Europe Should Protect Independent Media in Copyright Reform
The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) deems copyright reform necessary for meeting the demands of the digital age and to ensure publishers can more effectively protect their content online. But the proposed Articles 11 and 13 of the current draft of the Copyright Directive, to be voted on by the European Parliament (EP) tomorrow, could significantly harm independent media – and investigative journalism.
Rather than adopting amendments that give publishers an ancillary right, the EP has the opportunity to adopt legislation that would simplify the handling of copyright-related issues – and give publishers the legal authority to license and enforce copyright privileges of the content they publish – without infringing on the ability of independent media to reach crucial audiences, conduct thorough research, and provide essential evidence to readers.
Wide debate around the proposed Copyright Directive has brought considerable attention to its potential impact for an open internet. Much of the criticism has rightfully focused on Article 13, which would result in dangerous, preemptive, automatic filtering of content without necessary safeguards to protect creativity online. Just as critical to tomorrow’s vote is ensuring the rights of Europe's journalists to fulfill their role as public watchdogs — which could be seriously limited by the reintroduction of Article 11.
By requiring anyone who uses any excerpt of published material to pay a licensing fee to the original publisher, large search engine operators and social media platforms are likely to prioritize content produced by larger publishers with the ability to require payment, in turn decreasing the circulation of content produced by smaller media outlets. For the OCCRP network and our 45 media member outlets across 34 countries, social media and search engine traffic accounts for 50-70 percent of global readership.
This also risks positioning larger publishers as gatekeepers, with the ability to negotiate whose content makes it onto a platform.
Moreover, search engines provide a crucial tool for journalists, who rely on disparate sources of information to do their job. If search engines are required to pay licensing fees for every bit of text, some results will inevitably be removed when a certain publisher proves untraceable, links or outlets are not considered viable enough to contend with, or a publisher refuses to license their content for any reason. Less popular content – often the underlying details essential to proving a story – will be disproportionately affected.
The lack of clarity on how proposed versions of Article 11 will affect existing copyright exceptions could further result in a chilling effect for authors when it comes to linking to and quoting sources. This would adversely affect media outlets’ credibility, ability to inform the public, , and report proven stories in a world increasingly rich with disinformation.
We have already seen the unintended effects of similar legislation for smaller publishers in Spain and Germany.
As European lawmakers work to ensure that publishers can rightfully protect their content in cases of actual copyright infringement, they should also consider the unintended consequences for investigative journalism. At a time of unprecedented assault on the truth – when access to information is paramount for ensuring accountability – the rights and abilities of independent media must be protected equally.
A previous OCCRP statement on this issue from April 2018.
An open letter of the Coalition of Innovative Media Publishers from September 2017.