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Humans of Copyright: Maarten Lambrechts

Articles 3 & 11 – the perspective of a data and investigative journalist

We asked Maarten Lambrechts, Freelance Data Journalist: “Could the copyright reform threaten data journalism?”. He explained that data journalism, the new breed of investigative techniques used to find relevant facts in masses of data such as the Panama Papers, relies on journalists being able to use text and data mining techniques. The limited scope currently given to Article 3 (in terms of text and data mining being clearly authorised only for research organisations working for scientific purposes) is bound to create a lot of legal uncertainty for him and his colleagues.  The full video version of his interview is embedded above. An extensive interview can also been found on Copybuzz.

#HumansOfCopyright: How to #FixCopyright for Data Journalism - Maarten Lambrechts [Long]

Why is Article 3 a Problem for Data Journalism?

The proposed Article 3 of the EU Copyright Directive allows the use of text and data mining without need for a specific licence but limits the scope of this ‘exception’ to copyright to research organisations working for scientific purposes. Clearly, journalists would hence not benefit from this exception and would need to get licences to mine copyrighted content, even if they already acquired legal access to the content itself.

This points was notably made by various libraries and research organisations in an open letter:

By making rules that apply only to universities and scholarly publishers, the proposals, by implication, subject all other text and data mining activities to copyright. Potential users of TDM will be forced to seek licences (difficult to imagine in the case of the Internet), with different laws applying from one country to the next. This would not only kill off many of the activities and jobs that rely on TDM today, but also those into the future.

What is the Impact of Article 11, the Press Publishers’ Right, on journalists?

Article 11 is sold by some (including the European Commission) as the miracle solution to the woes encountered by press publishers in terms of shrinking revenues, all wrapped in a package dubbed ‘increasing quality journalism’ and ‘combatting fake news’.

Yet nothing in Article 11 would even remotely address these various challenges.

The Money Myth

It has been demonstrated in an independent academic study on ‘Strengthening the Position of Press Publishers and Authors and Performers in the Copyright Directive’ that was commissioned by the EP’s Policy Department for Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs at the request of the Legal Affairs (JURI) Committee that if any money was raised through a so-called ‘snippet tax’, the amounts would be far from impressive and highly insufficient:

The study stresses the fact that “there is little evidence that the decline in newspaper revenues has anything to do with the activities of news aggregators or search engines” (p. 18).  They add that “experience with versions of right in the two national jurisdictions, Germany and Spain, have not provided evidence of significant additional remuneration streams for press publishers” (p. 19).

The Quality Journalism Myth

Throwing (small amounts) of money at publishers is absolutly not the silver bullet to increasing qualty journalism, quite the contrary. An independent investigative journalism outlet and media development organization, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), recently pointed out the perverse effect of Article 11, namely that:

 ‘(…) wide, unhindered circulation of and linking to our stories is essential to achieve any meaningful impact on corruption and organized crime. (…) By implementing the link tax and a licensing requirements between platforms and media organizations like ours this legislation would severely limit the ability of OCCRP and other independent media organizations to provide accurate and fair reporting, and prevent our stories from reaching the widest possible audience. This would be a serious blow for investigative journalism and present a giant step backward in the fight against misinformation.’

The Fake News Myth

The use of the fake news hype in the context of Article 11 has been brilliantly defused by Therese Comodini Cachia, the former European Parliament rapporteur on the Copyright Directive and current member of parliament in Malta, in a recent interview she gave to Politico and in which she stated:

There is this hullabaloo about fake news, the way we say that we need independent press so that we don’t have fake news, and we need the publisher’s right so we don’t have fake news. Independent investigative journalists are not all employed full-time by press agencies or by press publishers. Maltese journalist Daphne [Caruana Galizia, who was murdered last year] wasn’t employed by anyone, she had her own online blog. I can’t help thinking how none of the Commission proposals on copyright and the digital single market could’ve helped her in her work.’ [Source: Politico]

What Can You Do?

Policy makers are sometimes unaware or overly dismissive of the collateral damages their proposals entail. Whilst many stakeholders and interests are represented in Brussels through trade associations or NGO’s, getting information directly from concerned citizens is still effective to catch the attention of policy makers.

Several tools are available to reach ot to policy-makers:

  • You can email and/or tweet to relevant MEPs using our directory or you can spread the word in your network using our template email: go tour call to action page and select tweet or email (you can do both by using our form twice) or use our MEPs page and filter by choosing your country or by targetting the lead MEPs on the file, namely the Rapporteur and Shadow Rapporteurs.

For more background, check our Issues Briefing on Article 3 and on Article 11 or read the specific analysis we did on the impact of Article 11 on the knowledge community.