Business News Labels & Publishers Legal

Music industry campaigners hope lacklustre protests and talk of butterflies will help get safe harbour reform through

By | Published on Wednesday 29 August 2018


As the music business prepares for the next big push to secure safe harbour reform in Europe, the industry’s lobbyists are hoping that MEPs have seen the photographs of last weekend’s protests against said reforms, which are somewhat light on protestors.

The music industry has been campaigning hard to reform the safe harbour that says internet companies cannot be held liable for their users’ copyright infringement. Music companies argue that user-upload platforms like YouTube have exploited the safe harbour – originally intended for internet service providers and server hosting firms – in order to launch on-demand content platforms without paying market rate royalties to content owners.

Article thirteen of the new European Copyright Directive seeks to increase the liabilities of platforms like YouTube. But that proposal has proven to be among the most controversial of all the reforms in the new EU copyright legislation.

When the latest draft of the directive went before the European Parliament last month, prolific campaigning by the tech lobby and copyright critics, against article thirteen in particular, resulted in the proposals being voted down. The whole matter will now go back to Parliament on 12 Sep.

Since the big vote, some of the tactics employed by some of those opposed to article thirteen have been criticised by the music community. Particular focus has fallen on their use of tools provided by an organisation called OpenMedia, which counts YouTube owner Google as a platinum supporter.

In one report, The Times noted that “Google is helping to fund a website that encourages people to spam politicians and newspapers with automated messages backing its policy goals”. The allegation is that tools like OpenMedia – in part employed by people outside the European Union – helped make opposition to article thirteen seem much more widespread than it really is.

One of article thirteen’s biggest critics within the Parliament itself, The Pirate Party’s Julia Reda, has, perhaps unsurprisingly, hit back at those claims. She wrote in a recent blog post that article thirteen supporters “have come up with a convenient narrative to downplay the massive public opposition they faced. They’re claiming the protest was all fake, generated by bots and orchestrated by big internet companies”.

To that end, she added, on-the-street protests would be staged on 26 Aug to show that anger about the proposed copyright reform was real. Though the turnout for those protests, staged in various European cities, was somewhat lacklustre. Writing on social media, record industry trade group IFPI reckoned “fifteen showed in Stockholm, Paris, Munich, Vienna and Helsinki. 30 in Warsaw. 80 in Berlin. No shows in other cities”. And while IFPI is obviously biased, photo evidence was posted to show the small turnouts.

Of course, just because people aren’t willing to show up in person and shout about a petition they signed up to online doesn’t mean they aren’t concerned about the issues raised by that petition. And it’s no secret that there are plenty of opponents to safe harbour reform. However, the music industry’s lobbyists will be hoping that the lacklustre protests will convince MEPs that opposition to article thirteen isn’t quite as widespread as the flood of phone calls and emails they received before last month’s vote suggested.

Elsewhere, the UK music industry has launched a new campaign trying to rally its supporters ahead of the next copyright debate in the European Parliament next month. There’s a website and a video and everything. Some nonsense about butterflies and bulldozers. I think you guys are meant to the butterflies. Even though it’d be much more fun to be a bulldozer.

Basically, campaigners want artists and music fans to flutter on over to the clumsily named MakeInternetFair website run by pan-European collecting society group GESAC and sign a petition. Meanwhile tech giants and their bloody bots can presumably just bulldoze off.