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More article thirteen sparring, while Google threatens to bail on news in Europe

By | Published on Monday 19 November 2018

PRS For Music

The back and forth about article thirteen of the European Copyright Directive continues, with the boss of UK collecting society PRS now also responding to an FT article written by YouTube boss Susan Wojcicki. He accuses her of providing no evidence at all to back up her claims that the planned safe harbour reform will negatively impact on the creator community.

Article thirteen of the European Copyright Directive, of course, seeks to reform the copyright safe harbour, which says that internet companies cannot be held liable when their users use their servers or networks to distribute content without licence. The proposed reforms will increase the liabilities of user-upload platforms like YouTube.

The music industry argues that Google’s YouTube has long exploited the safe harbour to pressure record companies, music publishers and collecting societies into less favourable licensing deals. To that end, the music community hopes article thirteen will force YouTube to pay rates more in line with the other music streaming services. But Google argues that the Copyright Directive will have unintended consequences which will impact on grass roots creators the most. Which was what Wojcicki claimed in her piece for the Financial Times.

However, “Ms Wojcicki does not offer a shred of evidence to support her claims that article thirteen will harm the creative community”, PRS boss Robert Ashcroft argues in a letter to the same newspaper. “The music industry on the other hand”, he adds, “has laid out ample evidence that current legislation, via its ‘safe harbour’ regime, favours both YouTube and other platforms to the detriment of the economy as a whole”.

Ashcroft then adds that, while it is true that YouTube also delivers great promotional benefits to artists looking to grow their audience and build a brand, that doesn’t help those songwriters among the PRS membership who are not also performers. “There is no doubt that YouTube is a valuable promotional platform for performers”, Ashcroft writes, “but that does nothing for the songwriter. This is wrong and must be corrected”.

Echoing the response of indie label trade group IMPALA in its own letter addressing Wojcicki’s article, Ashcroft says the final draft of the copyright directive now being considered in Brussels and Strasbourg will create a “fair and efficient marketplace”. He then calls on European law-makers to ignore YouTube’s last minute interventions.

“It is imperative”, he writes, “that the EU Parliament, Council and Commission resist what I consider to be fake news, untruths and alarmist propaganda being circulated by multi-billion-pound internet companies that have for so long unfairly profited at the expense of our creative industries”.

It’s not just article thirteen of the Copyright Directive that Google is panicking about, though that’s the one of concern to the music industry. Meanwhile, for the newspaper business, it’s all about article eleven, and a different division of the web giant wants that overhauling. Article eleven seeks to force news aggregators to pay newspapers when they pull in headlines and extracts from those news providers’ websites. That would impact on Google News.

The web giant argues that its news aggregator sends millions of readers over to each newspaper’s website, which is an audience the news companies can monetise. But the struggling newspaper sector reckons too many people get much of their news just by scanning down the list of headlines and extracts without ever actually clicking through to the stories, so that Google is the bigger beneficiary when their content is aggregated.

When similar moves were made to generate new income for news providers in Spain, Google responded by shutting down its news aggregator in the country. And last week Google’s VP Of News, Richard Gingras, told The Guardian that, while “it’s not desirable to shut down services”, the web firm was keeping all options open until it saw the final wording of article eleven of the directive.

Employing similar language to that of his YouTube colleagues over article thirteen, Gingras referenced the closure of Google News in Spain and said “we would not like to see that happen in Europe – right now what we want to do is work with stakeholders”.