Copyright and the news in the EU

A conference, arranged by Cambridge University’s CIPIL, will be hosted by the IViR, University of Amsterdam on April 23, 2016 to discuss moves in Europe to use copyright to the benefit of news publishers. Richard Danbury discusses key topics and questions the conference will address. Click here to register.

A new right to be forgotten?

Europe and America frequently see the world through different lenses. This obviously can lead to striking differences and blindspots. One focus of this is the internet, and how it should be regulated. The existence of different worldviews in the US and Europe was one reason why Europe’s so-called Right to be Forgotten blindsided many in the States. But what’s next? Is it a proposed news publishers’ right?


The death of newspapers – again.

It’s well known that many legacy news publishers around the world are struggling. Newspapers in Europe and America are closing, and journalists are being laid off.  Could copyright be part of the solution? Some in Europe seem to think so.


Enter copyright, and related rights?

This is one reason why a possible new European-wide news publisher’s right, related to copyright, is being mooted, designed to benefit news publishers. Details remain unclear, but at the least it’s likely to create a means by which news publishers can enforce control over the distribution of news that they publish. For example, we know that the European Commission said last December that it is considering the position of news aggregators and news publishers (details here). Last week, they opened a public consultation on the new right.

This wouldn’t be without precedent. Similar protections related to copyright law have been attempted before in different countries in the EU. In Germany, there was an ancillary copyright created for press producers (the ‘Leistungsschutzrecht für Presseverlege.’ In Spain, the copyright law was amended to similar effect, and there were discussions in France and Belgium about enacting comparable laws.

It’s a bit simplistic to say this has only been a European phenomenon. The US has also seen the use of copyright – and para-copyright – to a similar end. So the ‘hot news’ tort was pleaded – albeit unsuccessfully – in the second circuit in 2011, and copyright was pleaded – successfully, this time – against a commercial news aggregator in 2013. But Europe’s proposals seem to go further.


Enter controversy

Yet this use of copyright is deeply controversial. A number of questions arise. Why, for example, should press publishers receive priority treatment? Would not using copyright only provide life support to an ailing, perhaps dying, business model? Why should legacy players receive the benefit, and novel online news distributors feel the pain? And, in any event, would it generate enough money for news publishers?

What about the audience: what about their right to receive news and information, which is protected by some fundamental rights laws? Do those conflict with this sort of right? What would the effect of such a right be on how the internet works?

On the other hand, are online news distributors not free-riding on the time, skill, effort, labour and creativity of news producers? Newspapers and sites don’t drop onto the internet fully formed. As news publishers argue, this collection of material is the result of institutions who carefully craft their product – and, if needs be, defend it with treasure and sweat against the state. Aren’t news publishers essential for democracy, and isn’t this right not only just, but necessary for democracy?


The conference

The conference at IViR will seek to address these questions. The intention is to bring together an interdisciplinary combination of academics, practitioners and policymakers to discuss the issue. Representatives from news producing, publishing and disseminating organizations, both traditional and online, have been invited and speakers will include Andrew Hughes from the NLA Media Access. Academic speakers include Lionel Bently and John Naughton from Cambridge; Bernt Hugenholtz and Mireille van Eechoud from IViR; Ian Hargreaves from Cardiff University; Raquel Xalabarder (UOC Barcelona) and Jan Hegemann (FU Berlin); and Marietje Schaake (MEP).



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