FREELANCE trade union activists pulled off an impressive feat of organisation in February, responding within days to a challenge that would have taken weeks to meet through traditional organisation.
On 8 February activists received the list of 197 amendments proposed in the European Parliament's Legal Committee to the EU Directive on Copyright and Neighbouring Rights. The Directive is intended to instruct EU member states to amend their laws to protect authors' rights in the internet era. This was its second trip to the Parliament: a final vote was predicted for the following week.
Naturally, it's been the subject of intensive lobbying, with publishers and broadcasters - including US interests - aiming to strengthen their own position and weaken ours. They have an uphill struggle, because it seems that the European Commission is committed to "harmonising" the law upward toward the higher level of authors' rights enjoyed by our colleagues in joined-up Europe.
The steamroller will of massive corporations must not be allowed to crush the slender sustenance we have.
A significant proportion of these last-minute amendments - including most signed by UK or Irish MEPs - were clearly sponsored by broadcasting companies. One, apparently from the European Broadcasting Union, drew some UK activists' special attention. It would have included in the preamble to the Directive an assertion that "Member States must in general ensure for all parties that copyright law is not used to obstruct the fulfilment of non-commercial broadcasting organisations' tasks which serve the interests of the public." This could have given Parliament and the Dáil an excuse to re-frame the law so that, for example, the BBC and RTE would be exempted from paying for re-use of "archive" material in new media.
Edinburgh-based Freelance Industrial Council (FIC) chair Tim Dawson was able to find email addresses for Scottish MEPs online and fire off a letter within within minutes. London Freelance Branch Chair Phil Sutcliffe followed suit with London MEPs on 13 February, saying: "We believe that these rights must not be stripped from us by sneaky law-making; instead mutually acceptable arrangements can be negotiated between the companies and creators in part by collective bargaining, in part by individually negotiated contracts... I implore you to vote no to this amendment." Rather than struggle to convene special meetings, Tim and Phil both wrote personally, stating the posts they are elected to by NUJ members and in line with settled union policy.
Richard Balfe replied immediately that Labour agreed. We're sending LibDem Sarah Ludford's response to cryptographers to decode it.
The vote took place on Wednesday 15 February and the amendment was heavily defeated. Welcoming the passage of the Directive, EU Internal Market Commissioner Frits Bolkestein noted "The Parliament has been subjected to unprecedented lobbying onslaught on this Directive, and I regret that some of the parties concerned strived to obtain nothing less than total victory... That is not the European way." And to whom might that be a rebuke?