from the make-your-views-known dept
Despite the fact that copyright has been repeatedly extended and strengthened over the years, the thought never seems to cross publishers' minds that they could ever have too much of it, or that the public might have some countervailing rights here. As a consequence of this insatiable appetite, there have been a number of recent moves to create an ancillary copyright, also known as a "snippet tax," "link tax" and "Google tax," since it aims to make it obligatory to pay for making even short excerpts or linking to copyright material -- for example, in search results. Rather amazingly, publishers are still pushing for this new monopoly "right" despite abundant evidence from their own research that it harms their businesses.
Undeterred by these facts, some politicians in France are pushing for the creation of yet another kind of ancillary copyright, covering thumbnail images. That idea was squashed a long time ago in the US, but as the public domain advocacy group Comunia explains, in France, the following is still a real possibility:
A new right that would require search engines and indexing services to pay royalties for the use of thumbnail images of copyright protected works. According to French proposal, which has been approved by the French Senate, this new right would be managed by one or more collecting societies, regardless of the intention of the rightholders whether to be financially compensated for the use of their works by search engines.
In an open letter to the French Minister of Culture (pdf) Comunia explains why this is a really stupid idea:
Its scope will impact many online services and mobile apps, from search engines to creative commons models and [the online cultural collection] Europeana. Money would be collected arbitrarily and without any realistic way of redistributing it accurately. Basic, every day activities of online users, such as posting, linking, embedding photos online, would be subject to a cloud of legal uncertainty.
Unfortunately, France isn't the only part of Europe that is considering the introduction of ancillary copyright. This week, the European Commission launched a public consultation on the idea of giving publishers what it calls "neighbouring rights" -- in other words, ancillary copyright:
It would isolate France in the European Union, at a time when courts across Europe have made clear these were lawful activities under national, European and international laws. It would isolate France globally, as a country where using images online would be subject to restrictive and unworkable practice.
[The European Commission] is seeking views on the role of publishers in the copyright value chain, including the possible extension to publishers of the neighbouring rights. Publishers do not currently benefit from neighbouring rights which are similar to copyright but do not reward an authors' original creation (a work). They reward either the performance of a work (e.g. by a musician, a singer, an actor) or an organisational or financial effort (for example by a producer) which may also include a participation in the creative process.
The European Commission paints European publishers as somehow missing out on the ancillary copyright currently enjoyed by those in the music or theatre worlds. The intention is clearly to suggest that this kind of extra right is perfectly normal, and that it should -- of course -- be granted to those poor, struggling publishers, who barely have any copyright at all, apparently. However, that framing rather skates over the fact that posting an article on a website is hardly a creative act on a par with performing a song, or appearing in a play. So it's not entirely clear why the European Commission thinks it deserves an extra layer of legal protection on top of standard copyright -- other than the fact that publishers want that new monopoly in the hope of extracting money from Google.
Fortunately, the consultation is open to everyone, including those outside the EU, which means Techdirt readers everywhere can make their views known using the online questionnaire. As a bonus, you can also give your views on the so-called "panorama exception" -- another area where lobbyists are working hard to make copyright even less fit for the digital age than it is now.