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MEPs need to ask themselves right now what value they put on a free and independent press

7th June 2017

In the past week or so we are sure you will have become aware of a highly orchestrated, cynical, self-serving campaign to undermine or destroy the European Commission's proposal to make Europe's press publishers beneficiaries of two of the rights already harmonised at European level, via a new neighbouring right. It is not hard to see where apparently multiple calls for a watering down and even the deletion of the publisher’s right from the EU Copyright reform directive originate from when we remember that the vested interests of US tech giants, start-up alliances and anti-copyright campaigners have made it clear they do not want the status quo to change. Of course they don’t. Making it harder for publishers’ valuable content to be scraped, copied, re-used and monetised without permission; making it harder for start-ups to base their business model around using content illegally; making it easier to take legal action against copyright infringers; making it harder for tech giants to argue the content is theirs for the taking; and, most importantly, making it harder to avoid coming to the table to negotiate agreements…no-one who currently enjoys free-riding is going to want to see a publisher’s right which brings legal clarity to a market which currently exploits the lack of recognition of the publishers' legal standing.

But what’s at stake if the proposed publisher’s right, a neighbouring right already enjoyed by the music, film and broadcasting sectors, is watered down or deleted? Certainly not the freedom to share links on social media or exchange content with friends and family as some of the opponents to a neighbouring right would have you believe. This is simply untrue and an outrageous scare tactic. Individual readers do not need a licence today when they share content and will not need one in future.

Politicians need to ask themselves right now what value they put on a free and independent press because, as things stand, publishers’ ability to invest in digital innovation and professional journalism is severely undermined. You don’t have to be an economist to recognise that, for publishers, the status quo is unsustainable, when third parties routinely divert revenue-earning opportunities to their own platforms and services.

Consumers want to be able to access and enjoy our content 24/7 on multiple platforms: we want that too; politicians want our media to be diverse and to reach every possible audience community and interest: we want that too; the tech companies want access to our content to serve the online community: we want that too – but in a fair, balanced and sustainable way that enables publishers to be able to continue to create the content that everyone else wants to access and consume, but on publishers’ terms and conditions. This may not always require payment for a copyright licence but it should always involve permission. Publishers’ content is not free. Employing, training, insuring and legally protecting journalists and financing the distribution of content on every platform and device is hugely costly.

An independent press is the cornerstone of democracy. An independent press relies on being economically strong to perform its role in society. All that is being proposed is a right that would make it easier to enforce existing copyright, a right that would, we firmly believe, result in a fairer and more sustainable digital eco-system for everyone to enjoy, including consumers, tech giants and digital start-ups.

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.

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