A Little-Known Issue With Huge Implications: Author & Clwyd South Labour Party Member, Owen Downes, Explains All

Copyright

The following article is written by Clwyd South Labour Party member Owen Downes. The views are his own, but we think this deserves a platform and we should always be open to self-reflection as a party. In fact, it is what sets Labour apart from the rest. The article is unedited and in Owen’s own words verbatim (apart from the links, though the link addresses were provided by Owen). Over to Owen…

An Author Vs Articles 11 and 13 by Owen Downes

Good Day Ladies and Gentlemen, for those of you who do not know me my name is Owen Downes. I am a new member of my local Labour Party and am also currently a second-year Creative writing student at Glyndwr University. I joined Labour (and have supported it for many years prior to joining it) as I believe in the party’s core philosophy of social justice, equality for all and support for the average citizen against the interest of large companies and businesses are things we need, especially in today’s society. I study Creative writing because I wish to hone my craft to the point that I may be able to earn a living from my passion one day, which given today’s environment online, where numerous platforms exist for artists to ply their craft is something that is more and more realistic, right? Well sadly, an upcoming directive being proposed by the EU could very easily make my dream difficult if not impossible and Labour’s support of it has made me seriously question my loyalty to this party.

For those unaware the EU is currently getting prepared to vote on the final draft of several proposed changes to copyright in the EU digital single market and while most of the proposed changes are harmless updates to existing laws, two articles of this proposed directive have myself and many other Internet users extremely worried. Those Being Article 11 and Article 13.

To start I will discuss what each of these articles contains:

  • Article 11 states that news publishers may charge a fee to search engines and sites which link to their material
  • Article 13 removes safe harbour protections (which prevent sites from being sued for copyright infringement uploaded by users as long as they remove said infringement when asked) from sites that host user generated content such as YouTube and Facebook, thus making them legally responsible for all infringements by their users. It also requires sites to license any piece of media that may be uploaded to their site at any point.

Now these are obviously these are simplified summaries, but the full document can be found BY CLICKING HERE.

Proponents of this directive, such as its creator Axel Voss and several large European publishing companies argue that authors and publishers are not being paid enough for the use of their work by several large social media sites, such as YouTube. Some even outright accusing these sites of profiting off stolen content.  They have spoken at length about the so-called value gap, comparing the amount of money paid to publishers (I’ll get back to that) from sites such as Spotify to those on sites like YouTube and believe these proposed changes will help close said gap and allow artists to earn more.

Opponents of this directive however, such as myself, Pirate Party Member Julia Reda, The UN Rights Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression David Kaye and the majority of internet users (5 million of which have singed the largest petition ever on Change.org) however believe this directive will do no such thing in regard to author remuneration and will instead be used to stifle online competitors to legacy media, limit the accessibility of information for the majority of EU citizens and leave artists in a much worse position when negotiating with publishers.

When it comes to article 11 I could just say that it has been tried and has failed in several EU countries such as Germany and Spain already, resulting in less overall traffic and revenue for news sites in those countries and leave it at that. However, let’s delve deeper. In the final text for the copyright directive article 11 states that news publishers may charge a fee for use of links to their material by news aggregator sites and search engines. The one positive I can say about this version of the text as opposed to the one that was originally proposed is that at least this right is waivable now as opposed to being an inalienable right like in the original draft. So, as the very least there is less of a risk to smaller publishers who can just waive his right.

The first major problem with this article is that as stated it will not achieve its goal of generating more revenue for publishers. When similar laws were passed in countries such as Spain and Germany, Google’s response was simply to shut down Google News in those countries until publishers offered them a licence. Because of their history with this it seems almost inevitable that this will happen again except this time shall be on an EU scale. As such the only thing this will likely accomplish will be less traffic sent to new sites due to them not appearing in searches and the only ones to suffer will be the average person as they will have less access to different news sources.

In addition to this despite the claims made by this article’s supporters, even if more money was ringed out of Google using this method it is highly unlikely that journalists themselves would see any notable increases in royalties. In fact, an article published by the International Federation of journalists stated that article 11 “makes a mockery” of their profession and will allow for publishers to use existing “contractual agreements” to bypass having to provide them with any more royalties due to 2 of the actually good articles in this directive articles 14 and 16 which guarantees fair contracts to authors being essentially neutered in negotiations. So essentially all article 11 is doing at this point is transferring money from one apparent exploiter of authors (Google) and transferring it to publishers, so either way authors are still getting a raw deal.

When it comes to article 13 things are even worse. As previously stated article 13 holds sites that host large amounts of user generated content such as YouTube liable for any copyright infringement but upon the site by users. In addition to this it also mandates that the sides negotiate with licence holders to license any content that may appear on their site. Sites that are non-profit, under three years old, have less than 10 million in monthly earnings and have less than 5 million monthly visitors.

