Copyright countdown: Songwriters and rights-holders make final pitch to MEPs

Robert Ashcroft

Industry bodies and music creators have united in calling on MEPs to ratified proposed copyright reforms, as frantic lobbying from both sides continues in the run-up to the crunch July 4 vote.

The European Parliament will vote on the copyright reforms, passed by its JURI committee last week, that would require online platforms to filter content for copyright infringement or obtain licences for all content. If passed, the laws would have serious implications for the likes of YouTube and other platforms that feature user-generated content.

More than 32,000 creatives, including songwriters under the PRS For Music umbrella, have signed a petition calling on MEPs to vote through the legislation, with a group of signatories delivering their views to MEPs.

“After three years of debate, one of the most controversial pieces of legislation ever to come before the European Parliament is about to go to the vote,” said Robert Ashcroft, chief executive of PRS For Music.

Ashcroft was the architect of the term ‘the value gap’, which highlights the disparity between rights-holders’ income from ad-funded and premium services. His stance on YouTube had seemed to soften recently, but he added: “This is about copyright and specifically about the rights of creators versus those of the internet giants; it is about the way the internet functions as a fair and efficient marketplace. It is a debate we must win if we want to secure our creative community into the next decade.”

Gengahr frontman Felix Bushe said: “We are travelling to Brussels to speak to MEPs about the need to create a fairer digital market for music. It is not about preventing people from accessing and using works but making sure that the market is sustainable. Music has been so devalued, even since we started out, that [it] is difficult to see how it can be sustainable; there will come a point where it simply isn't possible for people to keep making music.

“It isn't as though there isn't money being made, the tech giants are making vast revenues – it is unacceptable that they continue to profit from the work of artists without paying a fair price. As technology progresses so must the laws that surround them. We need the EU policy makers to update the copyright framework so that it is fit for the digital age and provides adequate safeguards to creators.”

Jimbo Barry, producer and songwriter for the likes of The Script, added: “I do worry about the sustainability of the professional music industry, as a songwriter. If copyright becomes free for the music that I write, and I don’t get paid in any sense for the music being used either on the radio or the platforms online, then logically, I won’t be able to sustain myself as professional. I hope that the fight for copyright for songwriters improves and that songwriters are just able to sustain the work that they love.

“If the trend continues and the margins across the industry shrink, especially for songwriters, I just don’t see there being as many. It just won’t be as attractive a profession to go into, not because of the money but because you can’t sustain yourself without some basic payment for the job you’re doing.”

A further group of 84 rights-holders and industry bodies, including AIM, the FAC, the IFPI, IMPALA, PRS For Music, Sony Music, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group, have all signed a letter sent to all members of the European Parliament ahead of the vote asking them to back the JURI proposals.

The letter reads: “We represent 4.5% of EU GDP and 12 million European jobs. We are the heart and soul of Europe’s plurality and rich identities. On July 5 we ask for you to back the mandate adopted by JURI on June 20, which is the result of long and intense negotiations. There is a cynical campaign from tech companies flooding the inboxes of MEPs with scaremongering that the copyright directive would be the end of the internet. Please note that this is the 20th anniversary of their first claim that copyright provisions would break the internet. This has never happened.”

Paul Pacifico, CEO of AIM said: “The EU copyright directive going to the vote on July 5 has our unequivocal support. For music to have a sustained and diverse future, music-makers must be paid fairly by tech giants who are currently profiting from their content. The cynical campaign some have conceived to create fear around the new directive and its supposed impact on public use of the internet reflects poorly on them, particularly at a time when public image towards ‘big tech’ is shifting.”

On the other side, tech companies are lobbying equally hard to preserve their safe harbour provisions and what they see as the freedom of the internet. According to the Financial Times, Google has faced criticism for encouraging news publishers included in its Digital News Initiative to lobby against the legislation.

YouTube has made a big play to win over the music business in recent months, launching its long-awaited subscription service YouTube Music. In this week’s Music Week cover story, YouTube global head of music Lyor Cohen pledged to deliver more money to rights-holders.

When asked for comment on the JURI committee decision, a YouTube spokesperson echoed a 2016 blogpost from head of public policy Caroline Atkinson, saying: “We’ve always believed there’s a better way than this, and that innovation and partnership are the keys to successful, diverse and sustainable news and creative sectors in the EU. For both European creators and consumers, it’s vital to preserve the principles of linking, sharing and creativity on which so much of the web’s success is built.”

To read Cohen’s explosive Music Week cover story, grab yourself a copy of this week’s print edition, or click here. To subscribe and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.

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