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Music biz, internet on collision course ahead of Article 13 vote

With less than 24 hours until MEPs vote on the proposed EU Copyright Directive, tensions between the music industry and the tech sector are running high

By Jon Chapple on 04 Jul 2018

The Article 13 vote will take place at 12 noon on 5 July

The Copyright Directive vote will take place at 12 noon on 5 July

image © David Liff

Musicians, songwriters, collection societies and music industry associations are urging European parliamentarians to vote in favour of Article 13 tomorrow, as the gulf widens between supporters and critics who warn the controversial new EU Copyright Directive could “destroy the internet as we know it”.

French collection society/performance rights organisation Sacem today became the latest organisation to come out in favour of the Copyright Directive, saying its Article 13 – which would compel “online content sharing service providers”, such as social networks or video-sharing sites like YouTube, to take “effective and proportionate” measures to combat the sharing of copyrighted works – would end a culture in which digital platforms act as “free riders, pocketing the value of these creative works and failing to pass this value onto its creators”.

“Online content sharing service platforms have become an integral part of the musical ecosystem, acting as the main access point to enjoy and share music. However, these platforms currently benefit from the uploading and sharing of creative works but do not remunerate artists for the value of their work,” says Sacem secretary-general David El Sayegh.

“The value gap this generates is a real threat to the longer term viability of the creative industries worldwide,” he adds.

Sacem’s intervention – which comes the day after the Italian Wikipedia blocked users from viewing any of its pages, in protest at the legislation, which co-founder Jimmy Wales calls “a serious threat to our mission”– serves to illustrate the stark contrast between the rhetoric coming from the music industry and that of tech companies and internet culture more widely.

While artists such as Sir Paul McCartney claim the directive “would address the value gap and help assure a sustainable future for the music ecosystem and its creators”, critics claim Article 13 would transform the internet from an open platform for the sharing of information into “a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users”.

“It isn’t censorship to allow artists the right to choose to be paid for their work”

Writing last month to European Parliament president Antonio Tajani MEP, more than 70 tech luminaries, including Wales and the creator of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee, said the proposals present an “imminent threat to the future of this global network [the internet]”.

Of particular concern is the text of Article 13, whose provision for “effective and proportionate” efforts to remove – and prevent the reappearance of – copyrighted content, say opponents, would require the implementation of automated copyright checking systems, dubbed “censorship machines” by critics.

“We support the consideration of measures that would improve the ability for creators to receive fair remuneration for the use of their works online,” reads the letter. “But we cannot support Article 13, which would mandate internet platforms to embed an automated infrastructure for monitoring and censorship deep into their networks.

“For the sake of the internet’s future, we urge you to vote for the deletion of this proposal.”

Internet freedom activists additionally claim Article 13 would effectively ban memes – the internet fads, often in the form of a humorous picture or video overlaid with text, that spread virally across the web – leading creators to repackage popular memes sans copyrighted material, to highlight what they see as the absurdity of the proposed legislation.

However, writing in MBW last week, Crispin Hunt, chair of the British Association of Composers, Songwriters and Authors, accused Article 13’s critics of “relying wholly on an ability to weave a narrative that has no relationship to fact”.

“Article 13 would mandate internet platforms to embed an automated infrastructure for monitoring and censorship”

“The reality is that Article 13 is hardly revolutionary,” says Hunt. “It is a modest proposal that returns some sense of fairness and responsibility to the manner in which internet platforms operate. We have had almost 20 years of experience under the existing regime, where platforms have almost no accountability to the public, and in which they are rewarded for wilful blindness and inaction.”

He concludes by urging European policymakers to “reject the incoherent anti-Article 13 lobbying” for “the sake of European culture, our democratic political institutions and our economic well-being”.

Umbrella body UK Music, meanwhile, yesterday fired an extraordinary broadside at Google for what it calls a “big-money” lobbying campaign aimed at scuppering Article 13 “because it would force the tech giant to pay much higher fees for the music it streams on YouTube”.

“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,” says chief executive Michael Dugher. “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.”

According to UK Music, Google has spent a combined €31m on lobbying to that end, including through two European Parliament industry forums.

“These new figures expose the fact that Google is acting like a monolithic megacorp, trying to submerge the truth under a tsunami of misinformation and scare stories pedalled by its multi-million propaganda machine,” continues Dugher.

“Google has made vast sums of money behaving like a corporate vulture”

“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. MEPs should ignore the big money lobbying from big tech and back fair rewards for creators.”

Unsurprisingly, each side accuses the other of peddling falsehoods: in a blog post yesterday, Robert Ashcroft, CEO of PRS for Music, criticised “the internet giants and the consumer organisations they fund” for “whipp[ing] up a social media storm of misinformation about the proposed changes in order to preserve their current advantage”; respected tech site Techdirt hit back by saying the collection society is spreading “intellectually dishonest bullshit”, with the aim of ensuring “every platform will just buy a licence [from PRS] and only allow uploads from artists it represents”.

“It isn’t censorship to allow artists the right to choose to be paid for their work,” counters Geoff Taylor, CEO of the Brit Awards. “The right to an income provides the basic artistic freedom for musicians to be what they have always been: rebels and revolutionaries, entrepreneurs, counter-cultural campaigners, our conscience and our inspiration.

“Memes will continue to flood our Instagram feeds over an internet that won’t break, any more than the last time the tech lobby cried wolf to oppose creators’ rights. Maybe it is time for the tech companies just to say what they mean: ‘We prefer to make billions of dollars out of music and other content without paying the people who make it.’”

MEPs will vote to fairly reward music creators/destroy the internet (delete as appropriate) at 12 noon UK/central European time tomorrow.


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