World Copyright Day: Journalists must be paid for tech giants’ use of their work
This yearʼs World Book and Copyright Day – celebrated on 23 April – comes at a crucial point in the conflict between authors and the internet giants as unions step up calls to ensure journalists are paid for the use of their work. The International and the European Federations of journalists (IFJ/EFJ) call on governments and civil society to ensure that internet giants do not control information and that journalists receive a fair share of the benefits collected when their works are being used by the tech corporations.
The IFJ and EFJ have warned against the ongoing business models of big tech giants such as Facebook (“Meta”) and Google (“Alphabet”) making benefits by distributing words, images and sounds that others have authored and performed.
“Facebook and Google between them have monopolised the worldwide advertising market, wreaking havoc on the financial foundations of independent news reporting,” the federations say.
In response, governments are seeking ways to make them pay. They are fighting back.
In most of the world, the approach to ensuring that creativity is rewarded is to legislate Authorsʼ Rights – which are at root rights of the individual human creator. Against that background, in 2019 the European Union adopted the Directive on Copyright and related rights in the Digital Single Market – which includes a measure granting news publishers a so-called “neighbouring right” to authorise – for a fee – re-publication of the content they put out.
The Directive is not perfect. The IFJ and EFJ proposed that journalists should receive a minimum percentage of publishersʼ revenues from the internet giants, distributed through collecting societies. The directive contains a general commitment that journalists receive “an appropriate share” of the revenues collected.
“Many EU member states have missed the deadline to transpose the Directive into their national law,” the federations regret. “Some have added undesirable law that isnʼt in the Directive – such as a presumption that the work of employed journalists belongs to the publisher, as in the copyright system.”
In several EU member states Google in particular is trying to avoid the legal requirement to pay by bundling up “offers” to news publishers that include payments – at its sole discretion – under its “News Showcase” product.
In the copyright system
In the English-speaking world copyright is “a property right”. It presumes, for example, that the “author” of a work done under a contract of employment is the employer, not the human behind the creation.
Against this background, in 2021 Australia passed a “news code” – defying a threat by Google to withdraw all search services from the country. It operates under competition law, not intellectual property law: it allows news publishers to get together to negotiate with internet giants, without such collaboration being punishable as an anti-competitive “cartel”. It says nothing about a fair share for journalists – even freelance journalists who retain copyright in their work. Here, too, the revenue it has produced for publishers is obscured by lumping in payments for the News Showcase with those for reproduction of articles in straightforward search and sharing.
On 5 April a similar law received its first reading in Canadaʼs Parliament – again, with no provision for journalists to share in revenues. In the US, the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act was introduced in 2021.
IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said: “It is journalists who need to be supported in the service we provide to society. The worldsʼ populations cannot benefit from independent, professional journalism unless actual journalists can make an independent, professional living.”
EFJ General Secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez said: “It is time for EU member states to transpose the directive and ensure their national legislation includes clear provisions to remunerate journalists for the use of their work. “
Both federations urge governments to favor an EU approach which promises that journalists should receive a fair share of income received from internet giants.