First the positives. I do agree that for larger sites such as YouTube, licences should be agreed as they make large amount of money from the content they display on their site. In addition to this the use of filtering technology to prevent uploads of copyrighted material is no longer written into the text. Also, there is at least some effort to protect smaller companies. Finally, a list of exceptions to copyright such as use of material for criticism parody and reporting are included which is a step up for several countries copyright laws. However even with very few positives of this article I must add several asterixis.

So now let’s discuss all of the many problems with this article. Firstly, even though upload filters are no longer mandatory in this text they may as well be, as with the amount of content that is uploaded to sites such as YouTube is so large that there is no other way to check all of it prior to upload. Therefore, to guarantee their safety most sites will rely on systems such as YouTube’s content ID to scan uploads prior to them online. Filter such as this are known to not be able to tell the difference between illegal uploads and copyright exempt uploads such as reviews and therefore will likely block both uploads thus making the exceptions I mentioned earlier essentially pointless. While this article does state that sites should institute a readdress mechanism, this would at best result in legal uploads being delayed for weeks if not months due to the vast amount of complaints a site would have to go through daily and at worst simply result in a site blocking any uploads of copyrighted material through changes to terms of service. Also, these filters are ripe for abuse and will be used by spiteful individuals and companies to silence criticism and extort money. I consider for a fact as under current law this already happens with numerous critics on YouTube how to constantly deal with claims from various companies and their videos.

Also filters such as content ID highly expensive to create and maintain (content ID cost over a hundred million to make). As such it is impossible for many companies in Europe to create their own. This will mean that companies that rely on user generated content will either have to shut their doors or pay companies such as Google for access to their filters. This, along with the cost of licensing material may actually financially cripple these businesses if they are in Europe may result in smaller companies not in Europe having no choice but to geo-block the EU again resulting in nothing but less entertainment for end-users.

Finally, as David Kaye has stated article 13 may in fact not a line with international human rights standards. Kaye claims that article 13 will “imperil the future of information diversity and media pluralism in Europe’. Kay has also criticised the directives failure to defend freedom of expression explicitly stating that the directive fails to explain how the exceptions to copyrighted lists can be protected.

So, I have explained why myself and many others believe that these articles will not benefit actual artists but rather giant corporations and collection agencies, will seriously harm small businesses in Europe, will limit free expression and the flow of information in Europe and may be against the U.N’s stature on human rights and now I would like to take a moment to address the Labour MEP’s . When this directive was last brought to the European Parliament in order to be approved for trioluge negotiations all of the problems myself, Julia Reda and many others have mentioned where still there. Yet despite this most of you sided with large corporations, collection agencies and tech illiterate conservatives, over the general public, fellow liberal MEP’s from the ALDE and Greens and many technological experts. In fact, let’s have a look at how each UK MEP voted according to the statistics from HERE.

  Labour Conservatives Ukip Greens Liberal democrats Plaid Cymru Dup Independent Sinn Fein
Approve Art13 19 18 0 0 0 0 1 0 1
Reject Art13 1 5 18 (2 no record) 6 1 1 0 2 (1 no record) 0

 

That’s right Labour, when it came to parties representing the will of the people you claim to support you where dead last. The fact that more Tories rejected this proposal than you is bad enough but the fact that the party most in tune with the masses opinion was UKIP should be an utter embarrassment. As I stated at the beginning of this article my faith in Labour has been damaged immensely by your decision to back this proposal and I guarantee I’m not alone in thinking this. I genuinely believe that failure to prevent this version of the copyright directive from becoming law will alienate many young voters from the party as many of them get their entertainment, news and yes for some even livelihoods from the sites that may be irreparably damaged by this directive and would also help extend the reach of far-right parties in both the UK and Europe.

In conclusion I would just like to speak frank to the MEP’s who voted for this directive. 100%, I believe you guys want to help artist like myself, however you all seem to only focus on the negatives of online platforms and are either unaware or choose to ignore the fast number of positives to art that they have provided. We now have a world where one’s art is not dictated by corporate interests, where artists can, completely independently, make a living form their art through sites like Patreon. Where the more critically minded folks such as I can share our views and even have influence on our viewers and where consumers of media can both support their favourite artists in making art and directly interact with them to create stronger bonds between creator and customer. I agree there have been some negatives and that some larger sites need to be put in check, however all you’ll be doing with Articles 11 and 13 is harming the many artist who use these platforms to spread their art rather than the platforms themselves.

So I implore you to think of the many artists who may never have found success without online platforms and realise they are just as legitimate as the few legacy media backed ones, I ask you to think of the small business you will harm and possibly destroy and I ask you to consider the lives of the many ordinary people you will make irreparably worse . I ask you to vote against implementing Articles 11 and 13 and to consider a more balanced solution to the problems facing artists that take all of us, both artist and fans alike, into account. Thank you for reading.

(Addendum:  In the Official document released on Thursday the articles in question have been renamed to articles 15 and 17 respectively)

Owen Downes”

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