On May 25, 2018, the European Union (EU) took an important step toward protecting news publishers’ right to reproduce and make available their products online. Currently, while European copyright laws generally protect the individual products of writers, journalists, and photographers, the publisher’s end-product – whether that is a printed newspaper or an online article – is often not protected. Therefore, news publishers are currently unable to prevent the unauthorized use of their products, whether snippets or entire articles, in the EU. Thankfully, the EU is acting decisively to change this.
The Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive currently being considered by the EU would establish such a publishers’ right (or “neighboring right”), and on May 25, the Council’s Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER) agreed on a compromise text representing the views of the various member states.
While the Directive has a long way to go before being formally adopted – it still needs to go through the European Parliament, differences between drafts need to be ironed out, and both the Council and the Parliament need to agree to the final version – the COREPER vote is important. It gives us a sense of the preferences of the member states, who ultimately must approve and implement all EU directives, and unambiguously calls for the inclusion of the publishers’ right in the Directive. The proposed text covers the use of all parts of press publications, except for insubstantial parts, a term that the member states can define themselves using originality or length of the excerpt (or both) as the criteria.
The COREPER text differs considerably from the European Commission’s original proposal – for example, the Council would reduce the length of the protection from 20 years to just one year – and the Parliament’s leaked drafts are even more different still. However, it now seems that all three institutions – the Commission, Parliament, and the Council – are in agreement regarding the need for such a right. Earlier, the Parliament had been playing around with the idea of rejecting the publishers’ right and instead creating a presumption that would allow publishers to sue infringers in the name of their authors. In light of that, any movement towards an unequivocal publishers’ right is a step in the right direction.
For European news publishers, the right would be a major improvement as it would provide them with the same level of protection that movie studios and recording companies already have, and allow them to get paid for the online use of their products – including potentially collecting licensing fees from news aggregators such as Google News.
The rationale for the publishers’ right is simple. It protects the essential and substantial investments news media organizations make in quality content every day in order to provide the public with accurate and vital information about society. It updates European copyright law, making it relevant to the digital age, and increases legal certainty across the EU. It ensures that journalists and news publishers can focus on doing what they do best, and protect their work when it is used without compensation. These are all protections already enjoyed by our American member publishers, thanks to our Constitution. It’s time for our European colleagues to have the same rights and protections, and the News Media Alliance stands with our European partners in welcoming the COREPER announcement and the efforts to protect quality journalism in Europe.
Johannes Munter is Director, Copyright and International Policy, and Associate Counsel at the News Media Alliance.