Brexit is not the only European issue that British composers should be thinking about right now. You may have seen, especially from platforms such as YouTube, a concerted action against a draft EU Directive, known as Article 13:
Article 13, at its core, requires that websites observe copyright laws on the content that they host. This means that they cannot argue that they are merely a ‘platform’, with no responsibility for individual user’s posts. If a creator’s work ends up on the platform, the creator must be compensated, unless they wish to waive their fees. It also means that platforms would become responsible for copyright infractions, including of musical works. YouTube argues that to police such content—300 hours of videos are posed every minute—would be impossible. Others have suggested that the law might even render animated gifs and memes, which often use copyrighted material, liable and, consequently, threaten freedom of speech.
However, it is the case that performing rights organisations who have the responsibility of paying composers, including the the Société des Auteurs, Compositeurs de Musique in France and PRS in the UK have been been in favour of Article 13. They and others have argued that at present platforms do not pay artists a fair sum for the content that appears on their pages—they are earning revenue that should rightly belong to the creators. They also argue that many of the objections of the platforms are a smokescreen to protect their profits. They say, for example, that Article 13 won’t affect individual users (because rights issues will be taken care of by the platform); parodies and memes are already covered by copyright exemptions; that not-for-profit organisations (such as Wikipedia) are likely to be exempt; that small businesses will also be exempt; and that rather than stifling creativity, it is likely to encourage it, since creators will be able to earn more money from their content.
Whether any of this is likely to apply to the UK is an open question, of course. Article 13 currently exists in three draft forms, as proposed by the European Commission and modified by the European Council and European Parliament. The three sides are currently engaged in a ‘trialogue’ to arrive at a definite text. If this is agreed and ratified before the European elections in May, it becomes a Directive that has to be transposed into member state laws within two years. Even once outside the EU, however, it seems likely that the UK is likely to fall into its regulatory orbit. As such it may be the case that Article 13 leads to new online revenue opportunities for composers over the medium term.
For an explanation of Article 13 and it’s implications this excellent video is worth checking out (French but subtitled):