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Tom Watson urges Labour MEPs to back safe harbour reform

By | Published on Tuesday 11 July 2017


What’s that, you want more safe harbour news? You can’t get enough of the safe harbours? You’d prefer it if we only reported on safe harbours and stopped putting the whole Fyre Festival debacle in the Top Story slot. Well, Fyre Festival took place on the island of Great Exuma which, I am pretty sure, has a few safe harbours. Ha, got you on a technicality.

Anyway, the draft EU copyright directive still has some way to go before it becomes European law, meaning you can expect plenty more safe harbour waffling and value gap shrieking from the music industry and its friends in Westminster and Brussels for some time yet. Members of the European Parliament are focusing on this particular bit of legislation right now, hence the recent rise in safe harbour shouting.

You know the score by now. The music industry reckons that big bad YouTube is exploiting a loophole in copyright law, caused by these so called safe harbours, in order to force record companies, music publishers and collecting societies into deals that mean the Google video site pays way less to music rights owners that the good guys like Apple Music and Spotify. This creates, says the music business, the ‘gap of value’. Which lazy people like you insist on calling the value gap.

With copyright law up for review in Europe, the music industry wants safe harbour rules rewritten so that platforms like YouTube are no longer protected. The tech sector would like safe harbour rules rewritten so that platforms like YouTube are double protected. And so much wrangling is ongoing with how to word the section of the aforementioned copyright directive that talks about safe harbour.

There are European political types supporting both sides in this debate, but Tom Watson over at that there Labour Party is urging his side’s MEPs to back the music industry on this one. And – in his role as shadow culture minister in the UK opposition – he has written to them all to say so.

Echoing much of what was in that letter Michael Dugher – a former shadow culture minister and now UK Music chief – sent to actual culture minister Matt Hancock last week, Watson writes that: “User-upload streaming services such as YouTube pay only a fraction of the royalties of other music services despite being the most popular source of music consumption by far. This significantly reduces the amount of money composers and performers receive for their creative endeavours from user-upload streaming platforms when compared with other services such as Spotify and Apple Music”.

Noting the various committees in the European Parliament who are currently inputting on the copyright directive, Watson goes on: “I urge you to support amendments that improve the UK and European music industry’s ability to tackle the ‘value gap’. This important issue within the music industry is also part of a wider policy concern that big tech companies and social media platforms are not behaving in a responsible way towards creators and rights holders, and are abusing their market dominance”

Linking all this to another Google controversy in Europe, Watson adds: “We have seen just weeks ago in Google’s refusal to accept any responsibility following their unprecedented anti-trust fine that they are not recognising their broader responsibilities to the industry and refuse to recognise their monopolistic tendencies. It is up to all of us, as parliamentarians, to try and make them realise their responsibilities and act on them”.

Concluding, he says: “This is a unique opportunity to get the law right. It will ensure the music industry can continue to flourish, breaking new acts and bringing joy to millions of fans. It will also ensure the digital market can develop in a legitimate way”.

Yeah, good luck with that.