Kategorie Axel Voss

Parliament's largest group to fully endorse Commission's proposal for a link tax   Am 9. Juli 2017 - 17:47 Uhr von Tom Hirche

The European Commission's proposal for an ancillary copyright for press publishers has received a tremendous amount of criticism from many MEPs of all groups of the European Parliament. But now the largest group, the European People's Party (EPP), has adopted a joint position that fully supports the Commission's line while ignoring the European people's voices and all academic advice.

Strong opposition in the Parliament

Although the EPP cannot be described as the greatest opposer of the Commission's proposal, there is a number of MEPs that have tabled various amendments to delete the ancillary copyright also known as the link tax, e.g. Andrea Bocskor or Pavel Svoboda. The most prominent was Therese Comodini Cachia. She was not only Member of the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) but also its elected rapporteur and thus responsible for the Parliament’s reaction to the Commission’s copyright reform proposal.

In her report, she recommended to eliminate the link tax and instead grant publishers

a presumption of representation of authors of literary works [...] and the legal capacity to sue in [the publisher's] own name when defending the rights of such authors for the digital use of their press publications.

This is a fair compromise between the users' need for a free internet and the publishers' demand to fight alleged online piracy (see also our suggestions for such a solution).

New rapporteur, old lies

The bad news is, the JURI has not yet voted on Cachia's report and sadly a few days ago, she announced to step down from all of her positions and to return to her home country Malta. The even worse news is that the German MEP Axel Voss took her position in the JURI. He alone has tabled 22 (!) amendments to the Commission's proposal in the past, each of them with the clear goal to further extend the publishers' right no matter how harmful it will be to the freedom of information.

During his first days, he already managed to convince his colleagues to adopt a shocking joint position:

[T]he EPP is in favour of a genuine right for press publishers as proposed by the Commission in Art. 11.

They not only just copy the position but also repeat the same nonsense:

The EPP Group has strong concerns that the growth of traditional media in the digital sphere is challenged by some news aggregators and online service providers that develop their activities by using right-holders' content without contributing to sustain the investment in its creation [...]

We have heard this accusation so many times but this does not make any bit more correct. All over Europe, an author's text is protected by copyright and legal actions can be taken against any infringement - if there is one. But news aggregators and other online service providers do not copy the texts. They only show the headline plus a few words (which, at least in the case of Google, could be prevented easily) which is not copyright relevant in the very most cases. Their contribution is to guide millions of users to publishers' websites. That is a pretty heavy one as visitors mean money through advertising.

But the joint position does not stop here:

The EPP is of the opinion that a specific right for publishers provides more legal certainty regarding licensing and enforcement of rights.

It is very unclear how the EPP came to this opinion without ignoring all facts. The link tax as proposed by the Commission is highly unclear in various points and thus does not provide any legal certainty at all. Also, the situation right now is pretty clear: aggregators either do not need a license because they only show a few words (snippets) or they do need one because they infringe on the authors'/publishers' copyright. What the link tax will do is giving the publishers the new possibility to charge online service providers for showing snippets. This is what they want but not dare to say. Instead, they try to cover up their real intention with a variety of lies and allegations.

German conservatives all the way

For some reason, there are several politicians who ignore all scientific evidence and academic advice when it comes to the link tax. Interestingly, it is always German conservative that try to make publishers a big, big present. First, it was Commissioner Günther Oettinger who proposed his ancillary copyright on steroids roughly a year ago. Now it is Axel Voss who takes the reins and tries to finish what was started. Even if this means pressing others to vote against their belief and to make a fatal decision.

Rogue members try to hijack LIBE Committee   Am 14. Juni 2017 - 18:29 Uhr von Tom Hirche

Almost a month ago, in mid May 2017, the draft opinion of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) on the EU-Commission's proposal for a new copyright directive has officially been published. As things just turned out, some hardliners suddenly want to amend it so that it will be strongly in favour of an ancillary copyright for press publishers.

The initial draft opinion was authored by LIBE Committee's rapporteur Michał Boni (EPP, Poland). The LIBE Committee is responsible for the protection of civil liberties as well as human rights and particularly deals with data protection issues. Thus it is not surprising that it was agreed on to focus solely on article 13 and recitals 38, 39 which deal with upload filtering by internet service providers – a topic that clearly falls into the sphere of the LIBE Committee.

But some MEPs seem to totally ignore this agreement and stab their chair in the back (with some being in the same group as Boni). They tabled a couple of amendments to the draft opinion that suddenly address the question of a new publishers' right (see article 11 and recitals 31–35). And to make matters worse, these MEPs want to further extend the absurdity of this right.

For example, MEP Axel Voss (EPP, Germany) wants to add wording saying that news aggregators and providers of search engines "have increasingly developed their activities and are making profit from the content of press publishers. These profits are not shared fairly with the creators and publishers." This completely ignores the vast numbers of viewers that are guided to the publishers' websites by these service providers who rely on this symbiosis. Additionally, Voss wants to expand the scope of the publishers' right to cover analogue uses and aims to clarify that the right "should also apply where the content is automatically generated by, for example, news aggregators."

Further amendments come from MEPs Gérard Deprez (ALDE, Belgium), Louis Michel (ALDE, Belgium) and Jean-Marie Cavada (ALDE, France). They also want the publishers' right to get applied to analogue uses and additionally strive for the deletion of the exemption concerning periodical academic/scientific publications. On top of that, Deprez and Michel think that a protection term of 20 years is too short and thus prefer a ridiculous long term of 50 years.

All these issues have nothing to do with the protection of human rights or civil liberties which makes the LIBE Committee the wrong forum to proclaim them. The proposed publishers' right rather threatens the freedom of information. But the four MEPs have obviously surprised their colleagues with their rogue move as MEP Cornelia Ernst (GUE-NGL, Germany) is the only one that fights against them by demanding the complete deletion of article 11.

That is why we need everybody to reach out to their representatives in the LIBE Committee not only to tell them how terrible the amendments of Voss et al. are but also how absurd the whole idea of a publishers' right is. You can find a list of members with links to their profiles with contact information right here.