As we reported yesterday, the European Parliament voted to pass the much-discussed Article 13 of its European Copyright Directive yesterday, with 438 MEPs voting in favour of the article focused on internet platforms and content-upload filters, and 226 voting against. Cue celebratory tweets and press releases from music-industry bodies; dire warnings of the consequences from tech-industry bodies and activists; and the awareness on both sides that this still isn’t the end of the story.
What happens next? The directive as approved by the European Parliament now goes forward to a ‘trilogue’ of the three key European political bodies – the Parliament, European Commission and European Council – for further amendments if necessary, before another vote in early 2019 (which is very unlikely to reject the directive after this process). And then it goes to the various member countries of the European Union to actually implement – which could see different interpretations of what it actually obliges internet companies to do.
So, there is plenty of scope for more lobbying, more protests and more tension and ill feeling between the Article 13 supporters and opponents, even as (in music terms) they continue to work as partners in other ways – when YouTube Music’s Lyor Cohen told Music Ally earlier this year that the ‘value gap’ isn’t a factor in his talks with labels any more, it wasn’t an outlandish notion: safe-harbour lobbying takes place on a different level to the nuts and bolts of working with YouTube Music on a day-to-day basis.
One aspect to yesterday’s vote that we think is important is the shock factor. As convinced as they were in the rightness of their case, many music bodies did not expect to win the European Parliament vote, and certainly not with the margin that transpired. Witness their genuine anger at some of the online tools being used to flood the inboxes of MEPs with pre-vote protests against Article 13 – anger that reflected their belief that the tactic would pay off. It’s fascinating to realise that this may actually have had a negative effect – German MEP Helga Truepel said yesterday that colleagues were “totally pissed off” at the contrast between their overwhelmed inboxes, and the relatively-sparse attendance at physical protests against Article 13 (and the directive’s equally-controversial Article 11) in recent weeks. And that this influenced their votes in favour.
This isn’t just about ‘astroturfing’ and spam: while people could use the online tools to send many emails using made-up email addresses, the gulf between email and real-world protests is as much about our modern ‘online petitions’ culture where our willingness to click a few buttons to support a cause is often not matched by a willingness to actually get out on the streets to give that support. But for anyone involved in policy lobbying (whether tech or music) studying why yesterday’s vote went the way it did will be essential for future campaigns.
One final note: the directive may be going forward, but even music bodies should look beyond the angriest shouting and continue to engage with the fears expressed by opponents of Article 13 in terms of how the interpretation of it will affect free expression online. When opponents like author and activist Cory Doctorow are promising the “targeting and destroying the political careers of any politician stupid enough to vote in favour of this idiocy” constructive rapprochement between the two sides may seem a remote prospect, but balancing the rights of creators with the rights of internet users (many of whom are also creators) is the overriding goal that mustn’t get buried by ‘Google shills’ / ‘copyright maximalists’ insults.