Comment: EU copyright law in turbulence – will a lawyer decide your taste in music in the future?

IPR and Technology

The European Commission proposed significant changes to EU copyright law on Wednesday 14 September after several years of discussions. The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said in his speech on Wednesday that the aim is to update copyright law so that it is fit for the digital age.

One measure, which would give musicians, record companies and newspaper publishers the right to claim royalties from Silicon Valley technology giants, has been highlighted as the main spearhead of the Commission’s proposal. This measure would mean that publishers could claim royalties, for example, from Google, if their music, news, writings or other publications are shown on YouTube or Google News.

The Commission also wants technology companies to be obligated to use technology, which aims to proactively prevent publication of material that violates copyright, in their services, or if publication cannot be prevented, such material would automatically be deleted from the service. At the moment, for example, on YouTube, copyright infringements can only be intervened in after the rights holder has reported it. The proposed reforms will not, however, affect the right of, for example, social media users to share links to news, recordings, videos, or other content on their accounts.

It is not very surprising that the proposal has received considerable opposition, especially from technology giants and lobbying organisations. For example, Google’s Caroline Atkinson said in a blog post that the proposal “would effectively turn the internet into a place where everything uploaded to the web must be cleared by lawyers before it can find an audience”. Atkinson’s opinion reflects a broader recent trend in which American technology giants have taken part in political debate with emotionally charged arguments in an attempt to influence public opinion. Recent examples of this are Apple CEO, Tim Cook’s, emotionally charged speeches, which defended Apple’s tax practices and condemned the EU’s tax ruling as “political crap”.

Several lobbying organisations, such as the UK-based Open Rights Group, and supporters of more liberal copyright laws agree with Apple. In his statement, Open Rights Group Executive Director, Jim Killock, called the proposal “regressive” and said it would force “private companies to police the Internet on behalf of rights holders.” Critics have also pointed out that implementing the reform would hurt the operating conditions of technology startups by setting challenging technical requirements for monitoring copyright infringements.

However, as you might expect, there is also strong support for the Commission’s proposal. For example, the Federation of the Finnish Media Industry (Finnmedia) welcomed the plans. The Legal Affairs Director of Finnmedia, Satu Kangas, said: “Silicon Valley giants take advantage of European content in their business. It's great that the Commission wants a stronger position for European companies in relation to these giants.” Finnish copyright organisations Teosto and Gramex had not yet published their official position on the Commission’s proposal on 16 September. However, it is presumed that these organisations will also approve the reforms, which seek to improve the position of artists and producers.

It is therefore clear that the Commission’s proposal will face intense lobbying both for and against in the next legislative stages. Right now, it is impossible to say what shape EU copyright laws will take in the future. However, in the middle of emotionally charged lobbying, it is good to remember that the proposed changes are unlikely to be very dramatic from the consumer’s point of view. Nor will we lawyers come to your home in the future to select your music. And this is probably a very good thing.