Bitter struggle over authors' rights

24 March 2019

Bitter struggle over authors' rights

Sometimes it's a simple matter deciding which way to vote in the European Parliament. If the matter at hand concerns neoliberal proposals for liberalisation and privatisation, for example, in general we'd be against. Sometimes, however, it's a great deal more difficult. Whichever way you vote, the outcome is never perfect. That is the case with the directive on authors' rights. The SP wants to see the internet being as free as possible, but we also want artists and writers to be fairly rewarded for their creativity. After studying the issue in depth and consulting all sorts of experts, we have decided to vote for the protection of artists, including for material which can be found on sites such as Youtube.

In the past I have noted in clear terms that we are opposed to censorship of the internet. The proposals developed by the European Parliament, which we voted on last September, went too far, which is why we voted against them. Next week we'll be voting on the results of the negotiations between the EP and the Council of Ministers. In general we look more favourably on the new proposals, and in common with the trade union movement and countless organisations of writers and artists, we'll be supporting them, even if they remain far from ideal.

What's involved here? Say you upload a video from your favourite artist on Youtube. This will often be rights protected. Just as is the case with radio and television, Youtube should have a licence agreement with the authors' rights organisation to which the artist is affiliated. Via this agreement the artist in question will eventually receive payment for showing his or her work. If they have been paid, no problem. If not, your upload won't be punished, but it could be that Youtube will be informed that there is rights-protected material on your channel, and you'll have to remove it.

In order to recognise such material, authors' rights organisation will provide 'fingerprints'. If there's a match, Youtube will have to take action. That's why some people refer to this as a filter, although in the strict sense it's no such thing. There are many people who make use of this material, such as the Youtube viewers who judge the entries for the Eurovision Song Contest. They watch, for example, Duncan Laurence's video, to see how good they think the Dutch entry is. Nothing wrong with that, and it's an exception to the rules, so there's no chance of Youtube removing it. The same goes for other personal applications, such as memes or caricatures. Moreover the directive as a whole applies in the main only to really big sites which have existed for more than three years.

But let's say you've uploaded a video and then find that it has been incorrectly removed. What then? In the directive it says that in such cases there must be rapid complaints enabling settlement out of court. In relation to this, algorithms have no evidential value. Someone from Youtube must have looked at the video and verified that it's protected material. In short, not only are you yourself never held responsible if you put something on Youtube, you can only gain speedy redress in response to a complaint.

This certainly isn't great legislation. As numerous member states have pointed out in a declaration signed also by the Netherlands, too much remains unclear. But the directive's main thrust is crystal clear: as few hindrances as possible for the internet user and a reasonable return for the artists. As a result of the guarantees now built into the directive, the SP has decided that this is something to which we can agree, but we don't see it as offering carte blanche for internet censorship. We continue to stand for an internet that is as free as possible and will be following closely the directive's implementation.

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