One might think that the debate on the ancillary copyright for press publishers is over – both JURI Rapporteur MEP Therese Comodini Cachia and IMCO Rapporteur Catherine Stihler rejected the Commission’s proposal to provide publishers with a competitive advantage by using copyright legislation. Unfortunately, even with such progressive voices, the misconceptions about the ancillary copyright were still visible even during last weeks Legal Affairs Committee hearing , where MEPs seemed not to understand that aggregators help news outlets gain a larger audience. And the debate in media on this issue was never more heated and polarized.
Strong voice of El Pais
El País, the largest and internationally most renowned Spanish daily newspaper, has published an op-ed strongly criticizing the idea of introducing the ancillary copyright for press publishers:
But anybody who thinks that those rights can be turned into a fortress from which to impose obligatory and inalienable fees is mistaken. This is a model that has been shown to fail in Germany, in 2013, and in Spain in 2014. Then, efforts to impose an obligatory fee on Google for the use of links to news stories provoked a major fall in web traffic for the Axel Springer group and the closure of Google News in Spain.
What is crucial, El Pais understands the value of digital technologies for press publishers, while many others, especially big German publishers, threat internet as a threat for their business model.
Thanks to the new digital technologies, we are able to reach millions of people we would never have been able to using the old, traditional print methods, while at the same time offering our readers more and better stories in real time and in more attractive formats.
The business of selling only print newspapers is over and will not be back. What publishers should do is to is adjust their business models to benefit from opportunities created by internet, and not asking for more (copy)rights without providing any evidence that more right actually help them (instead of just hurting others). El Pais voice, coming from a country with first-hand experience of the ancillary copyright, is invaluable in this ongoing debate.
El Pais is not the only one who claims that the best scenario for article 11 is to delete it. The same idea was raised by various groups including other press publishers, European Research Centres and European Copyright Society. Many MEPs also oppose the idea.
Cooperation v. confrontation
What is underlined in the El Pais op-ed is that a way forward shall be based on cooperation between the media and technology companies, rather than on confrontation. Not all publishers share the same future-oriented approach. Recently Christian Van Thillo, CEO of the Belgian publishing house De Persgroep, has published an op-ed in POLITICO titled ‘Using copyright laws to protect free speech’. He has built her pro-ancillary copyright narrative on ill-funded grounds:
Our websites have become platforms for news, comment and debate. But on average 47 percent — and sometimes as high as 67 percent — of readers who find our content on other platforms stay on the landing page and do not click through to publishers’ websites. As a result, a small number of very large companies, and a large number of smaller companies (often gilded with the term “startups”), are getting raw materials for free, which they then reuse and sell with no benefit to those who produced them. This does not happen in other industries.
Such conclusion was driven from Eurobarometer survey where participants were asked “When you access the news via news aggregators, online social media or search engines, what do you most often do?” The participants were offered three options, but could only choose one:
- Browse and read the main news of the day, without clicking on links to access the whole articles. (47%)
- Click on available links to read the whole articles on their original webpage. (45%)
- You never access the news via news aggregators or online social media. (6%)
The question referred to the “most often” behaviours, not the only one of certain participant and multiple answers were prohibited, therefore it is challenging to claim that the survey presents accurately users’ practice regarding news access. Moreover, these numbers also show that news aggregators are beneficial for publishers since a vast majority of participants use them to access news.
We hope that the final decision on the ancillary copyright will be based on market facts and evidence, instead of emotions against “commercial theft and the wholesale scrapping, copying and monetization of our [publishers’] content” as Christian Van Thillo describes aggregators providing better and more targeted mechanisms to search content that publishers were ever able to create.