In the previous article, we analysed the opponents' (GAFA and online platforms, but also lots of individual web users) positions, who are against the reform because of its badly worded text and its grey areas. In particular, they invoked articles 13 and 17 (ex 11 and 15), concerning web-gagging. On the other hand, the yes alliance (press editors, music and cinema majors, journalists, artists, actors and so on) view these two articles as an anchor: after they become law, these parties are expected to earn better fees for their work appearing on the net. But why have the supporters fought so long and hard for the new directive?
March 26th 2019: EU deputies approve the European directive to adapt copyright law to the digital age. The approval was seconded by the Council of the European Union on April 15th. in the months and weeks prior to the voting dates, lobbying of MEPs, both by the no and yes side, rose dramatically.
Supporters of the legislation aim to force the platforms to seek prior authorization before their works are uploaded, to avoid all copyright infringement. They say that this kind of check (no matter how rapid or cursory) will curtail autonomous uploading and help them claim the right to monetize their creative efforts while continuing to benefit from online exposure.
In addition, other cases have fuelled the debate. In the Christchurch shootings on March 15th, a white supremacist, Brenton Tarrant, wearing a helmet-mounted minicam, live-streamed on Facebook a 17 minute video of the mosque massacres, which resulted in 51 deaths.
Thanks to the internet, images of the shooting spread all around the world in few minutes; and many believe it is precisely this ability to livestream attacks that motivates people like Tarrant.
Interests and balances
It is therefore clear that the votes on March 26th and April 15th were part of a wider discussion. Given the numerous measures taken by opponents of internet giants, the intention is clear: the web must be regulated.
Even before the directive was adopted, the EU was already aware of the overwhelming power exercised by the GAFA over internet users. The case against Google for abuse of dominant position opened by the EU in 2010 is emblematic. Also emblematic are the 120 meetings in two years (2014-2016) held by Google with European commissioners and general managers, as well as the almost five million euros per year spent by the company in lobbying activities.
Finally, we must take note of the radical change in the web in recent years: no longer a passive host without an economic purpose, it has become a real money machine facilitating the generation of dizzying levels of turnover.
The web: from passive host to money machine
"When Giants Become Ogres" reads the title of a recent article published in French weekly Le Journal du Dimanche signed by 171 writers, musicians, filmmakers, video artists, photographers, composers, journalists, dancers, actors, publishers, producers, including David Guetta, Sandrine Bonnaire and Jean-Jacques Goldman.
It is a "Once upon a time" not too far away, a fairy-tale that is fairy-tale in form but not in substance, since it depicts how the behaviour of the giants of the web has changed over the years: “In less than a generation, the services of these giants are so irreplaceable that humanity has forgotten how things were before. But this omnipotence comes at a price. These companies have become rich, very rich, richer than their wildest dreams in fact. Their services have become so lucrative that making money has become their main raison d’être. Convinced that they have the best interests of humanity at heart, these giants-cum-ogres now oppose all who think otherwise.”
According to LabEurope data from 2018, digital advertising is now worth €48bn up 13.2% on the previous year. Figures which are mainly earned by big platforms such as Google and Facebook. Figures earned also thanks to the data that internet users provide them every day - including copyrighted works - to facilitate these advertisements which do such big business. So here is the core of the issue: should companies be able to use other people's content and carry associated advertising without having to pay the author of said content?
Despite the efforts of the GAFA (lobbying activities mentioned above, but also Google's recruitment of Tobias McKenny - policy advisor in the copyright unit of the Commission from March 2007 to March 2012), the EU's response has been clear: the work must be paid for.
A decision greeted as "great news" by Mogol, an Italian lyricist and actual president of the SIAE, who declared: "Reason and culture have won over money." Mariya Gabriel - the current European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society – also celebrated the victory as well as Antonio Tajani, who claimed: "With this reform we ensure real freedom of the press and counteract the increasingly widespread phenomenon of fake news, safeguarding the independence and quality of the media, essential for a robust democracy. The previous president of the European Parliament himself (who recently handed over the seat to his compatriot David Sassoli), also answered critics regarding article 15 and 17 which we covered in the previous article, by saying that the directive "does not impose any filter on the uploading of content and provides clear exemptions to protect startups, micro and small businesses. The rules approved do not restrict any way Wikipedia or the freedom to use material for satirical purposes, nor the use of memes. On the other hand, large digital platforms will have more responsibility for content that violates copyright and will have to open their doors to ensure compliance with the rules.”
The next steps
The member states must still give their final backing to the reform. They will then have two years from the publication of the text in the EU's Official Journal – last April 17th – to transpose the directive into national law. New pressure is therefore expected from the web giants to push member states as far as possible to reduce the scope of the text. On the other hand, the web giants will seek to maximise revenue and multiply rights.
The probability of further confrontation therefore remains high.