After lengthy consultations and two European Parliament reports, the European Commission has finally announced its proposal to reform copyright in the EU. Copyright in the EU is one of the key reform to be driven to create a Digital Single Market, one of the high political priority for the European Commission. The proposal aims at modernizing the existing framework by updating related reproduction and distribution rights and communications with the public.
The announcement has been preceded and followed by fierce opposition and debate, particularly on Twitter via the hashtag “#SaveTheLink.” The #SaveTheLink campaign was launched by OpenMedia in 2015 to address the issue of ancillary rights, which could force service providers to pay fees to publishers for linking to original content” According to OpenMedia, this could reduce the quantity of information easily accessible on the internet and could have an impact on how links are shared.
– There are two online movements around the #SaveTheLink hashtag: a popular one , drained by the OMF and fed with over 3,000 tweets by grassroot activists and citizens, and a political one, led by four members of European Parliament, Julia Reda, Marietje Schaake, Brando Benifei, and Daniel Dalton.
– On the #SaveTheLink hashtag, EU institutions and officials shied away from using the hashtag. A large majority of the #SaveTheLink tweets are from reform opponents. In the top 100 most retweeted, only three tweets come from reform supporters.
– Globally, on the #copyright hashtag, we can see the map of stakeholders, split between reform supporters and opponents. We can see that, beyond the four MEPs engaged in the opposition, there is clearly no fight between political forces. We suspect that this will become more visible when the directive is examined in the European Parliament.
How the campaign went
1) Mobilization from citizens tweeted #SaveTheLink
2) Ignorance from EU Institutions : Nobody from european institutions really denied it or fought back on the hashtag.
3) Silence from the media : There are few stories in the newspaper about #SaveTheLink
4) Resulting as a stronger defiance between activists/citizens, EU institutions and the media.
First, the political field:
● The European Commission and Commissioners Günther Oettinger and Andrus Ansip, who are in charge of drafting the reform, and strongly support it by using hashtag #copyright;
● Members of European Parliament backing the reform, such as Jean-Marie Cavada, former rapporteur on portability rights in the European Parliament, who also use the hashtag #copyright;
● Institutional or government spokespersons of the European Commission or national governments, such as French Minister of Culture Audrey Azoulay, who support the reform using hashtag #copyright;
● Members of European Parliament opposed to the reform, led by Julia Reda, former rapporteur on the copyright evaluation, who push a different reform to EU copyright using hashtags #SaveTheLink and #copyright.
Then, the technical field:
● Publishers, such as the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), : request the ancillary right to be paid for original content linked on the internet, using hashtag #copyright;
● Authors ask for a copyright reinforcement, forcing host websites and online service providers such as YouTube to automatically block copyright infringements during content upload and before visibility on the web. They also want better transparency around copyrighted content and retribution for copyright infringements by sharing on the internet, using hashtag #copyright;
● Online service providers like Google support content-management technology, such as YouTube’s Content ID software, which fights copyright infringement but avoids filtering prior to content upload. Google also opposes new rights for publishers to be paid for previews displayed on Google news, for instance, using hashtag #copyright;
● Academic stakeholders ask for copyright-mandatory exceptions for text and data mining researchers in both public and private sectors, using hashtag #TDM for text-data-mining;
● Freedom of expression and commons organizations, such as Communia and EDRi, are concerned by the effect ancillary rights and prior filters to copyright infringements could have on the human right to freedom of expression or on the viability of small online service providers and start-ups, using hashtag #copyright.
The citizen and activist field:
● OpenMedia launched a citizen activist campaign to highlight the risk of losing access to information online due to ancillary rights of publishers, using hashtags #SaveTheLink and #copyright.
This analysis extends to tweets in French, English, and Dutch using the keyword “savethelink.” All data is collected and analyzed using Brandwatch. Tweets were collected from 25 August through 24 September.
There are two peaks on the timeline:
The first, smaller peak in activity around both #copyright and #SaveTheLink hashtags started with the leak of the Commission’s copyright reform proposal on 31 August. It was then that a few MEPs and political parties started tweeting about the leak, and OpenMedia relaunched its
#SaveTheLink campaign. The day after, we can see a spike in activity around the OpenMedia campaign.
The second, bigger peak in activity, started with President Juncker’s State of the Union Speech on 14 September when he announced key points of the copyright reform proposal. The highest peak matches with the European Commission press conference about the copyright reform proposal on 15 September.
One observation between timelines is that the #SaveTheLink hashtag had a significant impact on the #Copyright hashtag. The spike in activity to around 3,000 tweets between the 14th and 15th of September shows how the citizens and activists behind the OpenMedia campaign, can influence the debate.
Semantic analysis of tweets
All data is collected and analyzed using Brandwatch algorithm, which classifies tweets as neutral, negative or positive according to lists of words.
In total, nearly half of the tweets analyzed were interpreted as negative, or in opposition to the Commission’s proposed reform. It’s not a surprise, then, as the majority of tweets measured were sent by reform opponents.
