When the EU last overhauled its copyright rules, back in 2001, the German newspaper Bild was selling more than 4m copies a day, music lovers were buying 2.4bn CDs a year, and recently revived computer maker Apple had just brought out something called an iPod.
The abundance of free tunes uploaded to the internet each day has been making it hard for the music industry to sell versions of the same songs. But while a lot has changed since then, the rules have stayed the same — which is why, this week, Brussels will try to bring them up to date. The European Union’s executive branch this week is expected to propose a broad package of copyright reforms that, among other things, would help musicians and their record companies earn more by making streaming services such as YouTube beef up their ability to fight piracy.
As part of the copyright protections, the EU also is expected to propose granting news organizations new rights to demand licenses for the posting of even snippets of their articles for 20 years, a move to help publishers negotiate compensation from news aggregators such as Google.
The European Commission’s proposals, which come after a three-year review aimed at updating copyright law for the digital age, could take years to ratify. The proposals have been—and are likely to remain—the subject of heavy lobbying from copyright holders like record labels and newspaper publishers on one hand, and technology firms on the other.
Tech companies say the proposals could threaten smaller companies that don’t have the resources to build beefed-up copyright protection systems that would automatically block or remove violations and discourage the sharing of news content from European publishers.
Music executives say the reforms are a step in the right direction. Music executives have lauded the fact that early drafts of the proposal acknowledged the widening “value gap” between the amount of music consumption and the amount of revenue it generates. Over the past few years, sites offering protected content uploaded by fans “have flourished and have become main sources of access to content online,” reads a recent draft of the proposals, adding that this affects creators’ ability “to get an appropriate remuneration for it.”
Drafts of the proposals call for online services to protect copyrighted recordings and songs that their users may have uploaded with measures that aren’t required under current law either in Europe or in the U.S., unless they receive complaints. The proposals also require services to be more transparent about their data and technology, people familiar with the matter said.
The potential reforms underscore the conflicted relationship that the music industry has with YouTube, which has more than 1 billion monthly users. YouTube has licensing agreements that allow record labels to automatically monetize, block or mute their tunes in user-uploaded content with a high degree of accuracy through its “Content ID” system. YouTube spent $60 million to build the system. But while the overall amount that YouTube pays out to music creators has been increasing, the amount that labels and artists get per stream on user-uploaded videos has been declining. Record labels also lament having to employ teams to search for and remove their songs that they have tried to block automatically from the site but that have nonetheless escaped the Content ID system, which can happen when users manipulate the audio files.
The music industry—which has barely grown in recent years after shedding 60% of its value since 2000—has been lobbying for similar reforms in the U.S., where lawmakers have also been conducting a yearslong review of copyright law. In particular the music industry has been seeking to change the part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that shields host sites from liability when their users upload content without an explicit license to do so. Tech companies are fighting to preserve that so-called “safe harbor” protection, which they say has underpinned the sector’s rise.
Given Silicon Valley’s enormous economic clout in the U.S., label executives think European lawmakers are more likely to enact such a change. In April, the music industry cheered when EU’s digital chief Andrus Ansip said in public comments that change was needed to create “a level playing field between different service providers.”
Whether YouTube’s free site is directly competing with paid services such as Apple Music and Spotify is a matter of debate. According to a YouTube spokeswoman, “users come to YouTube to watch all kinds of different videos. The average YouTube user spends an average of an hour a month consuming music, far less than music-only platforms.” Meanwhile, she added, less than 20% of all music views on YouTube result from a user searching for a specific artist or song. “The vast majority of music discovery and consumption is through songs recommended through YouTube’s algorithms,” she said.
Data from recording industry trade group International Federation of the Phonographic Industry released on Tuesday paints a different picture. According to a recent survey of internet users, YouTube is the most-used music service, with 93% of 16- to 24-year-old YouTube users visiting for music and 80% of the site’s music users listening to songs they already know.