[A2k] Politico Europe: Man in the eye of Europe's copyright storm

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Wed Sep 12 02:06:09 PDT 2018


Man in the eye of Europe’s copyright storm

Axel Voss was meant to be a cool head in a heated argument. But distance
from his home party — and accusations of hard-headedness — have undermined

Updated 9/12/18, 5:34 AM CET

German MEP Axel Voss has a chance to prove his critics wrong | European

When German MEP Axel Voss took over Europe’s plans to overhaul copyright
rules for the internet age, he cast himself as a steady pair of hands that
could broker a compromise on one of the bloc’s most controversial reforms.

“I try to approach the issue without emotion,” Voss said shortly after he
became rapporteur for the file.

But as Parliament’s plenary prepares for its second vote on the reform, the
55-year-old conservative has become something else — a lightning rod for
controversy in a lobbying war between a tech industry that opposes parts of
the reform, and a creative sector that supports it.

Much of the ire directed at Voss comes from the former group which, backed
by giants like Google and Facebook, resists an expansion of online
monitoring duties and new rights for publishers. Tech industry
representatives argued that he was at times too slow to inflect his
positions on controversial points when compromise was needed. Publishing
industry representatives disagreed, saying Voss worked diligently to forge
compromise in a lobbying fight that brought in everyone from former Beatle
Paul McCartney to ex-Fugees star Wyclef Jean.

But even some members of his own party, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s
Christian Democratic Union, voiced criticism of Voss, who some said has
drifted away from his party’s positions.

Artists such as Wyclef Jean have gotten involved in the copyright debate |
Patricia de Melo Moreira/AFP via Getty Images

Now Voss — who has never held office in Berlin — has another chance to
prove his critics wrong. MEPs are due to vote in plenary Wednesday on a
series of amendments to the reform. If Voss’ version of the European
Commission’s original text prevails, he will have won over his critics in
one of Europe’s most controversial legislative battles.

To boost his chances, he’s chosen a strategy of appeasement. He added
amendments to his original compromise that removed small tech businesses
from facing certain obligations for big platforms to strike licensing
agreements with rights holders. He’s also attempted to explain how new
obligations for member countries would work when it comes to mediation
between big platforms like YouTube and rights holders when they flag
infringements on the site.

It’s been a substantial effort — one that Voss, days before the vote, was
not sure would succeed. “I’m not sure this is working,” he said. “But I’m
confident it might be the best approach.”

Tech’s bête noire

Despite his outreach, critics kept coming back to the allegation that Voss
is not willing enough to find compromise — with tech industry
representatives being most vocal. They argued that through months of
negotiations, Voss had remained unreceptive to their arguments about
so-called upload filters, or automatic content monitoring tools.

“[Voss] has every freedom to present a middle-of-the-road approach” —
German MEP Julia Reda

Such tools, they asserted, would lead to unintended consequences if used
too widely — like taking down artistic nudes instead of pornographic

“We have communicated these points with Mr. Voss on several occasions,”
said Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl, the director general of Digital Europe, a
Brussels-based tech lobby that represents Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft
and others. “Unfortunately, we regret that not many of these considerations
have been taken on board — even when they are supported by many other
stakeholders, experts and academia.”

Publishers disagreed. Voss had in fact done his best to accommodate all
viewpoints, several representatives argued. “He has gone all-out to try and
find a middle way and to retain a balance. It’s no secret that he and his
own group supported the neighboring right. He did try to inject clearer
wording [on hyperlinks and protecting individual users],” said Angela Mills
Wade, the executive director of the European Publishers Council. (Axel
Springer, co-owner of POLITICO’s European edition, is a member of the
European Publishers Council.)

Many online platforms already use automatic content monitoring tools. On
YouTube, for example, Content ID automatically flags music videos protected
by copyright. The current debate centers on how extensively such filters
should be used. For the publishing sector, it focuses on how to potentially
monetize the posting of snippets or excerpts of protected content.

Lobbyists also argued that Voss gave more time and consideration to
publishing groups than he did to the digital sector.

Axel Voss voting on Copyright in the Digital Single Market | European

By backing a new “right” for publishers and ruling in favor of more
monitoring duties for platforms, he came out on the side of the pro-reform
camp. The result, they said, was that the copyright compromise Voss had
spent months brokering in committee was defeated in a July plenary vote, as
major political groups — including his own — split into rival camps.

“He has every freedom to present a middle-of-the-road approach,” said Julia
Reda, a German MEP who was in charge of the file for Parliament’s Greens,
and advocated vocally against the current text. “It was frustrating how the
shadow meetings [on finding a compromise] went.”

Voss himself pushed back strongly against such criticisms.

He attributed the vote’s defeat to what he called aggressive lobbying
supported by tech giants, which “misled” the public over the substance of
the law.

“They’re not interested in getting a better balance,” he told POLITICO,
referring to the industry. “They are misleading the whole internet
community saying filters are bad.”

Voss also stated that representatives of some of the large tech firms had
not approached or suggested to meet with him directly, hampering his
understanding of their views.

Drifting away

In a heated argument, it can be tempting to blame the mediator. But outside
of Brussels, observers described another factor in Voss’ failure to win the
first copyright vote: He fell out of sync with his own party.

Critics call Voss a Europapolitiker (“Europe politician”), a byword for an
outsider to German politics.

While Voss originally backed the position of the European People’s Party —
which observers say originally stemmed from his home party, the Christian
Democratic Union — party members say their views on ancillary copyright and
upload filters evolved as they learned more about the subject. Voss,
however, dug in on the most controversial subjects.

Inside the CDU, critics call Voss a Europapolitiker (“Europe politician”),
a byword for an outsider to German politics.

Voss’ distance from his party came to a head when a coalition of CDU
members wrote a letter ahead of the July copyright vote pushing the
European People’s Party to reject Voss’ compromise — a surprising reversal
that heralded the defeat of his first compromise.

“I, frankly, just don’t get him,” said one CDU politician who spoke on
condition of anonymity. “It’s not that he comes across like a sheriff …
He’s always open to talking and hearing new ideas. But then you speak with
him for hours, and at the end, his position hasn’t changed at all.”

Thiru Balasubramaniam
Geneva Representative
Knowledge Ecology International
41 22 791 6727
thiru at keionline.org

More information about the A2k mailing list