British music-industry bodies played an important role in the lobbying process leading up to last year’s European Copyright Directive, including its Article 13 (which became Article 17 in the final legislation) section covering online platforms’ responsibilities around user-uploaded content. The concern for the Brits, however, was always its imminent exit from the European Union (‘Brexit’) and what that would mean for the implementation of the directive in the UK.
“The UK have been involved in the ‘value gap’ debate: they’ve been very constructive and helpful until now, so they would intend for this legislation to become part of their legislation,” IFPI boss Frances Moore told Music Ally in October 2018, for our report on the directive. “The British government has been on the record of supporting this issue, and would put it into UK law as a matter of course anyway, post-Brexit,” added the BPI’s Ian Moss. These views were accurate at the time.
How does the situation look now, with Brexit about to take place (with an ‘implementation period’) under a Prime Minister who in March 2019 tweeted that “The EU’s new copyright law is terrible for the internet. It’s a classic EU law to help the rich and powerful, and we should not apply it. It is a good example of how we can take back control”? Spoiler: the music industry isn’t going to be happy.
“The deadline for implementing the EU Copyright Directive is 7 June 2021. The United Kingdom will leave the European Union on 31 January 2020 and the Implementation Period will end on 31 December 2020. The Government has committed not to extend the Implementation Period,” said Chris Skidmore, the current British minister of state for universities, science, research and innovation, in a response to a written question from a fellow MP. “Therefore, the United Kingdom will not be required to implement the Directive, and the Government has no plans to do so. Any future changes to the UK copyright framework will be considered as part of the usual domestic policy process.”
Back to square one, then, in terms of lobbying. Which will be welcomed by Google/YouTube and campaigners against the provisions of the directive, but will garner the opposite reaction from music industry bodies and rightsholders. The latter’s fear is that copyright policy will be influenced by bigger political currents – a trade deal with the US, for example – and will thus see the UK diverge from the European approach that the industry was so relieved about.
Reactions have been emerging already. UK Music’s deputy CEO Tom Kiehl wrote to Skidmore describing the statement as “extremely disappointing” and suggesting that “there is no excuse for a delay to our existing call for the Government to set out a road map outlining how it intends to take forward its support for the Directive’s key proposals”. “This Government has the capability & must have the will, to enact equivalent protections, so that creators can continue their huge social & economic contribution to the UK & its global reputation,” added the Featured Artists Coalition in a tweet.
“This lack of clarity will stifle the UK’s creative sector – one of our engines for growth. If our creator community is not going to benefit from the same level of protection as those in Europe, we urge the government to set out clearly and quickly how it will ensure the UK remains an attractive home for creative businesses and their rights,” added PRS for Music CEO Andrea Martin, while Ivors Academy chair Crispin Hunt predicted a “diaspora from UK to EU” of musicians – for example, artists and songwriters signing deals through European companies not British ones, and songwriters moving to European collecting societies – if the UK diverges too much.