There’s a lot happening at the moment in the world of copyright law and intellectual property and it’s easy to get lost in the technical jargon.
Last week we wrote about the appeal that Spotify and other companies are making into the Copyright Board’s decision to increase the amount that writers are paid per stream of their songs, and earlier this week more related news materialised.
The European Commission, European Parliament and Council of the EU have approved new changes to copyright laws in an effort to control the amount of power and influence big tech companies like Google and Facebook exercise on creatives on the internet. It’s an effort to modernise archaic copyright laws which on the offset sounds like a positive change.
There’s some required reading to do about these changes and their aims before we explain how they will effect musicians directly.
The implementation of the new directive means that in order to use any visual art, music or article on its platform, Facebook and other similar companies will have to enter an agreement with the artist, musician or journalist themselves or at least with someone on behalf of the creative who created that piece of work. Google in particular lobbied hard against the directive and it’s easy to see why as they will now have to pay publishing companies for their news extracts (Instagram and YouTube will also have to sign similar agreements). In one regard, this is a major step in levelling the playing field between creators and tech giants.
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said:
“With today’s agreement, we are making copyright rules fit for the digital age. Europe will now have clear rules that guarantee fair remuneration for creators, strong rights for users and responsibility for platforms… When it comes to completing Europe’s digital single market, the copyright reform is the missing piece of the puzzle.”
The efforts to reform copyright laws were publicly backed by celebrities like Paul McCartney and Annie Lennox who signed letters addressed to the EU Commission last year. In McCartney’s letter he said that:
“We need an internet that is fair and sustainable for all, but today some User Upload Content platforms refuse to compensate artists and all music creators fairly for their work, while they exploit it for their own profit. The value gap is that gulf between the value these platforms derive from music and the value they pay creators.”
However there’s two sides to the equation. The decision has garnered a lot of negative response from the creative industries with people claiming that the directive with lead to an over censorship and curtail freedom of speech, and accusations that the two Articles – 11 and 13 – at the centre of the directive are vaguely worded and imprecise (Articles 11 and 13 are explained in detail here).
Basically, it sounds like the issue is not that the laws are being changed, but that these two Articles at the core of that change are inaccurate and could potentially cause more problems than solve them. In a few words, the directives state that there will be a filter on the upload of media onto the internet as well as a tax on links for news article sharing, which ultimately means that there could be massive changes to the way that media and links are shared online.
People are opposed to filters for many reasons, the most salient one being that they are generally inaccurate and would potentially lead to the misidentification and translation of a piece of music or art that could lead to it being taken down. It feels like the EU Commission are grouping all of the creative industries into one pool which is problematic in that each strand of media has very different needs.
One of the main arguments in opposition is that smaller companies who won’t be able to afford to enter into agreements with creators could lose out while the larger companies maintain an overall monopoly (in this case, the directive will ultimately be a positive for the tech giants).
There was mass concern that meme and GIF sharing could case to exist altogether as their origins are generally in pictures from film and TV, but MEPs have since stated that they will be excluded from the blanket filter (your grumpy cat memes are safe, don’t worry).
“Should a court ever find their licensing or filtering efforts not fierce enough, sites are directly liable for infringements as if they had committed them themselves. This massive threat will lead platforms to over-comply with these rules to stay on the safe side, further worsening the impact on our freedom of speech”.
So how will these changes, if implemented, effect musicians? It will basically make sharing your music online a lot more cumbersome. Imagine you have recorded a song and you want to upload a video of you singing it to Facebook. Before the upload is completed, Facebook will screen the video through a filter and if the algorithm picks up any similarities between your song and a famous song in its database, your video will be flagged and your upload will be ceased. You can appeal the flagging but it might be months before the issue is resolved.
Similarly, if an artist wants to share a quote from a news article or review of their music, this might be flagged as plagiarism by the filter and be automatically deleted.
There are EU MEP elections in May that could sway the ultimate outcome of the directive so until then, it’s not clear how everything will pan out. One thing that is certain is copyright laws within the EU will certainly be changing and that means that we might all be processing and sharing media very differently in a few months.