Brussels
03 May 2017
Reporter: Mark Dugdale

Rights owners ‘blast’ cross-border portability as supporters rally behind press publishing


A rift between rights holders and EU leaders is simmering over various aspects of the Digital Single Market initiative, with the cross-border portability right and new protections for press publishers proving the most controversial.

More than 400 rights holders and organisations have reportedly written to EU leaders including council president Donald Tusk to criticise the plan to introduce a cross-border portability right to allow users to take their online content between EU member states for short stints.

The cross-border portability right, introduced as a regulation last year to herald the start of the ambitious Digital Single Market initiative, would enable EU citizens subscribing to online content services to access content while abroad in another EU country.

According to the letter, the signatory rights holders and organisations believe the cross-border portability right would “severely erode territorial exclusivity”, effectively allowing broadcasters and online streaming services to “buy a licence for one member state” and “get the rest of the EU for free”.

Sports is likely to be hit particularly hard, although the proposed ‘temporary’ nature of the cross-border portability right would have less of an effect than full-blown cross-border licensing, according to one study last year

Meanwhile, German politician Günther Oettinger, former European commissioner for digital economy and society, has defended plans to introduce a link right for press publishers, claiming: “The European press landscape is like a Serengeti, it needs special protection.”

Press publishers have long criticised online services such as Google News, which use headlines and snippets from news stories without compensating rights owners.

Under the European Commission’s Digital Single Market plans, announced in September 2016, a link right would be introduced that would allow press publishers to acquire licence fees from third parties who use their content, up to 20 years from publication.

According to Oettinger, press publishing could suffer from a lack of diversity in the next decade if online platforms do not begin paying adequate compensation for the use of their content.

Some have questioned the effectiveness of a such a right, with the Centre for International Intellectual Property Studies claiming it would be “detrimental for authors’ interests”, and ultimately “undermine the overall functioning of the copyright system”.

Christian Van Thillo, CEO of de Persgroep and chair of the European Publishers Council, last month called for widespread political support for the controversial link right.

He said: “This would help publishing and professional journalism continue to play a valuable role in promoting cultural diversity, entertaining, informing, holding our leaders to account and upholding our precious democracy.”

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