Article 13 and what it means for the UK PR industry

Proposed EU copyright laws that could radically change how content is shared on search and social media will not be applied in the UK, it has been reported.

Proposed EU copyright laws that could radically change how content is shared on search and social media will not be applied in the UK, it has been reported. The EU Copyright Directive represented a significant threat to how PR practitioners operate due to a restriction on access to information. However, Universities and Science Minister Chris Skidmore told the BBC the UK will not implement the directive when it leaves the EU.

The news is significant for the UK PR industry and will be met with relief by many PR professionals. But for PR consultancies that represent and operate in multiple EU nations the issues and concerns remain.

What is Article 13 of the EU Copyright Directive?

The Articles form part of the EU Directive for Copyright in the Digital Single Market designed to hold technology companies responsible for material posted without copyright permission.

Most changes to the EU Copyright Directive are straight forward, detailing how copyright contracts are managed and licenced. But Article 13 could have a huge impact on protected works or other subject-matter uploaded by its users.” It would make websites responsible for ensuring all content published on their platforms does not breach copyright. A minefield for social media platforms in particular!

Critics and leading figures within the PR industry voiced concerns it could threaten user generated content popular on social media, because it is regularly based on copyrighted imagery of TV shows and films. It was later established that the rules do not apply to memes and GIFS.

Why was Article 13 of the EU Copyright Directive proposed?

Understandably rights-holders want to prevent their work being used without permission, or payment. They argue they should receive a fair payment for their work. This is the fundamental crux of copyright legislation. With the explosion of sharing content online the issue of artists’ material being shared for free has magnified.

The rules were designed to challenge the power of tech giants like Google, making them pay for content they aggregate. However, some critics have argued it would be smaller websites that would be affected the most. Supporters of the directive include artists Paul McCartney, Debbie Harry and Jean-Michel Jarre. Blondie lead singer Debbie Harry wrote in the Guardian: Music matters, musicians matter. The European copyright directive will create a future for Europe’s music and culture.”

Hundreds of authors, composers, musicians and creators took to social media in support of Article 13. The selfie-awareness campaign’ saw hundreds of them post photos of themselves holding a phone and displaying the message Error 404 Creators Not Found”.

What does Article 13 of the EU Copyright Directive mean for PR practitioners

The EU stated the directive is designed to make copyright fit for the digital era.” It would mean platforms such as YouTube would need to make sure any copyrighted material on their site is licensed, to ensure the original artist is paid for its use. Thus, the onus in EU countries will be on platform owners, rather than internet users to comply with the new rules.

If you own a website, or digital platform where people can post content you will be responsible for ensuring all material is licenced. This has led to concerns that it will be easier for many to remove open forums; in some cases, destroying the communal sharing element of social media and the like.

Ultimately responsible PR practitioners already adhere to wide ranging copyright legislation, including for example paying for photographs, or using royalty free images through to obtaining licenses for music used on promotional video.

PR practitioners in the UK will most likely feel assured to learn they will not be impacted by Article 13 of the EU Copyright Directive for work conducted in the UK. But the bigger picture remains unclear. While it may not radically change how PR practitioners operate, the risk could be that any restrictions placed on major social media platforms could ultimately result in a smaller engaged audience. If in the EU users of social media find their activity is restricted, they may leave platforms, or not be as active as they currently are. They may move to more niche platforms, or simply stop proactively using social media. This would result in PRs facing rapid changes in how their clients’ audiences behave and thus mean re-examining how to communicate.

What does it mean for UK based PR consultants who represent clients in the EU?

How all this will look in practice is still to be seen. The legislation will come into force in 2021 and PR practitioners will still have to navigate any new legislation in the regions their clients operate to ensure they are compliant. This could prove to be an interesting dynamic for those who have clients across multiple countries.

In our modern digital age where online content is easy to publish and share it will remain a complex issue as any changes are introduced and the online community seeks to adapt.

Furthermore, the link tax’ in Article 11, which states search engines and news aggregators should pay to use links from news websites would impact PR professionals.

Why has Article 13 sparked huge controversy?

Opponents have voiced concerns it would end a vibrant internet culture. That its existence would be impossible to implement due to the enormous amount of copyrighted material currently being shared on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. While the rules do not apply to memes and GIFS, it would make video and other content risky.

Small business owners and those who operate small forums would be expected to guarantee a site is not infringing the rules. This has led to concerns some would simply remove elements of websites which allow the sharing of information, thus reducing the community aspect of shared media. Larger platforms like Facebook will likely use content monitoring software, which has been reported to be far from fool-proof.

How did the PR industry react to the proposals? 

In the PR industry there have been concerns it could have heralded the end of viral content in the UK and beyond. PRCA director general Francis Ingham previously said: As the PR and communications industry has said time and time again, link taxes and upload filters threaten the core principals to access of information.

We remain deeply concerned that these supposedly good intentions simply do not add up and that the EU Copyright Directive represents a misguided attempt to regulate the internet in a way that is as detrimental to practitioners as it is to the public. Ultimately, this will hamstring aggregating websites and applications and drastically reduce the public’s ability to engage properly with news and content.”

While CIPR chief executive Alastair McCapra described the plans as a blow to Europe’s creative and digital economy.” He added: The Directive will force restrictions on the way PR professionals work and deliver value for clients and businesses across Europe. The CIPR has long opposed the legislation and will continue to speak up against the Directive.”

While there will be a large sigh of relief in the UK, not everyone is out of the woods. Many UK PR agencies have clients in multiple countries, and it will be interesting to see how this unfolds in the EU. In such cases, as ever, PR practitioners spanning international boundaries with global brands will need to ensure they are aware of legal barriers and cultural nuances of communicating in each market. As the UK advances its negotiations with the EU on many matters there is of course the potential for further changes.

Content filters will likely prove problematic and distinguishing between prohibited and allowed content or light-hearted posts could be tricky. It will have huge implications for social media in the EU. However, PR practitioners are forever adapting to our digital world and devising new and clever ways to provide contemporary engaging content to deliver for their clients. And PR agencies representing clients in the EU are bound to rise to the challenge, not just in how content is produced, but in terms of handling the continued shifts in how and where people consume information.

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