to charge internet corporations for licenses to use extracts. European publishers' associations have accepted the argument of the European Federation of Journalists that this can only go forward if journalists are guaranteed a fair share, in law.

Anti-copyright organisations say this is a "link tax". This is false. (Is a greengrocer charging you a "carrot tax"?) They say it would stop you linking to articles from your blog. This is false.

Next, and subject of the most bitter opposition, is article 13, which would require said internet corporations to obtain licences for user uploads - presumably through collecting societies, in a way similar to public performances of music. In the absence of a licence, they would have to screen uploaded files to filter out infringing material.

The astroturfers are claiming this would be censorship. This is false. Returning to our metaphorical greengrocer: is prevention of theft "carrot censorship"?

Best for journalists would be articles 14 to 16, which would give us the right to know what use is made of our work, and to "windfall" payments if it was unexpectedly successful. Intriguingly, no-one is making a great fuss about this at present.

What happens now?

The effect of the July vote is that the entire Directive is up for amendment in the full EU Parliament on 12 September. If a very large number of amendments is put forward, the Directive may be referred back to the Committee - which could lead to it running out of time before the Parliament elections in May. Each amendment must be signed by dozens of MEPs - but the astroturfers managed to get a large number to sign up to force a vote in July.

If it, or most of it, is passed, it's not out of the woods: it then goes to a "conciliation committee" of the Parliament and the Council that is made up of the governments of EU member states.

What can I do?

Organisations representing journalists and other creators will be launching a campaign at the end of August, when MEPs return from holiday. Check back here at www.londonfreelance.org/fl/1808copy.html for suggestions.