Better copyright through Brussels

THE EU DIRECTIVE on copyright in the Digital Single Market was passed by the EU Parliament unamended, by 348 votes to 274, on 25 March 2019 and was formally signed off by the Council, representing the member states, on 15 April 2019. There is hope that it can redress some of the financial wrongs that journalists have suffered in the digital age.

The Directive (pre-proofreading)

The Directive (pre-proofreading)

Most contentiously, it offers a stick and a carrot to the big online service providers to seek licences for works uploaded. The Freelance presumes that these will be collective licences, much as supermarkets licence music. If the likes of Google do not have a licence, they will be liable for unauthorised uses.

We hope to see a benefit from this for photo-journalists who authorise a collecting society to pick up cash for them. Contrary to the eructations of anti-copyright campaigners, free expression remains thoroughly unthreatened and the internet remains equally unbroken.

  • The provision for licensing uploaded works is Article 17 of the Directive as passed.

Next most controversially is a so-called "neighbouring right" for newspaper publishers, intended to allow them to get income from companies that use headlines and snippets of newspaper content online. Work by the European and International Federations of Journalists ensured that the Directive includes Article 15(5): "Member States shall provide that authors of works incorporated in a press publication receive an appropriate share of the revenues that press publishers receive for the use of their press publications by information society service providers."

  • The provision for newspapers to license extracts is Article 15 of the Directive as passed.

Somewhat under the radar during the debate, a trio of measures are intended to improve the bargaining position of authors and performers and will probably be the most constructive for journalists, in particular freelance writers and photographers.

New rules will mandate transparency of reporting of uses made of our work. There will be provision to "adjust" contracts in the case of windfall income to the exploiter of the work - and perhaps more generally. And there will be voluntary alternative dispute resolution procedures throughout the European Union - though we suspect the copyright small claims court will continue to be preferred in the UK.

These measures are a direct response to EFJ and IFJ discussions with the European Commission, the EU civil service, over many years.

  • The provisions concerning contracts are Articles 18 to 20 of the Directive as passed.

Over the next two years the IFJ and EFJ will advise member unions on what is perhaps the harder task: ensuring that the "transposition" of the Directive into national laws fulfils the promise set out by the EU. It is almost certain that these will be reflected in some way in the UK.

  • We updated this on 12 August 2020 to link directly the relevant Articles of the Directive.