Our opinion on EuroActiv: ‘protecting journalism is not synonymous with protecting the interests of big press publishers’

Today, 18 January, EuroActiv published an opinion article written by our Chairman and spokesperson Carlos Astiz in reply to an opinion of the European Publishers Council Chairman, Christian Van Thillo.

In his opinion, Carlos Astiz explains how the European media landscape has evolved and change in the last years and comprises now of a multitude of thriving small and digital media publishers that focus primarily in regional and local news. Carlos goes on to explain that those differences should be reflected on the ongoing discussions on Article 11 of the Copyright Directive. And he further adds that, only when those differences are fully recognized by all stakeholders, can publishers from all sizes benefit equally from the ongoing revision of the Copyright Directive.

Protecting journalism is not synonymous with protecting the interests of big press publishers.
The EU Copyright Directive must ensure that publishers, regardless of their size, equally benefit from this reform, writes Carlos Astiz

We respectfully disagree with Christian Van Thillo’s words in his opinion earlier this month. In fact, he writes from the perspective of big publishers only, neglecting that the media landscape has evolved and now comprises of a multitude of thriving small media publishers. Small press publishers are quite different from big publishers: they cover primarily local and regional news. Big publishers on the other hand, tend to focus on national politics, international developments and all kinds of other topics that don’t have a direct link to a specific local community. They have a different focus and reach different audiences.

Local and regional news outlets, strengthen local communities, and provide news about topics that impact people’s daily lives – from reports about local sports games to city council meetings. These are topics that big publishers don’t have an interest in – and if these reporting disappear, an important pillar and link to these communities might disappear with it.

The new copyright rules as drafted by the European Parliament, put these smaller and local press publishers at risk by making it mandatory for publishers to set up a licensing models with online services. Only if there’s a paid license, they can be included. That is not the way forward.

Nevertheless, this should not mean that Article 11 of the Copyright Directive should be deleted. Rather, it should ensure the right for all publishers to decide whether or not they wish to claim a so called ‘neighbouring right’.

Small publishers rely heavily on web traffic from news aggregators, search engines and apps to make their stories heard by the public. These online services are their allies in generating more revenues through ads or subscriptions. They don’t “steal” their content, on the contrary they help their content find new audience. The introduction of a publisher’s right would, as examples in Germany and Spain have shown, lead to the disappearance of small innovative publishers whose activities are based on the online world. This is not a measure supported by small publishers. This is not a measure that supports media pluralism.

Creating a new intellectual property right to cover individual words or short excerpts will have a chilling effect on the freedom of information. Just think for a second: how can a potential reader click on a link displayed by a news aggregator if she doesn’t have enough context about the subject matter of the article? This is the reason why small publishers are asking for the introduction of the “originality principle” to any new right. The originality principle will ensure that the neighbouring right applies to parts that are the expression of intellectual creation of their authors and not to mere facts.

An overwhelming majority of readers of well-known media outlets such as Der Spiegel or Bildt visit directly the webpages of these newspapers (between 70 and 80%). This is not the case for less well known or local press publishers who rely on the web traffic of online services. Big press publishers have the leverage to get into licensing agreements with search engines and news aggregators.. This is not our case. That’s why it is important to ensure that the final text protects all types of business model.

It is time to understand that media pluralism needs the voice of the local press. It is time for the EU institutions to ensure that both big and small press publishers can coexist and thrive by protecting our business model that relies on web traffic.

Carlos Astiz is the Chairman and spokesperson of Innovative Media Publishers

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