The Guest Blog

Guest blog post by Angela Mills Wade, Executive Director, European Publishers Council.

This week, the Commission is publishing a copyright reform package containing draft legal texts and an overarching Communication including a related right for press publishers. This new right aims to provide legal protection by introducing rights at EU level to protect the unauthorised reproduction and making available of publishers’ press publications, in the context of the digital world.

To remain competitive and independently financed in the EU, publishers need to be able to compete effectively and profitably on all platforms, which requires clear rights that are recognised in the market. The current lack of clarity benefits those third parties that want to freeride on the press publishers’ investment. The introduction of a publisher’s right at such a critical time for the digital transformation of the press is therefore welcomed by the four European press publishers associations – EMMA, ENPA, EPC and NME – which represent the interests of thousands of newspaper and magazine publishers across the EU.

The media industry has always been up against fierce anti-copyright campaigners who think that all digital content should be free and any attempts to monetise it will break the internet. Here, we attempt to debunk the myths and put the facts about this highly-contested proposal:

The myths

Myth 1: The publisher’s right is a Google/links tax

The publisher’s right is not a “links tax”, or a “Google tax”. We are asking for publishers to be recognized as rightholders under EU-copyright law, which would give publishers the legal right to decide on how and where their content is made available. Every publisher would have the right to waive this right, or to manage it exclusively or collectively – but, importantly, it would be their choice. Furthermore as stated already above – the link is not under threat – as it is also not the case in the Spanish or German legislation.

Myth 2: Publishers will use this right to block access to their content

Why would we do that? Popularity of our content has never been greater particularly with the growth of smartphone readership and multiple access points to our content.

Myth 3: The Publisher’s Right is a new right and publishers are being given special treatment

A publisher’s right will be similar to the related rights already enjoyed by broadcasters, music and film producers, whose finished works are protected in their entirety. This is what press publishers are asking for too.

By the way, since 1991 computer programs have benefited from full copyright protection at EU level. Furthermore, it’s the companies, whose employees create these programs, which own all the rights to the programs, and who have full exclusive control over how they are managed and enforced, just like film producers, or broadcasters.

Myth 4: This is just about Google

No, it isn’t. It is a sad fact of the internet that there are many companies, large and small, old and new that systematically scrape and re-publish press content for commercial purposes without permission or payment.

Myth 5: Small publishers will fail

Currently, even large media corporations are not in a position to negotiate for a fair settlement with dominant players. The hope is that the publisher’s right might begin to address this asymmetry of power and make it easier for all publishers – whatever their size – to monetise and share fairly in the value of the content in the future. However, publishers also have the possibility to waive their rights if they so choose.

Myth 6: A Publisher’s Right will stifle innovation

No. A publisher’s right will help open up the way for more innovation. Clarifying the law at EU level will improve press publishers’ bargaining position when it comes to third parties’ use of their works. Having more legal certainty over their rights at EU level will help encourage investment and increase possibilities for publishers of all sizes across Europe to develop new product offerings, to the benefit of their readers.

Myth 7: A Publisher’s Right will break the internet and place more restrictions on online activities and criminalise users who post links

Nothing we are asking for would affect the way that our readers access our content or share links on social media or via apps and email to friends and family. Nor will it change the contractual arrangements with our journalists, photographers and other contributors.

Myth 8: An independent, free press that supports diversity and upholds democracy can survive indefinitely without generating revenues

Obviously not; a free and independent press can only exist if there is adequate revenue to pay journalists, photographers and freelancers and to finance their training and security. Today, this prospect is increasingly reduced, due to declining print revenues that have not been matched by digital despite increased levels of readership. The reasons are complex but in a nutshell large search engines and other distributors make publishers’ content available for free to the user without re-investing in its production while making it difficult for publishers to charge users directly for that same content. The loss of advertising share is also significant as much of this now goes directly to search and social networks which attract large user groups which include users who are reading publishers’ content on their platforms. Finally unauthorised large-scale re-use of publishers’ content and a lack of legal clarity that would enable enforcement against large-scale infringements is a growing problem which needs reversing.

Myth 9: Consumers will suffer as they will no longer be able to find news and content on different platforms

Publishers actively make their content available on all platforms, accessible on any device of choice. They recognise that consumers benefit from easy access to their content wherever they happen to be, whether this be through publishers’ own websites, or on social media or search pages or where multiple sources of content are aggregated. Not only do consumers benefit, but so do the hosts of publishers’ content who derive value and real benefits through increased traffic, advertising revenues or in some cases subscription fees.

Publishers recognise that search and social media platforms are important partners for news organisations and that their traffic brings benefits, although not on the exaggerated scale claimed by some. The current system does not recognise the value third parties get from publishers’ content. It is unsustainable for publishers to continue funding high-quality professional journalism without a fair share of the value others derive from their content.

Myth 10: Publishers want the Publisher’s Right to protect their ‘old’ business models

Publishers have made an important transition from analogue to digital over the past decade with high degrees of innovation and enormous growth in audience and popularity. They have embraced the digital age and count as many technical staff as editorial. Publishers have adapted their business model of selling their publications to their readers and advertising space to advertisers to the new digital environment and developed new ways of doing so. However, the large scale exploitation of their content by third parties without prior authorisation and remuneration, makes it difficult for publishers to keep the financing of independent journalism sustainable. It is therefore vital that the EU’s copyright regime now also catches up with today’s realities and is adapted accordingly with the introduction of a publisher’s right.

EPC – European Publishers Council

ENPA – European Newspaper Publishers Association

EMMA – European Magazine Media Association

NME – News Media Europe

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