A new study conducted upon request of the European Parliament finds that the planned extra copyright for news sites is a terrible idea. But MEPs may not learn about it until after they have voted on the controversial proposal.

The study concludes:

“There are real concerns surrounding the rather uncertain effects of the right. […] We [advise] that the press publishers’ right be abandoned

It recommends to instead make it easier for publishers to enforce the copyright of articles they publish – exactly what conservative MEP Therese Comodini proposed, before she was replaced as the person responsible for the Parliament’s position on this law. Her successor, German MEP Axel Voss, promptly threw out that idea and went back to supporting the European Commission’s plan, which this study once again exposes as deeply flawed.

Read the study: Strengthening the Position of Press Publishers and Authors and Performers in the Copyright Directive

Journalists afraid to speak out

The study’s authors requested interviews from the largest newspapers and the responsible collecting societies in Germany and Spain, where there is first-hand experience with similar laws.

Several newspapers declined to comment – and one of the reasons given is worrying: “Some cited differences of view between the online editions […] and their mother publications as a reason for their reluctance to go on record”.

A year ago Commissioner Oettinger, who proposed this law, explicitly called on publishers to bring the journalists of their online editions in line in support of the proposal and stop any critical reporting on it.

This refusal to give their expert assessments could be evidence of intense internal pressure within certain publishing houses to avoid engaging critically with this issue.

This also indicates that if all online editors had felt at liberty to speak, the results of the study could have ended up even more damning than they already did:

What the experts say

1. None of the editors or publishers interviewed think an extra copyright for news sites is a good idea

  • The major Spanish publisher considered that this right “might not be necessary”, that the version introduced in Spain “has not changed the situation for journalists” and that “Spanish media realized that the law was a mistake.
  • Another Spanish publisher emphasized that “Press publishers do not need additional intellectual property rights”.
  • The most friendly assessment of the proposed right by a German editor-in-chief of a major newspaper was that “possibly, publishers might need more rights to act as creators, but the proposed EU ancillary right seems to surpass this by a large degree.”
  • One of the German major publishers even considers that the new right has negative consequences for publishers, because their paper also relies on using snippets from other media and might have to end up paying a license fee for that as well.
  • The similar right in Germany was counter-productive by strengthening Google’s market position: “In its result, the new ancillary right is more a monopoly-maintaining-device for Google, while small competitors are disadvantaged. That is contrary to what was intended”, said the editor-in-chief of one of the major German newspapers.

2. All journalists interviewed categorically reject paying for linking and the snippets that accompany links

  • “Paying for links is as absurd as paying for citations in the academic world would be. […] In online journalism, citations […] bring benefits for the cited organization or person. Therefore, it is ridiculous to ask for extra money”, said one editor-in-chief
  • “The principle […] is non-sensical. The architecture of the Internet assumes that links indicate what is behind a link. It is inconceivable that requiring a licence can be good idea” said the deputy editor-in-chief of a German newspaper
  • “If one is of the opinion that Google has a monopoly, then this should be tackled via the relevant existing laws. To argue that one must change the architecture of the Internet to tackle this is like saying that we drain the sea to fight pirates. […] Overall, the interest of the society are more important than the interests of the publishers”, said a German editor-in-chief

3. Publishers and aggregators report negative effects on startups

  • Spanish aggregator Meneame has “an annual budget of some €100,000” and was charged €2.4 million per year, which it is obviously impossible to pay
  • One major German publisher gave the litigation of Süddeutsche against the startup Ubermetrics as an example of how the law forces small competitors out of the market

4. Alternative ways forward suggested by the interviewees include investing into in-house innovation projects, studying innovative business models like those of online publishers Politico or Quartz, and decreasing tax rates for the digital press to bring them in line with the printed press.

Conclusions

The review of academic literature on the topic found that there is “nearly universal criticism” of the proposal for a new neighbouring right.

The study finds “little evidence that declining newspaper revenues have anything do with the activities of news aggregators or search engines”, who the new law intends to target. The new right may end up stronger than conventional copyright, raising objections […] relating to freedom of expression.”

Linking will be negatively affected by the proposal: “It seems clear that some hyperlinking will be implicated. The Parliament needs to decide whether it wants to ‘save the link‘ to press publications.”

Even if the new right does lead to extra revenues for publishers, “they will be a drop in the ocean” – at the cost of posing “a threat to the nature of news communication” as well as “to innovation and new entry”.

The study’s authors reach the conclusion that the extra copyright for news sites is incapable of achieving the Commission’s stated goal of promoting media pluralism and is an ill-fitted and disproportionate tool for facilitating the licensing and enforcement of rights by publishers.

Will these result be presented to MEPs?

The authors of the study were invited to present their findings to the Legal Affairs Committee on November 21st – the same date the committee is scheduled to vote on the EU copyright reform plans. If it goes ahead as scheduled, the study would most likely be presented just after the commitee votes on the proposal.

My political group asked the secretariat of the Legal Affairs Commitee to confirm the date of the presentation. In case the vote is further delayed, which currently seems likely, we want to make sure that the presentation of the study is not also postponed, so that Members of the Parliament will have time to take the results into account.

To our surprise, the secretariat was unwilling to confirm whether this study – which was requested by the commitee in order to inform its work – will be presented to MEPs at all!

We’ve had enough of evidence being ignored in debates about copyright legislation. It’s time that lawmakers pay attention to what this Parliament study has now confirmed, and what academics have been warning for months:

The extra copyright for news sites is a bad idea. It cannot be salvaged with minor amendments. Tweet this!

To the extent possible under law, the creator has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to this work.

My name is Julia, I'm the Pirate in the European Parliament.

I'm fighting to make copyright in the EU unified, progressive and fit for the future. Will you join me?

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