The Government has signed the EU's Copyright Directive into law five months after the June 2021 deadline set by the European Commission, saying the move will strengthen the rights of authors, performers and other creators and make Irish copyright law "fit for purpose in a digital age".
The legislation – which aims to level the playing field between the creative industries and tech platforms such as Alphabet-owned Google and Facebook – obliges technology companies to negotiate agreements with media organisations when sharing their content online.
The European Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market was adopted by the EU two years ago after a three-year negotiating period, but several members were slow to enact it into national law. In July, Ireland became one of 23 countries to which the Commission sent a letter of formal notice – the first step in its infringement proceedings – seeking an explanation for why it had not transposed it into law ahead of the June 7th deadline.
Although technology companies have objected to several aspects of the directive, even before June it appeared to be having an impact on their relationships with the European media industry, with Google and Facebook entering talks and striking new deals with publishers in several states this year.
In September, Google signed a licensing deal for its News Showcase deal with seven Irish publishers, including The Irish Times, while Irish Independent publisher Mediahuis became the eighth publisher in the Irish market to join the initiative last month.
Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar said the law had needed to "catch up" with the way the internet had "utterly changed" how people create, read and watch the news, books, music, television and films.
“From now on in Ireland, press publishers such as newspapers have a new legal right in relation to the use of their content by online service providers. In the absence of an agreement with publishers, online platforms will not be permitted to make use of their work, though they will continue to be able to use hyperlinks or very short extracts,” he said.
“It will be up to the publisher and the online provider to negotiate an agreement. People want to keep getting their news from social media so there is a clear, mutual benefit for both parties in reaching these agreements.”
The Tánaiste said transposing the copyright directive into law was “part of a broader discussion” being held on the future of Irish media.
He signalled that the Government will "shortly" respond to the report of the Future of Media Commission, an independent body it set up in 2020 to examine the future financing of public service broadcasting and the challenges facing the wider Irish sector in an era of intense global competition.
“We look forward to acting on the recommendations from the Future of Media Commission. I hope that the transposition of this directive and the updating of our copyright laws is a useful and positive first step,” Mr Varadkar said.
The new copyright rules also strengthen the position of authors and performers when making an agreement to transfer the rights of their work by requiring such agreements to include principles including a right to appropriate and proportionate remuneration and a “transparency obligation” to help them access more information about how their work is being used.
There should also be a “contract adjustment mechanism” enabling creators to obtain a fair share when the original remuneration becomes disproportionately low compared to the success of their work or performance and a “right of revocation”, allowing them to take back their rights when their works are not being used.