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Music industry welcomes copyright directive vote in the European Parliament

By | Published on Thursday 21 June 2018

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The music industry has unsurprisingly welcomed the passing yesterday by the JURI Committee of the European Parliament of article thirteen of the draft European Copyright Directive, which would reform the copyright safe harbour and increase the liabilities of user-upload platforms like YouTube.

A mountain of amendments have been proposed to the original draft of the copyright reforming directive since it was published in September 2016. Article thirteen has proven to be among the most controversial of all the elements of the directive, and in the run up to a series of key votes in Brussels the tech lobby has been campaigning hard against it.

The JURI committee voted on the latest draft of the directive yesterday as compiled by Axel Voss, the German MEP who has been leading on the copyright reforms in Parliament. Along the way they approved the version of article thirteen supported by the music and wider copyright industries.

There are still more votes – and more negotiating and amending – to be done before the directive is passed, but the music industry’s lobbyists, who have been pushing for safe harbour reform for years now, saw yesterday’s approval by the European Parliament’s key JURI Committee as being an important step forward.

The music industry, of course, has long argued that certain user-upload platforms – and especially YouTube – have been exploiting a safe harbour that was intended for internet service providers and server hosting companies, not platforms that take content uploaded by users and repurpose it into what is basically a TV network and on-demand music service.

The safe harbour means protected platforms can’t be held financially liable for copyright infringing content uploaded to their services by users, providing they have a system in place via which rights owners can have that content removed.

By claiming safe harbour protection, the music industry argues, companies like YouTube have been able to force record labels, music publishers and collecting societies into accepting licensing deals where they receive much lower royalties. Deals, which – the industry adds – unfairly skews the digital music market by creating a ‘value gap’.

Critics argue that article thirteen will have unintended consequences hindering innovation, free speech and the social networking experience, and ultimately “ruining the internet”. But, while welcoming yesterday’s vote, GESAC – which represents song right collecting societies in Europe – insisted that “the text provides legal safeguards and guarantees for the consumers to continue to post, access and share the content they enjoy on those platforms”.

The organisation’s President Anders Lassen added: “More than 31,000 creators have signed a petition calling the EU to fix this transfer of value. Freedom of expression is part of the creators’ DNA and the report ensures that both the freedom of expression and the independence of creators are safeguarded”.

Given the controversial nature of some elements of the copyright directive – including article thirteen – MEPs will demand that the full European Parliament vote on the draft approved by JURI yesterday, before it passes on to the next stage in the process, when the Parliament has to compare notes with the European Commission and EU Council in order to agree a final, final, final, final version of the proposals.

With that in mind Gadi Oron – the boss of CISAC, the global grouping of song right collecting societies – yesterday urged MEPs at large to support the current draft of the directive. He said: “We welcome the vote today at the European Parliament’s’ JURI Committee on the Copyright Directive, which helps bring more fairness to the creative community in the digital market”.

In a rally call to MEPs beyond the JURI Committee, he mused on: “This is an important step forward not just for creators in Europe but all around the world. We encourage the European Parliament to endorse JURI’s proposal at the plenary vote and set an example to governments internationally by building a fairer internet for creators”.

Speaking for the indie label community, IMPALA likewise welcomed yesterday’s vote. Its boss Helen Smith said: “This is a strong and unambiguous message sent by the European Parliament. It clarifies what the music sector has been saying for years: if you are in the business of distributing music or other creative works, you need a licence, clear and simple. It’s time for the digital market to catch up with progress”.

Noting the recent flurry of campaigning from the tech lobby about article thirteen “ruining the internet”, she went on: “Today’s vote is a great rebuttal to the relentless scare-mongering and misleading statements made by ‘astro-turf’ organisations working for some tech giants trying to preserve the status quo. Parliamentarians were able to keep a cool head”.

Of course, as noted, the directive is not a done deal yet, with more votes and wrangling to come. Then, of course, the directive will need to be implemented at a national level by EU member states, and the precise impact of the new rules – and the exact nature of the new liabilities created for platforms – may well have to be tested in court. And who knows where the digital music market will be by then. But still, the value gap campaign marches on.