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Pirate Party MEP hits out at efforts to tighten up safe harbour article of European Copyright Directive

By | Published on Friday 2 June 2017


A member of The Pirate Party in the European Parliament has, perhaps unsurprisingly, hit out at efforts to beef up the safe harbour restricting provision of the draft European Copyright Directive, which is currently being bounced around Brussels.

As much previously reported, article thirteen of the directive that seeks to reform European copyright law for the digital age aims to limit the copyright safe harbour which says that internet companies cannot be held liable when their customers use their networks or servers to infringe copyright. In particular, the article sets out to limit the protection enjoyed by large-scale user-upload platforms like YouTube.

This, of course, is in response to loud complaints for the copyright industries, and especially the music business, that companies like YouTube are exploiting the safe harbour in order to force record companies and music publishers into much less favourable licensing deals. The result of which is that, while YouTube is the biggest streaming music platform in terms of users and streams, it pays much less into the music industry than the likes of Spotify and Apple Music. That fact has been dubbed, of course, the ‘value gap’.

As article thirteen is currently written, arguably YouTube could claim to already be compliant, though some of the other larger platforms that allow users to upload content might be forced to introduce copyright measures similar to the Google video site, such as its Content ID system and the licensing deals it has negotiated with rights owners.

Either way, both sides in the debate are hoping to revise article thirteen to their advantage. From the music industry’s side, that means tightening up the wording so that the restrictions more clearly apply to a wider range of platforms, and in particular platforms like YouTube, given it’s at the heart of the value gap debate.

It’s those efforts that German MEP Julia Reda of The Pirate Party has criticised. And she’s accused some MEPs sympathetic to the music industry, and in particular Pascal Arimont from the European People’s Party, of “resorting to dirty tactics” to defend and extend the measures set out in article thirteen.

In a blog post earlier this week, Reda wrote: “On June 8, the [European Parliament’s] Internal Market And Consumer Protection Committee will decide its standpoint [on the Copyright Directive]. This is a crucial step in the copyright reform process, because the IMCO committee is jointly responsible for the Parliament position on one of the most controversial parts of the reform: the introduction of mandatory censorship filters on online services such as social media”.

She goes on: “Today it was revealed that MEP Pascal Arimont from the European People’s Party is trying to sabotage the Parliamentary process, going behind the negotiators of the political groups and pushing a text that would make the Commission’s original bad proposal look tame in comparison. This is a tactic he recently already successfully applied to prevent the committee from adopting a progressive position on overcoming geoblocking. If he succeeds again, the result would once more do the opposite of what the Committee is tasked to do: protecting European consumers”.

Many in the music community though – whether they are indies or majors, corporates or individual creators – will likely welcome Arimont’s intervention, which seeks to ensure that the new obligations set out in article thirteen remain in the final version of the copyright directive, while clarifying what kinds of services will be affected by the new rules, both in terms of their size and what they do with any content users upload.

Arimont is seeking to remove get-outs for the kinds of platforms that the music industry reckons should be subject to the new obligations, but in Reda’s mind this constitutes an expansion of European copyright “on behalf of big business with no regard to fundamental rights, contemporary internet culture or start-ups – and in a way that is likely to dangerously backfire”.

The debates in Brussels continue. And the debate will continue at MIDEM in Cannes next week too, with a CMU-led discussion on all things value gap and safe harbour.