This article is more than 1 year old

EU squashes bogus copyright scare as red-faced Guardian slaps down Wiki's Wales

Thing that would never happen hasn't happened after all

The European Parliament's largest grouping of MEPs, the European People's Party group, has snuffed out a bogus copyright crusade. The centre-right EPP, which has 214 MEPs, slammed inaccurate media reports for suggesting that new copyright laws would "break the internet".

"There is no such EU law on the table and it is highly unlikely that there will ever be in the future either," the EPP wrote. All four main MEP groupings joined together to kick out the amendment, which they passed (without reading their own report too closely) two weeks ago.

The campaign was created by the attention-seeking German copyright activist Julia Reda, who is the only Pirate Party MEP in Brussels. The EU parliament asked Reda to write a report on potential copyright reforms, in which she suggested "harmonising" an exception to copyright that almost all European countries already implement, exempting photographs from infringement claims by a building's architect or lighting team.

One of 500 counter-amendments clumsily suggested that this exemption should be narrowed to "non-commercial" use only, and off Reda went, claiming that the sky was falling.

Wikipedia, which has a vested interest in weakening creators' rights, joined in – and since it it isn't hard to set Facebook or Twitter ablaze with a bogus scare, parts of social media were alive with indignation.

The EPP group points out that even with the amendments tacked on, the document had no legislative weight, because the European Parliament can't write laws. A few weeks ago the parliament voted to "break up Google" – and that hasn't happened, either.

For Reda's Chicken Little scenario to come true, the following sequence would have had to play out:

1. The European Council would have had to incorporate the same amendment into its own digital single market reforms. But this requires a vote by council members, and since most of its members already have a panorama exception, they would vote against it. It would have died there.

2. Assuming it didn't, it would then have gone to the parliament, where MEPs from countries that have a panorama exception don't want it. It would then have died at that stage.

Assuming 1. and 2. had never happened, and MEPs' memories had been erased by a powerful drug, or magnet, then it would still need to be implemented by the parliament of every country in Europe which has a panorama exception. Which is most of them, remember. They have a panorama exception because it's such a sensible idea. Most would have failed to implement the new wording.

In any case, the European Commission had already ruled out any Panorama changes last week, killing the scare in its tracks.* The EU Parliament formally votes on the Reda document today. This will remain a national issue, the EPP has pledged – so in most of Europe, which implements freedom of panorama, there'll be no change. While in France, where they love taxes and collective management of IP, it will continue to be a nice little earner for property owners.

But there's an interesting footnote.

How can you tell Jimbo is lying? His lips are moving

Last week Jimmy Wales weighed in, at The Guardian, in an article headlined "If you want to keep sharing photos for free, read this"

This now contains an elaborate disclaimer:

This article was amended on 8 July 2015. An earlier version said that the European parliament is currently engaged in the adoption of some copyright reforms, which, if accepted, would mean that the freedom of panorama would be restricted throughout all EU states. In addition it also said that “this is the last chance” to stop the proposal becoming law. This has been corrected.

Other bogus claims by Wales appear to have eluded the Guardian's eagle-eyed (cough cough) sub-editors. Wales claims that "Wikipedia only uses freely licensed images", but the site is full of copyright infringement, from books to record covers.

Wales also claims that: "Wikipedia would be subject to copyright restrictions and would face the risk of being removed." But it wouldn't if it asked permission. Wales is pretending that a Wikipedia policy is the law of the land, whereas a Wikipedia policy is something, you might think, that Wikipedia alone sets. Wikipedia could be enriched greatly if it licensed images. It's a publisher that sits on a cash pile of tens of millions of dollars, raising almost $20m in its December fund-raising drive alone. That could pay a lot of photographers, and license a lot of images – but Wikipedia doesn't want to do that.

"The UK creative industry, recognised as one of the most vibrant in the world, would be encumbered with interminable bureaucracy," laments Wales, shedding crocodile tears. But if you ask anyone in commercial photography what ails the UK creative industry, Wikipedia soon comes up in conversation – and Wales wants to weaken photographers' rights, not strengthen them.

As we predicted, Wikipedians claimed victory for saving the internet last week, but have kept the scare running prominently anyway. ®


* Pirate Reda moved on to a new bogus copyright scare, trying to persuade us that Europe would implement a German-style ancillary right for newspapers over snippets across the EU. That was snuffed out too. Can readers predict which part of the sky will be falling on her head next week? Any guesses?

Header image source.

More about


Send us news

Other stories you might like