Wyclef Jean & The Ability of Artists to Set Their Own Rules About The Use of Their Works
by Neil Turkewitz
Thanks Create Refresh. I don’t know the back story of your engagement with Wyclef Jean, but in your effort to make your disinformation campaign against Article 13 seem as if it were artist-friendly, you have provided a great opportunity to correct misunderstandings about the effects of the proposed Copyright Directive — including perhaps amongst some artists who may have been misled by the your advocacy. Let’s start with the big one, and the one seemingly misunderstood by Wyclef Jean, that is, that the Directive is a referendum on the Internet itself. You and other Google funded parties have done everything in your power to try to establish this narrative, hoping to recapture the magic of anti-SOPA and anti-ACTA disinformation campaigns. But it simply isn’t true, no matter how many times you proclaim it to be so. In fact, the effort to provide better tools to ensure that artists are able to determine the uses of their works is meant to recapture the potential of the internet to drive diverse cultural production and economic emancipation — potential which has been lost due to abuse by platforms and the negotiating asymmetries effected by overbroad safe harbors. To view the campaign for the Copyright Directive as anti-internet is analogous to calling protest unpatriotic. There are some who cling to such beliefs. Let’s hope that the majority of EU Parliamentarians are not amongst them.
Let’s dive a little into Wyclef’s piece. He writes: “The solution to the challenges of the internet isn’t to tear it down, it’s to build on top of it. Instead of pointing fingers, we should be having productive conversations.” I don’t know who is briefing him, but “having a productive conversation” is precisely what the process leading to the consideration of the Copyright Directive has been about, although admittedly whether it would be fair to call the conversation “productive” is highly doubtful. But that doubt is not due to lack of engagement on the part of reformers, but intransigence and disinformation on the part of those desperately seeking to maintain the status quo. Fear mongering and deception in opposition to reform have ruled the day.
Anyone who didn’t follow this issue closely and whose only source of information was through organizations like CreateRefresh would be shocked to learn that the Directive doesn’t affect the scope of rights or exceptions thereto in any respect. That’s right, what is legal today — or what is illegal — would remain so after adoption of the Directive. You might want to read that again. It is still true. The Directive only aims to create a remedy to infringement through expanded licensing. To, as copyright skeptics like to say — make copyright fit for purpose. At present we have a disconnect between the modalities for infringement and the ability to respond to it. Infringement scales…responses thereto don’t. The Directive is intended to address that disconnect. No more, no less.
But let’s return to Wyclef’s piece. He writes:
“The lesson, for me, is: Don’t tear down the building, be the landlord. It’s far more beneficial for me to embrace the community that is remixing my art, to set my own rules about how my work is used, and to embrace the shared creativity and profits that come from it…We are collectively better off — both financially and promotionally — because of internet platforms. I wouldn’t have it any other way. So rather than demonizing and tearing down the internet and responsible service providers, we should team up and make the music community work better for everyone. Let’s keep working together to ensure that artists know how to exercise their online rights and keep finding ways to help both artists and fans make and share music.”
Hallelujah! Let’s create an environment in which artists can set their own rules about how their works are used. I couldn’t think of a more ringing endorsement of Article 13 than Wyclef’s call to arms. He and Create Refresh may have been thinking this was some kind of rebuttal against Article 13, but in fact it’s a compelling and personal embrace of it. No one wants to tear down the Internet, and no one is proposing to do so. All we are trying to do is to disrupt platforms that exploit artists by monetizing their works without authorization. Those platforms who erode consent and trust, and thus imperil not only artists but the functioning of a robust democracy. So hear, hear Wyclef — let’s build that world where you get to set the rules about how your work is used. The EU Parliament can take a giant step in that direction this week.