Wednesday

22nd May 2019

MEPs side with Fry over McCartney on copyright

  • Lyric from the Beatles 1964 hit 'Can't Buy Me Love'. The EU copyright directive dispute is also about money: who will receive it for creating content? (Photo: Joshua Hilgart-Roy)

Every year, the European Parliament grants a mandate to dozens of its MEPs to negotiate in behind-closed-doors talks called 'trilogues' to thrash out the details of new EU laws.

Normally, this does not gather too much attention.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Article 13 'threatens EU creators, leaving us vulnerable to censorship in copyright's name', said comedian Stephen Fry (Photo: IAB UK)

The past weeks however saw a flurry of tweets and open letters from celebrities calling on MEPs to either support or reject such a trilogue mandate for a new bill on copyright.

On Thursday (5 July), the first battle ended with a vote by the parliament plenary rejecting the mandate. But the war is far from over.

The aim of the EU directive, which would replace one from 2001, is to modernise copyright in the digital age. Lawmakers are looking for a balance between making sure that creators are being properly paid while not stifling free speech or digital innovation.

Much of the debate revolved around the most contentious article of the bill, article 13, which aims to give fair remuneration to creators vis-a-vis internet platforms.

Two of the internet's founding fathers, Vint Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee, signed a letter which said the bill posed "an imminent threat" to the future of the internet, saying they agreed with the aim - a fair distribution of revenues from the online use of copyright works - but that the means were wrong.

"By requiring internet platforms to perform automatic filtering all of the content that their users upload, article 13 takes an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the internet from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users," they wrote.

Actor-comedian-writer Stephen Fry was also worried about article 13, which he said "threatens EU creators, leaving us vulnerable to censorship in copyright's name".

By contrast, musician Paul McCartney voiced his support for the legal text, in an open letter to MEPs.

"The proposed copyright directive and its article 13 would address the value gap and help assure a sustainable future for the music ecosystem and its creators, fans and digital music services alike," said McCartney.

The Independent Music Companies Association, supportive of article 13, said there was "a massive disinformation campaign going on" and spoke of "scaremongering".

"There is no "censorship machine", "upload filter", or "robocopyright". These terms are being used by anti-copyright and pro-tech campaigners to try to hold onto the old world and avoid sharing revenues properly," the group said.

'End of exploitation'

The whole debate is about what should be parliament's version of the bill, proposed by the European Commission in September 2016.

Centre-right German MEP Alex Voss had drafted a text which was approved last month by a 14-9 majority in the parliament's legal affairs committee.

On Thursday (5 July) Voss pleaded with MEPs to give him a mandate to negotiate with national governments and the European Commission over the final text of the directive – on the basis of the committee-approved text.

"What is it that we are talking about? It is the end of exploitation of European artists on the internet," said Voss.

"We are talking about the major US platforms like Google and Facebook that have been making huge profits at the cost of European creatives. We need to prevent that and it is inexplicable how some people want to support this internet capitalism," the German MEP added.

Just after midday on Thursday though, a majority of MEPs sided with Cerf, Berners-Lee, and Fry, rather than with McCartney and Voss.

They refused to give Voss a negotiating mandate.

Of the 627 MEPs that voted, 278 supported Voss, while 318 voted against. 31 abstained.

Bring on more lobbyists

Thursday's decision opens up the possibility for MEPs to introduce amendments to the parliament's text.

This also means that the race is on for lobbyists to convince MEPs that are not necessarily experts on copyright or how the internet works. Copyright is a controversial topic with vested interests new and old.

Immediately after the vote, interest groups started flooding mailboxes with press statements.

These emails also give some indication of how heated the debate has become and how entrenched are the positions.

Four lobby groups representing magazines, newspapers, and publishers said that MEPs "voted to obstruct" the copyright reform, "succumbing to an intense lobby of manipulative anti-copyright campaigners, US internet giants and vested interests who benefit from stealing and monetising publishers' valuable content".

September

The issue will return on the plenary agenda in September.

The full chamber will then be able to debate the bill, before its rapporteur Voss is sent to negotiate with the Council of the EU – which represents national governments – and the European Commission.

The negotiators will have to find a compromise between the commission's original text, the to-be-determined parliament text, and the council's text, which was agreed last May.

It will be the outcome of these so-called trilogue talks which will determine who will benefit from the 'directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on copyright in the Digital Single Market'.

Focus

EU targets Google in copyright reform

Publishers welcomed EU proposals for a new right that could see them take a bite out of Google's income, but some say the law could end up hurting Google's smaller rivals.

Focus

EU copyright reforms kicked into 2016

The European Commission appears to be postponing key reforms of the EU's fragmented copyright system, according to a leaked paper.

Focus

EP adopts 'watered down' copyright report

MEPs have adopted keenly-awaited proposals they'd like to see in the commission’s forthcoming copyright reform, but they were roundly criticised by all sides.

Focus

Copyright: Anatomy of a controversial report

The EU parliament's text on copyright has sailed through committee, but only after a long fight by its author, including on prejudice against her political colours.

'Every group split' ahead of EU copyright vote

Political groups in the European Parliament are split about how to vote for a directive that would reform the EU's copyright regime - amid warnings that freedom of expression and creators' rights are at risk.

News in Brief

  1. Poll: Denmark set to double number of liberal MEPs
  2. European brands 'breaking' chemical safety rules
  3. Report: Merkel was lobbied to accept EU top job
  4. May struggling to get Brexit deal passed at fourth vote
  5. German MPs show interest in 'Magnitsky' sanctions
  6. CoE: Rights violations in Hungary 'must be addressed'
  7. EU affairs ministers rubber-stamp new ban on plastics
  8. Private companies campaign to boost turnout in EU poll

Feature

Romania enlists priests to promote euro switchover plan

Romania is due to join the single currency in 2024 - despite currently only meeting one of the four criteria. Now the government in Bucharest is enlisting an unlikely ally to promote the euro to the public: the clergy.

Trump and Kurz: not best friends, after all

The visit of Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz to the White House on Wednesday showed that the current rift in transatlantic relations is deepening by the day.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  3. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  8. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  9. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  10. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  11. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us