Majority of links shares on the #SaveTheLink hashtag referred to websites opposed to the reform. In addition to analyzing nature of these tweets, we also found that around 3,000 tweets referred to the OpenMedia campaign, which in turn recorded over 120,000 signatures of support.
Hashtags related to #SaveTheLink
The #SaveTheLink and #copyright hashtags were automatically included in the tweets sent via the OpenMedia campaign. The other hashtags we identified around the debate were introduced by Julia Reda during the period.
Map of the #SaveTheLink hashtag
In this section all data is collected and analyzed using Visibrain. Tweets were collected from 13 September to 22 September 2016.
This keyword map explores Twitter interactions (mentions, retweets, replies) taking place between Twitter accounts using “savethelink” between the 13/09 and the 22/09. Every small dot on this map is an account. The more an account is mentioned or retweeted, the bigger it appears.
The map appears to be split into two main groups:
- ● The first and biggest grouping, is the activity organized by OpenMedia, that captures thousands of tweets sent to Günther Oettinger, European Commissioner in charge of copyright reform, and to the official account of the EU Commission. It is truly a citizen flash mobilization, activated by the OpenMedia network.● The other grouping is formed by MEPs in opposition to the reform, led by Julia Reda (Pirate Party, Green/ALE, Germany), former rapporteur on copyright reform for the European Parliament, and known for her strong opinions on the issue.
The only news media we could identify around this campaign include the german newspaper Die Zeit and magazine Der Spiegel. Both outlets were quoted by Julia Reda and therefore strongly linked to the second group.
Are supporters of the reform running away?
This study suggests that the two groups are mobilized around these hashtag to debate the European Commission’s proposed copyright reform., The Commission responded to these tweets using the same hashtags, but only three of their tweets are captured in the top 100: https://twitter.com/DSMeu/statuses/768113268657315841 https://twitter.com/GOettingerEU/statuses/775724300598992898 https://twitter.com/Ansip_EU/statuses/776054130565582849
The majority of people and organizations supporting the reform chose to reply without using either hashtag (https://twitter.com/epc_angela/status/776073078153543680) or to reply using the #copyright hashtag only (https://twitter.com/authorsocieties/status/776011036084371456).
This withdrawal strategy utilized by reform supporters leaves all opponents together and doesn’t allow the conditions necessary for the European institutions to discuss the reform effectively with those opposed to or puzzled by the reform.
And how did the official #copyright hashtag do?
In this section all data is collected and analyzed using Visibrain. Tweets were collected from 14 September to 23 September 2016. Only accounts with at least three interactions with the
#copyright hashtag have been captured in order to preserve the legibility of the map.
In this discussion map, both sides of the debate are apparent. The purple cluster in the center of the map shows how the European Commission and Commissioner Oettinger are centralizing the discussions. The green cluster on the right is the community in opposition to the reform, led by Julia Reda (@semficon) and other stakeholders (@edri, @communia_eu, @x_net_). We can also see that the very critical article issued by the Financial Times is part of this opposition community. Between these two communities, we can see that Google supports parts of the reform but is opposed to others. The purple cluster at the bottom of the map represents the scientific community very involved in this reform because of the mandatory exception on copyright that could be triggered for text-data-mining. On the left side (insert descriptor of cluster), we can see the community supporting the reform with dedicated accounts from the EU Commission (@dsm_eu, @ictscienceEU), spokespersons of the EU Commission or national governments, and publishers and author lobbies (@ifij_global, @fairinternet4p, @authorsocieties).
● Generic hashtags such as #copyright do not create comprehensive debates. Around the #copyright hashtag, we can see two to three communities battling. Whereas around the #SaveTheLink hashtag, the Commission avoided the use of, or ran away, from this activist hashtag, leaving the reform opponents to fight alone.● Beyond the European Commission and Parliament, other actors in the political sphere, such as the media, were largely absent from the discussion.
● Citizens and grassroots activists were widely ignored by the Commission and media, even when the #SaveTheLink petition gathered more than 100,000 signatures and when over 2,000 tweets were addressed to Günther Oettinger in one day.
By avoiding #SaveTheLink, the European institutions fail to spread their message to the thousands of people who have expressed concern about the copyright reform. And by not answering, the European institutions effectively create the conditions for a non-debate, conditions that could cause an increased level of citizen mobilization for further actions.
At the same time, by sticking to the generic #copyright hashtag, the European Commission fails to bridge the gap and make relevant connections between the #SaveTheLink debate and their proposed copyright reform. In doing so, perhaps the Commission is denying that their proposed copyright reform has any threat to the link. Either way, the Commission’s strategy of communicating only on the reform as a whole via the #copyright hashtag, neglecting the debate about the sum of its parts around the #SaveTheLink hashtag, leaves us to question: do we have to choose between copyright and saving the link?
If the European Commission and its supporters want to defend their new proposal for copyright reform, they need to step into the public debate. That means meeting opponents on their turf, allowing space for a comprehensive debate, and not reducing the discussion to a generic hashtag like #copyright.