A copyright crunch point

CRUNCH TIME is coming up for the effort to improve authors' rights in the European Union. On 12 September the European Parliament is due to vote on a draft Directive on copyright. Anti-copyright forces mobilised powerfully to delay the progress of the Directive when the Parliament fairly narrowly rejected the recommendations of its Legal Committee on 5 July.

Please check back here at www.londonfreelance.org/fl/1808copy.html for suggestions on trying to persuade your Members of the European Parliament that they should pass the Directive. It will affect your rights as writers and photographers, regardless of what happens about Brexit.

Many of the anti-copyright organisations involved are quietly funded by internet corporations in an effective "astroturfing" operation - called that because Astroturf may look like "grass roots" but is not. As we went to press allegations were emerging about the rôle of OpenMedia.org - which counts Google as a "platinum supporter" - in a Brexit-like political spam operation.

What's the argument about?

First there is Article 11, which would give newspaper publishers a new "neighbouring right" to the copyright in the words and pictures, permitting them to charge internet corporations for licenses to use extracts. European publishers' associations have accepted the argument of the European Federation of Journalists that this can only go forward if journalists are guaranteed a fair share, in law.

Anti-copyright organisations say this is a "link tax". This is false. (Is a greengrocer charging you a "carrot tax"?) They say it would stop you linking to articles from your blog. This is false.

Next, and subject of the most bitter opposition, is article 13, which would require said internet corporations to obtain licences for user uploads - presumably through collecting societies, in a way similar to public performances of music. In the absence of a licence, they would have to screen uploaded files to filter out infringing material.

The astroturfers are claiming this would be censorship. This is false. Returning to our metaphorical greengrocer: is prevention of theft "carrot censorship"?

Best for journalists would be articles 14 to 16, which would give us the right to know what use is made of our work, and to "windfall" payments if it was unexpectedly successful. Intriguingly, no-one is making a great fuss about this at present.

What happens now?

The effect of the July vote is that the entire Directive is up for amendment in the full EU Parliament on 12 September. If a very large number of amendments is put forward, the Directive may be referred back to the Committee - which could lead to it running out of time before the Parliament elections in May. Each amendment must be signed by dozens of MEPs - but the astroturfers managed to get a large number to sign up to force a vote in July.

If it, or most of it, is passed, it's not out of the woods: it then goes to a "conciliation committee" of the Parliament and the Council that is made up of the governments of EU member states.

What can I do?

Organisations representing journalists and other creators will be launching a campaign at the end of August, when MEPs return from holiday. Check back here at www.londonfreelance.org/fl/1808copy.html for suggestions.