EU Commission tried to hide a study that debunks the publisher's right as ineffective

Am 3. Januar 2018 - 13:26 Uhr von Tom Hirche

What once seemed to be a single incident turned out to be a habit: Once again it has been revealed that the EU Commission tried to hide the results of a self-requested copyright-related study because the results were not suitable. This time the study is all about "Online News Aggregation and Neighbouring Rights for News Publishers".

How it was disclosed

It is only thanks to MEP Julia Reda (Greens/EFA) that a draft version of the study is now publicly available. However, Reda herself was completely unaware of its existence until she filed an access to data request. Through a further request, she finally got hold of it. Reda also writes about this on her blog.

Key points of the paper

The 29 pages long report paper takes an economic perspective on the relation between news aggregation platforms and news publishers. One of the authors' central conclusion is that

[t]he available empirical evidence shows that newspapers actually benefit from news aggregation platforms in terms of increased traffic to newspaper websites and more advertising revenue.

The positive effects on media pluralism by online news aggregators are also highlighted as well as the negative consequences for smaller media outlets in Spain due to the new regulation and the subsequent shutdown of Google News Spain. At the same time, the market values of the publisher's right in Germany and Spain "so far remain zero" as the publishers were not able to squeeze any profit from them. This leads to the suggestion that a

[c]loser collaboration between news publishers and news aggregators [...] could lead to new business models that generate more revenue for news publishers and responds better to consumer preferences for news qualities and subjects,

Obvious intention

Those conclusions might not be totally new as the same arguments have been brought up against the introduction of a publisher's right in the past by various experts. But the important thing to know is that the study was conducted by the Commission's own Joint Research Center (JRC) which planned to finally release the paper in November 2016 – only two months after the Commission had publicly presented their proposal for the new right (among others). A publication at this early date would have been a great contribution to the debates surrounding the publisher's right that took place inside and outside of the European Parliament so far.

In order to prepare everything for a timely release, the JRC asked the European Commission's Directorate General CNECT in late October 2016 for comments. However, the first comments were submitted in June 2017 – eight months later! Two weeks before, the JRC was ordered to "refrain from the publication until further notice" Directorate General CNECT. This status has not changed ever since.

Taking into account that the study paper debunks various arguments made by the Commission (or by Günther Oettinger to be more precise), it becomes obvious that it was deliberately tried to prevent it from being published and to hide its existence. It is not the first time that something like this happened. The Commission has repeatedly shown that it values academic research on copyright only when it supports a pre-conceived opinion.

The fact that the Commission tried to defend itself by saying that there is no pre-defined schedule for the publication of studies proves that there is a structural problem. Hopefully Julia Reda's letter to the Commission will "end this obfuscation of academic studies" and bring back "evidence-based policy-making".

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