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As Copyright Directive campaigning starts up again, article thirteen opponents plan to take to the streets 

By | Published on Friday 17 August 2018

European Commission

Before attention formally returns to the draft European Copyright Directive next month, the Pirate Party’s representative in the European Parliament – Julia Reda – is hoping to get opponents to the more controversial elements of the proposals out onto the streets.

The copyright reforming directive has been in development for years, of course. For the wider music industry, the focus has been article thirteen, which seeks to increase the liabilities of user-upload platforms like YouTube.

Such platforms currently claim protection under the so called copyright safe harbour, which means they can’t be held liable for copyright infringing material uploaded by their users, providing they offer copyright owners some kind of content takedown system. The music industry argues that YouTube has exploited the safe harbour to force record labels, music publishers and collecting societies into signing unfavourable licensing deals.

The music industry’s multifarious trade bodies have been lobbying hard for article thirteen, which has proven to be (along with article eleven) the most controversial of all the elements of the new directive. Much ground had been made, first to get article thirteen included at all, and then to revise it in a way that the music industry reckoned would achieve its objectives.

But MEPs like Reda forced the latest draft of the directive to a vote of the full European Parliament last month where it was voted down, 318 against versus 278 in favour. In the run up to that vote the tech lobby went into overdrive to try and convince MEPs to block the directive, mainly because of articles eleven and thirteen.

Since the vote, the music industry has been very critical of tactics employed by the tech lobby, and especially big bad Google, in the weeks prior to the vote. Their campaigning, it’s argued, misrepresented what article thirteen is really about. Meanwhile opponents presented themselves as mere concerned internet users – when many were in fact funded by billion dollar tech giants – and used technology to artificially amplify their voice.

David Lowery’s The Trichordist website has run a number of articles exploring these tactics, all of which make for very interesting reading. Meanwhile The Times reported earlier this month how “Google is helping to fund a website that encourages people to spam politicians and newspapers with automated messages backing its policy goals”.

The newspaper put the spotlight on an organisation called OpenMedia, which counts Google as a platinum supporter, and which was also analysed by The Trichordist.

The Times wrote: “The campaigning site is intended to amplify the extent of public support for policies that benefit Silicon Valley”, before confirming that “the tools were recently used to bombard MEPs with phone calls opposing EU proposals to introduce tighter online copyright rules”.

Shortly before last month’s vote on the copyright directive, UK Music boss Michael Dugher hit out at Google’s behaviour amid various reports regarding the scale of the web giant’s direct and indirect lobbying efforts in Europe, including a direct 5.5 million euro spend on lobbying activity in the EU.

He stated at the time: “Google has made vast sums of money behaving like a corporate vulture feeding off the creators and investors who generate the music content shared by hundreds of millions on YouTube. These EU copyright changes are aimed at ending an injustice that has seen Google’s YouTube and other big tech firms ripping off creators for far too long”.

He went on: “These new figures expose the fact that Google is acting like a monolithic mega-corp trying to submerge the truth under a tsunami of misinformation and scare stories pedalled by its multi-million propaganda machine. Instead of mounting a cynical campaign, motivated entirely out of its self-interested desire to protect its huge profits, Google should be making a positive contribution to those who create and invest in the music”.

Following last month’s vote, the directive is now heading back to the European Parliament for more debate on 12 Sep. Behind the scenes lobbyists on both sides are concurrently seeking a possible compromise while also rallying their troops and launching publicity campaigns in the run up to the next parliamentary session.

With that in mind, those who oppose articles eleven and thirteen – which they usually respectively dub as the ‘link tax’ and ‘upload filter’ articles – are planning public protests on 26 Aug in various European cities, including Berlin, Ljubljana, Prague, Stockholm, Vienna and Warsaw.

While calling on people to join these protests, Reda has also hit out at the claims that automated tools – like those offered by OpenMedia – were used to make it look like opposition to the copyright directive was much more widespread than it really is.

She recently wrote on her blog: “We haven’t won yet. After their initial shock at losing the vote in July, the proponents of upload filters and the ‘link tax’ have come up with a convenient narrative to downplay the massive public opposition they faced. They’re claiming the protest was all fake, generated by bots and orchestrated by big internet companies”.

She went on: “According to them, Europeans don’t actually care about their freedom of expression. We don’t actually care about EU lawmaking enough to make our voices heard. We will just stand idly by as our internet is restricted to serve corporate interests. People across Europe are ready to prove them wrong: they’re taking the protest to the streets”.

It remains to be seen how many real people take to the bot-free streets of Europe later this month. Meanwhile, the music community should expect rally calls from their representatives and lobbyists in the coming weeks ahead of next month’s European Parliament debate.