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Christophe Walter-Petit

Christophe Walter-Petit

General Counsel

Christine Buhagiar

Christine Buhagiar

Regional Director Europe

Neighbouring rights: Correcting a major imbalance with the internet giants

What is the latest on AFP's push to introduce neighbouring rights, a supplement to journalists' copyright?

CWP : We continue to fight on several fronts. We are getting others on board, as shown by the op-ed that AFP signed with eight other European news agencies calling on internet giants to share some of their profits with the media providing content for them. The text was published in around 40 European newspapers. We are also fighting on the political front with a draft directive on neighbouring rights that we are lobbying to get amended in the European Parliament so it introduces neighbouring rights for publishers and news agencies.

CB : That op-ed enabled us to put the problem into perspective because it is urgent. The media industry spends a great deal of money to produce news content but can no longer finance itself because the online advertising market, the only one which is growing, is monopolised up to 60-70% (depending on the country) by Facebook and Google.

What are you hoping to gain from this offensive?

CWP : Like the record industry before us, we want neighbouring rights allowing us to be paid for the contribution we make to inform the public. The law as it stands gives us no effective weapons to fight against the theft of our content by search engines and content aggregators. That is why we are pushing for neighbouring rights to be introduced. Remember that none of these new players have newsrooms or a network for producing and collecting news.

CB : There is a major imbalance today that needs correcting. It stems from jurisprudence that allows the free reproduction of hyperlinks. We are of course in favour of everyone having access to information. But we do not agree that these internet giants should be able to make a business out of it and then not share the profits.

Some MEPs fear the public's right to be informed free of charge could be thrown into doubt. How do you respond?

CWP : The European Parliament is divided on the subject. Some MEPs do not like the Commission's text because they feel that news should on principle be free for the consumer. We went to see them to explain that there is no question of making internet users pay. On the contrary, the amendments we are seeking aims to force those making huge profits from news content to hand back some of those profits to the companies investing to produce that content.

CB : There is a myth, kept alive by the big players in the sector, that the internet is free. But the net is not free for everyone: informing the public is an expensive mission, especially for news agencies. At the other end of the chain, the consumer is a goldmine for those making money out of adverts and the sale of personal data.

What is the danger if things stay as they are?

CB: The subject is crucial for the future of the media. If this imbalance is not corrected, media companies will disappear, which is a serious blow for democracy, and for the right of the citizen to have access to a range of information. The other possibility is that the state will increase its aid to keep media alive. In that case, it is the taxpayer who will pay. So whatever happens, internet users will be penalised if nothing is done.

CWP: The MEPs who oppose the draft directive thinking they are defending the consumer and access to free information are aiming at the wrong target. They are forgetting the taxpayer and therefore the consumer! Also, in some countries, when the state gives out aid, it expects something in return and that is not good for the freedom of information or for democracy.

Neighbouring rights

What are they? Neighbouring rights are given not to authors but to those who make the author's work possible. They are already granted to performing artists, record and video producers and audiovisual communications bodies. Whenever content is used, they have the right to be paid as reward for the money they themselves have invested.

Why are news agencies claiming this? FP and its partners in the European Alliance of News Agencies (EANA) are claiming this right to force the big internet players to pay us a share of their profits for the millions of pieces of news content viewed on their platforms.

How do we achieve this? The European Parliament is currently debating a draft European copyright directive. If adopted, it will confer neighbouring rights on those who invest in news production, meaning publishers and news agencies.