Ancillary Copyright, Publishers’ Right, Link Tax: a bad idea under any name

Spotprent op de uitgever Jobard te Brussel
No to additional copyrights for publishers!
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The Commission is currently holding a public consultation on the role of publishers in the copyright value chain and on the ‘panorama exception’. Today we’re kicking off a short series of blog posts that will highlight the problematic nature of granting new copyrights for publishers, and why full freedom of panorama should be ensured for everyone in the EU. This post explores why new copyrights for publishers are a bad idea.

A brief history of ancillary copyright in Europe

For a long time, COMMUNIA has been critical of attempts to introduce additional rights for (press) publishers (see here for a collection of previous posts). The adoption of these ancillary rights would permit publishers to monetize the use of small snippets of text by news aggregators, search engines, and possibly others who collect and share links to publishers’ articles (hence the term: link tax). It first showed up in Germany and subsequently found its way into Spanish copyright law. It is well documented that in both cases the introduction of these new rights has failed to achieve the objectives of their proponents.

These failures have not prevented publishers from trying to get such a right created on a European scale. While the idea was not present in the Commission’s Digital Single Market strategy, Commissioner Oettinger made no secret of his sympathy for the idea, and made it clear that it could surface at any moment. Continue reading

Contrary to what publishers think, Libraries serve the Public

Adreskaart voor boekhandel Scheltema en Holkema
Have the publishers lost it?
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It is relatively well documented that neither the French nor publishers are big fans of copyright reform. Given this, the comments from the CEO of the French publisher Hachette Livre on at last week’s London Book Fair are not entirely surprising.  

Less than three weeks after the European Commission launched a consultation that appears to be designed to create additional copyrights for publishers, Hachette CEO Arnoud Nourry warned his international publishing colleagues that Google is a bigger threat to publishers than Amazon and greatly benefit from what he called “the European Commission’s senseless attack on copyright”. According to a summary of his talk provided by the Bookseller, he then went on to declare that:

… vast exceptions to copyright law for libraries, for education, for fair use” could provide an opening for Google to rebrand itself as a library, opening up its repositories of scanned content for free and profiting from advertising income [and] questioned why the EC was targeting publishers: “It is as if the Commission had made it a priority to weaken the only European cultural industry that has achieved worldwide leadership. Need I remind you that nine of the 12 largest publishing companies in the world are European?”’

To anyone following the relatively tame course the Commission has charted out for reviewing the EU copyright rules, this looks like a relatively ill-informed overreaction by a publisher who seems to be offended that European legislators dare to even think about modernizing EU copyright without asking the publishing industry for permission first. The obsessive focus on Google as an evil outsider intent to destroy culture-as-we-know-it highlights the unease the traditional publishing sector still feels when it comes to all things digital.Continue reading

The Rhetoric of Copyright Extremism

In the end, nothing happened. When the European parliament adopted a compromise version of MEP Julia Reda’s evaluation report of the EU copyright directive, the attempt of MEP Jean-Marie Cavada to restrict the right to publish pictures of buildings and artworks permanently installed in public places (“freedom of panorama”) was voted down by a huge margin. The majority that had supported the Cavada amendment in the legal affairs committee vanished under a storm of protest, spearheaded by Wikipedians fighting for their right to include pictures of buildings and artworks in their free encyclopedia.

However, while the final version of the report did not suggest restricting freedom of panorama, it did not include a specific provision to protect it, either. Instead, member countries would still be free in whether and how to implement such a limitation into their respective national copyright laws. In a way, this outcome is a typical example of the widespread copyright extremism in Europe, which blocks even the most sensible and moderate copyright reform proposals.

The overall spectrum of opinions in current copyright debates ranges from abolitionism, that is, proposals to discard copyright altogether, to copyright extremism on the other side. Copyright abolitionism is a position sparsely mentioned in regulatory conversations. While authors Joost Smiers and Marieke van Schindel, for instance, have managed to create some buzz around their book “No Copyright”, the attention was only short-lived and the discussion left no real lasting mark on the conversation overall. And abolitionist positions brought forward by libertarian researchers such as Michele Boldrin, David K. Levine and their colleagues have only played a very marginal role in scientific discourse, as well.

However, we observe that rhetoric around ratcheting up extreme copyright protections plays a major role in the mainstream of regulatory conversations around copyright, while rarely recognized and called out as extremism. Rather, even the most far reaching positions are considered perfectly legitimate when brought forward in committee hearings, policy papers or campaigns. In a way, current copyright discourse is heavily skewed towards the side of copyright extremism, which makes any moderate and balanced reform of copyright laws difficult, if not impossible. Taking a closer look at the relentless rhetoric of copyright extremism might therefore help to identify and address this problem. Continue reading

Time to change perspective: Hostages, not Orphans

U.S Law Professor Lydia Loren has just published a draft paper that contains what may be one of the most sensible contributions to the ongoing discussion about the ‘orphan works problem’. In her paper ‘Abandoning the Orphans: An Open Access Approach to Hostage Works‘ she makes a strong argument that the very name that has been attached to this problem may be misleading and lead to false solutions and thus should be reframed as the ‘hostage works problem’.

Loren states that the term, which was first introduced in 1999, overlooks the core of the problem:

These works are being held hostage by a set of rules that result in an inadvertent lock-up of the expression these works contain. (p.22)

In the context of hostage works, the incentive for creation functioned as intended: the work was created. But the incentive for distribution has actually backfired. Instead of a risk of underinvestment in distribution we have a manifestation of such underinvestment. Copyright protection is obstructing distribution, not enabling or facilitating it. This is a type of waste: copyright law is “inhibiting access . . . without any countervailing benefit.” In addressing the hostage work problem, we should be focused on a solution that reduces the waste by removing the barriers to non-owner distribution. (p.23)

Focussing on the hostage status of these works helps with devising a system that can deal with the manifest market failure that hostage works represent. While Pallas Loren’s paper discusses possible solutions against the backdrop of US copyright law, her arguments are surprisingly powerful in understanding the current discussion on the European Union level. Continue reading