The European Parliament’s decision to accept a raft of digital reforms could have widespread ramifications for the music business. The verdict has been widely celebrated by the industry and promises a new relationship between the creative community and tech firms. Ben Gilbert investigates a significant story for artists, labels and copyright holders.
Over the last two decades, the stunning, untrammelled momentum of the global tech hegemony has appeared unstoppable. Chewing up everything in its wake – from the simplistic practicalities of content creation and consumption to the more complex and murky levels of democracy – and having a profound impact on culture. The music industry, initially too ponderous and privileged to react, has achieved few victories in response. But with the business now bouncing back in purely economic terms, this week’s decision in the European Parliament promises a further recalibration of power.
How has the music industry reacted?
On Thursday, MEPs voted in Strasbourg to accept a series of digital copyright reforms, including Article 13. The decision is expected to force internet giants such as YouTube, Google and Facebook to take much greater responsibility for the user-generated content on their platforms. By reigning in their control, there will also be a welcome kickback for artists, labels and copyright holders, in a bid to ensure that this community is more fairly rewarded for their work, a recurring theme across culture in the digital age.
In the aftermath of the decision, EU commissioners Andrus Ansip and Mariya Gabriel, who were behind the Copyright Directive, called it “an essential step to achieving our common objective of modernising the copyright rules in the European Union”. The verdict, which has been universally celebrated across the British music business, comes after a concerted, vocal and ultimately successful campaign driven from the heart of the industry, mobilising a broad range of organisations, representatives and artists, including Sir Paul McCartney.
UK Music, who ran the high-profile #LoveMusic campaign, welcomed the news, with CEO Michael Dugher it “a fantastic victory”. It has also coincided with the formation of the UK Council of Music Makers (CMM), comprising a range of musicians and industry figures under the shared goal of “modernisation, fairness and transparency.” Meanwhile, Paul Pacifico, chief executive of the Association for Independent Music (AIM), has spoken to Synchtank about the decision and its potential ramifications: “I am really pleased to see the EU Parliament showing that there is still strength in the democratic process. The level and intensity of lobbying was unprecedented and yet the parliamentarians stood their ground and acted in the interests of the citizens of Europe and the future of culture for us all,” he commented.
What does the decision mean for the future?
Pacifico, who had previously claimed that the campaign to stop the directive was being led by “ultra-libertarians with an anarcho-capitalist agenda, organised and funded by Big Tech”, has dismissed a YouTube claim made in the lead up to the vote that legislation could “undermine the creative economy”. He explained: “I think the opposite is true. Article 13 gives creators a much better legal basis from which to have a flourishing creative economy in the digital age.”
But what does the decision mean for the future of the music industry? How will it actually benefit artists and the creative community? “Whilst the internet has been an incredible force in democratising participation in, and access to, culture, it has had serious consequences for the creative community,” said Pacifico. “The artificial market in ‘free’ music that the safe harbour loophole created has decimated the livelihoods of creators across the globe. My hope is that this legislation brings the pendulum back towards the centre and better balances the interests of creators and platforms.”
“The artificial market in ‘free’ music that the safe harbour loophole created has decimated the livelihoods of creators across the globe. My hope is that this legislation brings the pendulum back towards the centre and better balances the interests of creators and platforms.”
– Paul Pacifico, CEO of AIM
The digital copyright reforms were resolutely opposed by leading tech firms and various creative commons organisations. In a statement released after the verdict, Google called for “innovation and collaboration”. “People want access to quality news and creative content online. We’ve always said that more innovation and collaboration are the best way to achieve a sustainable future for the European news and creative sectors, and we’re committed to continued close partnership with these industries,” said a spokesman.
Can the industry and tech giants work together?
This is a view shared by Pacifico. He said: “I absolutely agree. In article 13 and the broader European Copyright Directive we have a springboard from which to come together better and deliver for the next generation. Previously, the creative side just didn’t have a legal basis from which to push against Big Tech. The need for this legislation ultimately came from the lack of a firm structure that made us unable to work together to create a healthy, mutually beneficial online ecosystem. Let us just hope the legislative process completes smoothly and that the key measures are not diluted in the final phase.”
A more cautious tone has been set in certain quarters. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee were among the figures to oppose the reforms. Meanwhile, an opinion piece in The Guardian claimed the decision “has made the internet worse for everyone”. Elsewhere, Mark Mulligan, music industry commentator and analyst at MIDiA Research, warned of the very real danger of a backlash from the tech community in the aftermath of the European Parliament’s decision.
While accepting that change was necessary to redress the balance in the music streaming world and fairly recompense rights holders and creators, Mulligan fears there is a possibility of dramatic, if unintended, consequences. “Will YouTube acquiesce to the new command economy approach to streaming or do something else – perhaps even walk away from music?”, he said, before concluding: “As one YouTube executive said to me a couple of years ago: ‘This is how we are as friends. Imagine how we’d be as enemies’”. The EU’s three main institutions – the European Commission, the European Parliament and the EU Council – are scheduled to discuss the terms of the Copyright Directive over the coming months, with final approval due in January.