European Federation of Journalists

On World Intellectual Property Day, we call for increased scrutiny of internet giants

Credits: Júnior Ferreira,

This year’s World Intellectual Property Day – celebrated on 26 April 2021 – marks a turning point in relations between the worlds’ populations and the internet giants that control an increasing proportion of the information on which we depend to make vital decisions in our lives.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) represents more than 600,000 journalists in 150 countries worldwide, and the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) over 320.000 journalists in 45 countries. Both organisations welcome increased scrutiny of these internet giants and on this day call for them to meet their responsibilities to our members and the world.

The owners of corporations such as Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon have built fortunes by distributing works protected by authors’ rights laws and selling advertising on the strength of their appeal to users. Facebook and Google between them monopolise the marked in advertising, wreaking havoc on the financial foundations of independent news reporting. 

The IFJ and EFJ have long pointed out that societies can be neither democratic nor supportive of their populations without such reporting. We regret that it has taken recent experiences such as the manipulation of elections and referendums and of the propagation of misinformation about the covid pandemic to draw attention to this truth and to the the need for the professional reporting that our members provide.

For too long these internet giants have been able to build empires on the principle “don’t ask permission, ask forgiveness” espoused by Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and funder of Donald Trump. They have knowingly and flagrantly profited from the abuse of the authors’ rights of artists, song-writers and journalists. Whenever someone is drawn to one of their websites they profit from advertisements on those sites. Whenever someone is drawn to one of their websites that person is drawn by the work of authors and performers.

Faced with demands that they pay for the use they make of these works – their primary “raw material” – these corporations deploy powerful lobbying defences of their power and profits. They are able to fund reports from otherwise prestigious institutions, and they are able to deploy low-level “memes” such as presenting the demand that they pay up as a “tax”. Paying for use of creative workers’ output is no more a “link tax” than paying for vegetables is a “carrot tax”.

Faced with demands by law-makers, these corporations have sought to distract attention by offering to pay newspapers and broadcasters of their choosing amounts of their choosing. Notoriously, in Australia they threatened to cut the country off. The law regulating their payments as monopoly purchasers from news publishers passed nevertheless – but it has a fatal flaw in that it leaves payments to actual journalists dependent on the beneficence of Australian newspaper owners. It is journalists who need to be supported in the service we provide to society. The European Union’s 2019 Copyright Directive, due to be implemented in member states within weeks, at least promises that our members should receive an appropriate share of income received from the internet giants. The IFJ and EFJ commend this approach to the law-makers of the world.