The European Union’s controversial Copyright Directive in the Digital Single Market was approved in a decisive vote by the European Parliament in Strasbourg today (March 26).
A total of 658 European deputies participated in the vote with 348 voting in favour of the directive and 274 voting against it. Another 36 deputies abstained.
The reforms update 20-year-old, pre-digital era EU copyright legislation and aim to ensure that professionals across all the creative industries are paid fairly for their work. They have been at the heart of a fierce lobbying campaign, pitting those who believe the reforms are essential to ensure creatives are properly paid for their work against a US tech giant-led lobby which claims they pose a threat to the internet and freedom of expression.
If Tuesday’s vote had been negative it would have killed off the directive for an indefinite period in its current form as there would not have been enough time to renegotiate it ahead of European Parliament elections in May, which may see a very different set of deputies taking seats.
Professional bodies representing artists across all disciplines were jubilant about the hard-fought victory for its members.
The Federation of European Film Directors (FERA), the Federation of Screenwriters in Europe (FSE) and the Society of Audiovisual Authors (SAA), which have been at the forefront of the battle to get the reforms through – welcomed the vote in a joint statement.
“After many months of negotiations, the EU institutions have reached a compromise on the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market that establishes a much-needed level playing field for the cultural and creative sectors, in particular the audiovisual industry, to adapt to the 21st century online environment and integrate the global online players in the European copyright ecosystem,” they said in a joint statement.
The bodies said that the directive contained essential provisions on fair remuneration for authors and performers to be enshrined in law across the EU.
“It sets out a general principle of proportionate remuneration allowing authors to share in the economic success of their works (Art 18), and unwaivable provisions strengthening authors’ right to information on the exploitation of their works (Art 19), reinforcing their bargaining power (Art 20 and 21) and establishing a right for revocation (Art 22).
Directors UK CEO Andrew Chowns echoed these sentiments, saying: “Make no mistake, this is a momentous decision by the European Parliament. This Directive - when passed into UK law - will give directors not only the right to fair and proportionate remuneration but it also equips us with the legal means to defend and protect this right, wherever and by whoever their work is used. The days of unfair buyouts are numbered.”
Chowns told Screen ahead of Tuesday’s vote that Directors UK would push for the directive to incorporated in the UK copyright legislation, regardless of the outcome of the current Brexit debacle over what terms the UK will leave the EU, if at all.
He added that the approval was “timely” following a recent study by FERA, the FSE and SAA showing just the growing precarity of directors and other audiovisual authors as they struggle to make ends meet and maintain sustainable careers.
“With 85% of respondents working freelance, they exhibit little contractual bargaining power and with median earnings of just €19,000 (£16,189) – the directive will ensure directors will be guaranteed to receive the proportional remuneration they deserve for the exploitation of their works.
France’s powerful directors L’ARP said the approval of the copyright reforms marked a new chapter in the protection of cultural exception in the digital era, but added that the battle was not over.
“For this victory to be real, we cannot allow for there to be any compromises with regards to copyright and all its fundamental principles and moral authority,” the body said in a statement.
“L’ARP’s cineastes highlight the absolute necessity to continue supporting auteurs so that they are never forced to cede to pressure that may be put on them. This is still the challenge for cultural sovereignty,” it said.
A “dark day for internet freedom”
Not everyone was rejoicing the approval of the directive. German MEP Julia Reda, who is a member of the pro-digital revolution party the Pirate Party Germany and a staunch opponent of the reforms, tweeted it was a “dark day for internet freedom”.
Reda, like many opponents of the reforms, believes the directive could hinder the exchange of information and content on the internet and cut some smaller players out of the picture.
A key focus of opponents of the directive has been articles 11 and 13, under which digital platforms would be expected to make a financial contribution to content driving users to their sites and also be responsible for monitoring and dealing with pirated content posted by third parties.
Copyright law specialist Raffaella De Santis, digital and music associate at law firm Harbottle & Lewis, warned that the reforms could have a negative impact on online services, especially smaller platforms without the resources to police content.
“Artists and creators will hail the passing of the directive as a real victory for their right to be fairly paid for their creations. However, the effect of the text of the directive as passed could at the same time have very concerning and unintended consequences for vast swathes of online services, not simply those operating in music or news,” said De Santis.
“This outcome is unpopular with digital services and importantly, many European voters. The key focus now will be on how the directive is implemented across the EU over the next two years, and care will need to be taken to ensure that smaller services are not disproportionately disadvantaged by measures which are in reality designed to curtail the formerly unchecked power of the tech giants.”
The European Parliament vote in favour of the copyright directive marks a landmark step towards creatives in all fields being fairly remunerated for their work in the digital age but its adoption across all EU member states over the next two years could be an equally rocky and arduous ride.
The next challenge for professionals in the creative industries and the bodies representing them is to ensure the reforms contained in the directive are adopted across all EU member states. There is a two-period timeline for this to take place.