Transparence: a lovely word
FOR THE full flavour of the best bit of the EU's proposed changes to copyright law, say it in French. In Brussels transparence means more than being able to see through things: it has connotations of measures against corruption and abuse of power.
The proposal is to oblige publishers and broadcasters to be transparent about uses of creators' work. Each time we think about it we find new ways this would help writers, illustrators and photographers dealing with unscrupulous clients. We're not going to list these, to avoid frightening publishers and broadcasters who are sure they are scrupulous but oppose regulation on principle. But what does this planned EU regulation mean for the UK? Good question. Answers on a postcard to HM Government, London SW1.
The Creators' Rights Alliance - of which the NUJ is a member - therefore followed up an idea from the Society of Authors and drafted amendments to put those best bits of the EU proposal into UK law regardless. On 6 February the House of Lords committee on the Digital Economy Bill briefly debated inserting transparence for creators into that law. It didn't go to a vote: the point was to gauge the response.
Baroness Buscombe, for the government, was moderately encouraging. "The principle of transparency is an important element of well-functioning markets," she said: "I am aware that some creators and their representatives find it difficult to access information on the use of their works owing, for example, to difficulties in negotiating suitable contractual terms… the UK will actively engage in these debates while we remain a member of the EU." She hoped we "will understand the Government's wish to allow this process to develop before considering the case for domestic intervention."
Internet not broken again
In other news, the bit of the EU proposal that's generating most heat is the idea that internet companies should pay newspapers for using extracts of journalism. This has led to the Friends of Google shouting that we must "Save the Link!!" and stop the EU "Breaking the Internet". This campaign appears to be based on the most paranoid reading of how a future court might misinterpret the future law.
Certainly, search engines and social networks that eke out their fortunes by quoting other people's creative work and selling ads alongside it; these should pay for their vital raw material. The objection of the European Federation of Journalists is different to Google's.
The EFJ objects that the current proposals say nothing about making sure that a fair share of any money goes to actual journalists . And anyway, when Germany and Spain tried roughly similar proposals, Google simply said it would stop indexing any newspaper that wanted payment, and to make the point shut down news.google.es. Its monopoly power meant there was no money to share anyway.