I came across a number of articles in Canadian newspapers today about Europe’s new Copyright Directive. This controversial new law is intended to strengthen the rights, and revenue, of musicians, producers, etc. It also includes a provision that requires services like Google or Facebook to pay a licence fee if they link to a newspaper article.
On paper, this directive makes sense, but as its many critics have pointed out, it also opens the door to censorship and other nefarious measures that could entrap creative types with a legitimate purpose for using or uploading a specific work of art. What is more, anyone who posts a link to an article, or quotes a snippet from it, on their own website or blog, for example, could end up being sent an invoice for the licence fee.
Personally, I have no problem with the directive’s goal of thwarting piracy of TV shows, movies and songs. I don’t use any pirate services to obtain such material—I never even used Napster when it was around. But I do know someone, who shall not be identified any further for obvious reasons, who consumes all his TV shows, movies, songs and more through a special Android TV set-top box as well as peer-to-peer sharing services. That is something I’m fiercely opposed to, because it harms the industry, and we all could be worse off as a result, say, when all those studios, producers or composers stop turning out new products.
(Article continues below)
However much I may support the new directive, what I find objectionable is the fact that it looks only at one side of the coin. One, if not the most important, reason why creative industries have been losing out to illicit sharing online is that they themselves keep limiting themselves. There is no mention of that in the directive, but it’s the truth.
The most prominent examples are TV shows and songs. I have lost track of the many times I wanted to purchase—yes, purchase—a specific TV show or song only to find that the services available to me, such as iTunes, Google or even Amazon, wouldn’t sell it to me. Not because they didn’t want to make a quick buck, but because the copyright holders refuse to sell their TV shows or songs to willing consumers in my territory.
If I created and owned a TV show or song, you can bet that I’d sell it through the aforementioned services all over the world to maximize my profit. However, if I decided to sit on it and sell it only to people in my immediate neighbourhood, I surely wouldn’t have to right to complain afterwards if others pirated my product and shared or sold it in other parts of the world.
I understand that a BBC series, for example, may not be instantly available in Canada, because the broadcast and/or streaming rights may have already been sold to a Canadian service that will start airing or streaming it several months after the series has aired on the BBC in Britain. That’s fine. But there are many other examples of TV programmes that no Canadian (or American) service acquires, yet the show or programme in question still remains off-limits to Canadian consumers, even though the BBC, ITV or whoever owns the original rights could easily make it available for purchase through iTunes, for example.
A few months ago, I was looking for a specific song (from Britain). After some research, I found it on the Australian iTunes store, but being Canadian, I can’t purchase from there. The composer of the song back in Britain lost out on a legal sale of his song, because he obviously didn’t want to sell to Canadians.
Here’s another example of such shortsightedness: when Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) entered into force earlier this year, American newspapers like The Los Angeles Times geo-blocked European readers. Instead of putting a privacy notice on their website that meets the requirements of the GDPR (which doesn’t cost an arm and a leg), they opted to forgo crucial eyeballs, thus reducing their revenue from online advertising and possible subscriptions.
In short, all those industries that have been crying foul and shedding tears over the losses they suffer at the hands of the giants like Google, Apple, Facebook or Netflix are, in fact, doing at least as much damage to themselves through myopic and downright stupid business decisions.
The EU’s new directive won’t solve these problems. In some areas, it will actually make things even worse. Just think of the licence fee for posting a link to a newspaper article: as people and companies stop posting links to interesting articles, site traffic to the sources of such articles will dry up, and so will the income from any online advertising placed on such sites.
As I said, I really don’t mind paying for my newspapers, books, songs, TV shows and movies (and I do), but if and when I do want to make such a purchase, I must be able to carry it out without being blocked or told, “The computer says no!”