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Campaigners say free-speech loving YouTube should pass on the music industry’s article thirteen arguments too

By | Published on Monday 18 March 2019


As the very final vote on the European Copyright Directive gets ever closer, music industry campaigners have sent an open letter to YouTube boss Susan Wojcicki. In it they suggest that – given her company is so keen on freedom of expression – she should deliver the music community’s position on the incoming copyright reforms to all the YouTube users who have had the Google position pushed into their apps in recent months.

Opponents to the Copyright Directive – and especially to the music-industry-supported safe-harbour-reforming article thirteen – often cite free speech concerns when criticising the new liabilities the copyright reforms will put on platforms like YouTube.

The music industry has long argued that those concerns are not justified. In the new letter, the Europe For Creators campaign group goes one step further by stating that, if Google is really concerned about free speech, it would surely want its users to hear both sides of the argument around the directive.

Google and YouTube, of course, went into campaigning overdrive on article thirteen late last year. They dropped their previous strategy of back-room lobbying and allowing supposedly grass roots groups to lead the public facing communications, and instead pushed out messaging directly to consumers.

In its letter to Wojcicki, the Europe For Creators campaign – which is led by GESAC and backed by various music industry organisations – writes: “You have taken advantage of your considerable influence over 1.8 billion monthly users as the biggest media entity in the world to circulate your own message to video makers and YouTubers”.

And also to YouTube’s users, of course, via “a portal comprising all videos defending your position… [and by running] banners, pop-ups and push notifications on YouTube defending your point of view and directing traffic to your unique webpage”.

“This is unprecedented and raises ethical questions”, the letter goes on, before accusing the web giant of including misleading statements in all that communication that constituted “scaremongering”. It then states: “We believe it is totally unfair and unacceptable that your service, which dominates the online market, is exclusively used as a media service to promote your own commercial interests in a debate over European legislation”.

“You advocate freedom of expression”, the letter then says, “but what we have seen is a media service dedicated to the promotion of its own views, based on false information and scare tactics. We believe in pluralism and open, democratic debate. We believe our views also need to be voiced to your audience. That is what freedom of speech is all about. This is why we are asking you to let us … send a message to the same YouTubers so we can share with them our vision of article thirteen”.

Although the short-term objectives of the letter are obvious, interestingly the concerns it raises feed into the next big web-related debate in the EU once all the current copyright matters are addressed.

And that is platform responsibility, a debate that includes concerns over the ability of tech giants to exploit their platforms to their own commercial advantage. Which in turn includes the kind of anti-competitive tactics Spotify accuses Apple of employing, but also the exploiting of platforms to skew political debate, as YouTube is accused of in this letter.

You can read the full message to Wojcicki here.