Concern over weakening of Irish copyright law


A group of European newspaper executives have expressed concerns about a potential weakening of Irish copyright law to Minister for Research and Innovation Seán Sherlock, warning that their investment in producing original content was not sustainable if a loosened copyright law further drained the news industry of revenues.

Ivar Rusdal, the president of the European Newspaper Publishers Association (ENPA), told Mr Sherlock, who is overseeing the Government’s copyright review, that newspapers must be compensated when their material is used for commercial purposes by search engines and sites that aggregate news from other sources.

“There must be no weakening of the EU copyright framework, which also applies in Ireland, by the introduction of new exceptions or limitations,” Mr Rusdal said.

ENPA delegates from 16 countries are holding a two-day general assembly in Dublin and met Mr Sherlock yesterday afternoon.

The news industry fears that plans for a new copyright law in Ireland will further reduce its ability to earn licensing fees from the use of indexing, linking and summary texts by commercial entities.

Irish industry group the National Newspapers of Ireland (NNI), of which The Irish Times is a member, said Google had offered 150,000 newspaper articles in 2010 that had cost publishers around €46.5 million to produce. Last year, this increased to more than 350,000 articles that cost the industry €110 million to originate.

NNI chairman Matt Dempsey said some news aggregators and search engines “show a blatant disregard for copyright”.

In a submission to Mr Sherlock, the NNI rejects as “patently not true” the idea that copyright law represented “a barrier to innovation” by large tech companies.

“It suits the agendas of certain sectors and organisations to portray themselves as ‘true innovators’; forward-thinking and progressive; representing the future. By contrast, copyright holders, and newspaper publishers in particular, are often portrayed as old-fashioned; luddite, resistant to change.”

Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte, who addressed a dinner hosted by the NNI last night, said the details of the proposed copyright legislation, the future economic model of the media and how the sector is regulated “remain to be decided - they are undiscovered country”.

The Minister said the transition from paper-and-ink to digital would “certainly not be easy or without casualties”.

On the issue of concentration of media ownership, Mr Rabbitte said Minister for Enterprise Richard Bruton “remains committed” to reforming media merger legislation “as quickly as possible”.

Mr Rabbitte has been urged by the NNI and others to introduce a single Minister for Media. Mr Dempsey also highlighted what he described as “unfair competition” between private media groups and RTÉ. “We believe RTÉ should be confined to its public service remit, which should be clearly defined,” the NNI chairman said.

In its submission to a five-year review of public funding commissioned by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, the NNI argues that RTÉ’s online activities should be curtailed.

“Its website should be restricted to its broadcast activity with no advertising allowed and no links to other commercial activity, which should be transparent and at arms’ length,” Mr Dempsey said.

ENPA is also pushing for the standard rate of VAT on digital publications to be brought in line with the reduced rate that applies to print editions.