13th December 2017
Europe's press publishing sector is totally united in its call for a crucial Publisher's Right in the context of the current EU copyright reform. Supporters of the Empower Democracy campaign alone represent tens of thousands of publishers both in print and online, through national association members spanning more than 25 European countries.
Some companies claiming to be publishers who are against the Publisher's [neighbouring] Right are in fact rather aggregators and broad-based websites. With this confusion as to the nature of a publisher, it is essential that regulators understand the distinction between the so-called Innovative Media Publishers and press publishers:
Press publishers are responsible for the funding of professional journalism; they are bound by strict codes of conduct, the rule of law and specific media regulations that make them, rightly, legally liable for the content they publish. Press publishers have a duty of care to the public: not only to inform, investigate and entertain but, importantly, to hold our leaders to account and to underpin our precious democracy.
Genuine press publishers, large and small, will benefit from a Publisher's Right that will provide legal clarity and will help publishers assert their existing copyright and bring companies that use their content to the table to negotiate licences (for payment or indeed other agreed terms). The right is not mandatory, meaning that publishers may use it as a tool to reinforce their bargaining position for licence fees or other commercial benefit, or not.
Publishers are not asking for a new right (it is already enjoyed by broadcasters and music and film producers) - but a tool that would make an existing right workable. Publishers are not asking for a links tax: they actively encourage their readers to share links to their articles with friends and family.
Opponents to the Publisher's Right are aggregators and tech giants who have a vested interest in the status quo and radical anti-copyright campaigners who believe everything on the internet should be free and who peddle the myths that respect for copyright would somehow break the internet instead of enriching it with professional, reliable content.
This year, Facebook and Alphabet will take the majority of all digital-ad revenue globally. Selling digital ads on their own websites is a challenge for most news organisations, mainly because of the competition from this duopoly. Up to 67% of readers of press publisher articles who find them on social media or search engines do not click through to the original sites, depriving publishers of the valuable data and valuable audiences needed to attract advertising revenue.
Without a Publisher's Right, third parties will continue to flagrantly re-use and monetise press publishers' content without permission or revenue sharing. You might say this should be left to market forces - but what is at stake if press publishers can no longer fund professional content; if no-one is accountable for the content that appears online and influences our society; if no-one funds the foreign correspondents and news desks around the world; if no-one funds investigation and independent reporting beyond vested interests and bias?
Press publishers are accused of scaremongering - as though the idea that the collapse of our independent press is ridiculous. In the UK, 46 local and regional papers closed in 2015 and 2016 alone and 15,000 EU journalists had already lost their jobs by 2013.
Professional journalism is costly and, whilst press publishers feel a strong sense of responsibility in terms of their duty to society, their businesses have to be commercially viable.
We all want a free and open internet; we all benefit from the success of platforms including Google and Facebook; we are interdependent: consumers want professional, fact-checked, reliable content, publishers want the maximum audience for their content and the platforms want quality content to distribute (and monetise).
A Publisher's Right would help achieve a fair and thriving digital ecosystem that would be healthy for society.
What value do you put on a free press?
The Council of Ministers is likely to discuss its position on the publisher's right at the beginning of 2018 and the European Parliament is also expected to vote on its report early 2018. The coming months will therefore be decisive for the future of the press.
Please get involved in our initiative, www.empower-democracy.eu, if you are committed to a democratic Europe with an independent and pluralistic media landscape.