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Q&A with Valdo Lehari Jr. on EU Publisher's Right: 'It's 5 minutes to 12'

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Q&A with Valdo Lehari Jr. on EU Publisher's Right: 'It's 5 minutes to 12'

On 12 September, they voted in favour of a number points that support news publishers.

Valdo Lehari Jr., board member of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), vice president of the Federation of German Newspaper Publishers (BDZV)  and vice president (former president) of the European Newspaper Publishers' Association (ENPA), has been at the forefront of the development of the law right from the start.

In this interview done shortly before the 12 September vote, Lehari, the publisher of the Reutlinger General-Anzeiger explained what was at stake for publishers in Europe.

Mr Lehari, in a few days' time, the European Parliament will again be voting on a new law on the protection of publishers' services. What exactly is this all about?

The fundamental issue is that newspapers and publishing houses with all their employees should be put on an equal legal footing with the music, film and television industry.

Their contents – for example the Eurovision Song Contest – are already protected by law in contrast to the products of the news media.

This means that "The Jungle Camp" (a German-version of the British reality television show "I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!") is legally more protected than a full-page background analysis of the web activities on Chemnitz. That cannot be! Who contributes what to democracy?

"In this respect, it is five minutes to 12: Today it is more urgent and more necessary than ever to put journalistic and publishing work on an equal legal footing and to protect it. This is the only way for publishers to negotiate with search engines at eye level."

To what extent is copyright affected by this?

This should not be confused with copyright. The classic copyright remains with the editor. Throughout continental Europe, the copyright lies with the author, in contrast to the Anglo-Saxon area.

There, companies and publishers have direct copyright and own the articles and news products themselves. The copyright remains completely untouched and is not at all affected by this new Publisher’s Right. On this subject, sometimes completely false news is scattered into the landscape.

Why has the proposal for a new system of ancillary copyright not met with sufficient approval among MEPs at the first attempt?

The decision in July is no reason for pessimism. Initially, only the negotiating mandate was decided and the decision was scarce. In my view, there were many different motives in the political groups that were decisive for the outcome.

One problem was the mixing of the Publisher’s Right with the so-called upload filters. Behind this is a software that checks information and data when uploading or publishing them on a website.

A situation has arisen with upload filters in particular: Many MEPs are opposed to this, including the Greens, who see a danger for the diversity of the internet. But they are not necessarily opposed to a Publisher’s Right.

The Social Democrats were more concerned that journalists and authors should also benefit – a demand that we have fulfilled in the meantime. And people like the digital minister Dorothee Bär of the CSU are a special case. Although she is a member of the federal government, she is in contradiction to the coalition agreement.

What is your impression so far of the debate surrounding this law?

I am shocked at how one has to constantly defend oneself against deliberately false information.

For example, a search engine operator in Parliament said that fake news would increase with the planned law. It is outrageous to claim something like that.

"We are interested in reach and we want to bring good articles to the people – out of a sense of responsibility for democracy and society."

I was also shocked by the fact that there have even been death threats in Parliament – I know of at least one case.

Some Members are faced with huge problems and are put under insane pressure in their own group. For them, it is about a secure place on the list and re-election to the European Parliament.

But the upload filters could theoretically ban unwanted information from platforms, right?

The topic is certainly not quite simple – similar to the German law on network enforcement.

"The question is: Who decides on the content? But normally it should apply that illegal is illegal – whether analogue or digital. And if we take a look at it in the music industry: Spotify didn't suffer from the fact that there is an ancillary copyright for music."

Clear framework conditions are simply in place and that's why customers are already used to subscribing to music.

It goes without saying that people pay when they download something. And YouTube is not empty either, despite the ancillary copyright for the music industry and television, quite the opposite.

"Anyone who speaks out against the Publisher’s Right only helps the large technology groups. In this way, our industry and ultimately also freedom and democracy can come under increasing pressure in Europe."

If you manage to get a regulation right, and at some point find out that you might have to make a correction, then that's always better than just letting things run their course.

In Germany, the ancillary copyright for press publishers did not bring about any major changes. Why should a similar law achieve more at the European level?

It is true that the German ancillary copyright for press publishers has not yet taken effect properly. But it is not serious to use this argument to demand inaction at European level.

In Germany, negotiations between Google and GEMA took seven years. Unfortunately, Google has not accepted the tariffs of the ancillary copyright law (tariffs of VG Media). This is all pending before the courts. Perhaps the law was developed somewhat suboptimally by the then coalition in terms of craftsmanship, but that's why it's still important that someone who uses content needs a licence for it.

"Publishers should be able to decide for themselves what happens to their products. This also benefits journalists, because publishers have to generate their income."

Isn't a little scepticism appropriate as to whether publishers would actually pass on possible royalties to authors and journalists?

No, because all employees in a publishing company who participate in the value chain in the production of products such as newspapers or magazines benefit. The authors are even mentioned separately in the proposals for the Publisher’s Right.

We have common positions with the German Association of Journalists, with the trade union ver.di and, more recently, with the European Association of Journalists in Brussels.

In the case of film and television, the ancillary copyright law does not list individual occupational groups separately.

In Spain, Google News has discontinued its service under the ancillary copyright for publishers. That could also be a threat in Europe, couldn't it?

Google News cannot do without the European market. That's basically a bigger market than the USA.

Google is not active in submarkets in Europe, simply because of the language barrier or the size of the market, such as in Denmark. But what happened in Spain will not happen on a pan-European level.

Of course the Spanish law has passages that can be discussed. But there is a courageous decision behind it that has at least brought about a change.

Is the majority of newspaper publishers committed to the legislative initiative?

The publishers are almost 100 percent behind the legislative initiative. And I can judge that because from the very first minute I discussed and accompanied the issue with the then Commissioner responsible, Günther Oettinger.

"Publishers of all sizes were involved, as were organisations such as the Börsenverein (stock exchange association) and magazine publishers."

At the moment, there is a very major action running in which some 300 small and medium-sized publishers are taking part and are clearly articulating that, from their point of view, the Publisher’s Right is right and necessary.

"Small publishers in particular will benefit from this, as they pay proportionately more for lawyers' fees, and therefore need a strong legal position. Here, too, there is an inaccurate coverage on the part of the opponents. A total of about 6,000 newspaper titles and 15,000 magazine publishers are behind it."

This is gratifying and was also a condition imposed by the EU Commission. It would not have wanted to enact a new law if we disagreed with each other.

Now, then, MEPs will soon be voting again on the negotiating mandate. What is your forecast for the outcome?

As a publisher, I am a professional optimist. That's why I think there is a very good chance that the Publisher’s Right will be approved and a corresponding overall package adopted.

As far as the upload filters are concerned, I don't dare to judge. There is extreme mobilisation against this, for example by Julia Reda, a German politician of the Pirate Party.

"It is important that we hurry with the law when the negotiating mandate has been given. The European elections are scheduled for 2019."

There are now many hardcore MEPs in the EU Parliament who would like to abolish the EU completely. Such votes could increase even more in a year after the election. This is one of the reasons why it is so important for democracy and quality journalism in Europe not to put the issue on the back burner.

Interview by Stefanie Hornung


Stefanie Hornung


2018-09-10 12:30

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The news publishing industry is experiencing transformation at an ever-growing pace, with new policy issues arising as the landscape changes.

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