Today’s the day for the crucial vote in the European Parliament on copyright reform, including the much-discussed Article 13 – which is being presented by music bodies as the means to fix the ‘value gap’ between music consumption on platforms like YouTube and the royalties they pay out to rightsholders, compared to non-UGC streaming services. And, indeed, which is being presented by technology companies and tech activists as legislation that could break the internet.
It’s no exaggeration to say both sides see this as an existential battle: be it the threat posed by the ‘value gap’ to musicians, or the threat posed by Article 13 to free expression online. And it’s equally clear that many people reading this bulletin story will already have deeply-established views on all this – Music Ally has subscribers from both sides of this battle, and a realistic sense of our ability to shift people’s thinking on the issue.
But this week’s final round of lobbying has been about shifting the thinking of a very-specific group of people: the politicians who’ll be voting today on the European Copyright Directive (which, don’t forget, isn’t just about Article 13). On this front, the music industry has done an impressive job of pulling together for the final days of debate ahead of the vote.
The IFPI, IAO, Impala and Emma put out a ‘joint music sector’ statementyesterday aimed at the 751 MEPs who’ll be voting, describing the current text of Article 13 as “the minimum required to address the Value Gap” while criticising “the scale of the cynical and manipulative behaviour of some platforms to protect their interests” – this, referring to the online tools that have been used to mass-send emails to MEPs asking them to scrap Article 13 (and another controversial element of the legislation, Article 11 which focuses on links), amid allegations of the role being played by lobbying organisations funded by technology companies including Google.
Impala’s Helen Smith also contributed a standalone piece on the Politico news site that had earlier published musician Wyclef Jean’s criticism of Article 13. “nobody in our community is suggesting ‘tearing down the internet.’ What we are asking lawmakers to do is to make sure that it works for everyone,” wrote Smith, stressing that Impala sees user-generated music, memes and other content as “vital… the soundbites and commentaries to our everyday lives” and noting that “some 80 percent of our members’ revenues from YouTube is material uploaded by fans, not official content”.
Smith’s piece is a persuasive response to some of the apocalyptic predictions made by anti-Article-13 campaigners about the likely effects of the legislation in its current draft. “Profit-making online services get a clear set of rules, while Wikipedia, other encyclopedias, open source software and blogging sites are also specifically exempted, along with other nonprofit platforms. There will also be carve-outs for small services,” she wrote. “Rules allowing caricature and parody will continue to apply to memes and other uploads. A new complaints mechanism with human review will provide redress to creators and an independent body will allow users to assert their use of an exception.”
Today, we’ll find out if this kind of message has gotten through to MEPs, amid the noise. And it’s true that there are opposing points of view, including those from within the music industry itself. Former Universal Music exec Pascal Negré, for example, expressed his reservations about Article 13 in a piece for MBW, suggesting that it “would lead to some form of blind, automatic and systematic censorship” with its provisions on automated filters for copyrighted content. “Rather than building on embracing the way the internet allows musicians and fans to more easily engage with one another, it would erect new barriers for the creators and artists who depend on and thrive thanks to online platforms,” wrote Negré.
Meanwhile, if you want to see the final push from the tech side (and you should, if you want a full picture of this debate) author and activist Cory Doctorow’s piece for the Electronic Frontier Foundation sets out the case: from why he thinks memes won’t be protected under the proposed legislation, to the argument that mandated copyright filters will harm smaller internet platforms and startups while benefitting YouTube, which has already invested tens of millions of dollars in its Content ID system. “Article 13’s copyright filters will cost hundreds of millions to build… which will simply destroy small competitors to the US-based multinationals,” he wrote.
Which way will European politicians turn? Today we’ll find out. And (this may not be a welcome view for either side) the sky won’t fall in immediately either way. In music terms, if Article 13 passes its vote, the crunch for YouTube will come once the legislation is actually enacted, and when the company is at the negotiating table with music rightsholders. Memes won’t be outlawed by tomorrow. The internet won’t break. But if Article 13 is voted down, streaming subscriptions are still growing and YouTube is still (as Smith pointed out) a powerful platform for many artists’ careers. Our industry is still in a healthy place right now, and the last two years of growth won’t evaporate by Christmas.
It’s all about the long term. Today IS a hugely-important vote, and the need for effective, properly-thought-out reform of copyright laws to adapt to the last 20+ years of evolution in everything from internet business models to the way we all share and consume art and entertainment of all kinds is vital. Perhaps the most important filters in this debate belong to the 751 MEPs – their ability to filter out the apocalyptic noise and focus on the underlying issues, and take the European Copyright Directive forward.