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If we don't tackle the injustice at the web's heart its streams of content will simply dry up

THE LAST 20 years have not been kind to those creative types who originate new content. Advertising income which used to financially support musicians, film makers, writers and journalists have moved online. It’s estimated that Craigslist, has cost the publishing industry $5.4bn from loss of classified advertising, and the two online giants Google and Facebook are now booking 84 per cent of all global digital advertising, without making much of a contribution to the costs of generating the content that they are delivering.

 

As a result, newspapers have been shutting down or going online, droves of journalists have been made redundant, and creative types such as music or movie producers have been unable to access enough income to support their activities.

 

That whooshing sound you can hear is the majority of the advertising money in the world being sucked up by the giants of Silicon Valley.

 

It is in this context that the European Union has been trying to do something about this situation which it rightly sees as dangerous to the future of creative artists, musicians, press and media in Europe.

 

As we in the UK have been totally obsessed with Brexit it has largely passed us by that the EU has recently proposed two new copyright amendments: Article 11 and Article 13, which forbids websites from using copyright material belonging to others without permission, or a suitable commercial arrangement having been agreed.

 

All of this might not have been necessary if the World Wide Web had been designed differently in the first place. An early promoter of this type of ‘hypertext’ technology, Ted Nelson, felt it was essential to account for owners of intellectual property in making online references to others material, and to include a system of micro-payments collection which could recognise this value, but this factor was dismissed by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web.

 

In his original proposal to his bosses at CERN he wrote: “Discussions on Hypertext have sometimes tackled the problem of copyright enforcement and data security. These are of secondary importance at CERN, where information exchange is still more important than secrecy.”

 

Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web was kept as simple and unconstrained as he could make it, which almost certainly was a huge factor in it being enthusiastically adopted and becoming the fastest growing technology ever.

 

Of course, retrofitting copyright protection to the World Wide Web is not an easy process and these proposals have been vehemently attacked by many key individuals including Internet pioneer Vint Cerf, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, and Berners-Lee himself.

 

On the other hand senior individuals from the creative industries such as Sir Paul McCartney and Jean-Michel Jarre have urged MEPs to support these proposals.

 

These arguments and others have had their effect on European lawmakers. In early July the European Parliament voted to reject this directive by 318 to 278 votes. It will now be debated further this September.

 

Europe’s Society of Authors, Composers and Publishers of Music (SACEM) said the vote was a “setback but not the end.”

 

European content producers, especially including UK ones, create a disproportionate large share of the films, music and written words consumed in the world today.

 

It must be wrong that most of the advertising revenue earned by this content goes to Californian tech giants who create very little – although it is unlikely that Trump’s ‘America First’ administration will show much sympathy for this cause.

 

It won’t be an easy problem to fix, but at least the EU is taking it on.

 

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