Tuesday 28 January 2020

Copyright key to future of newspaper industry

THIS week's gathering in Dublin of European newspaper publishers has brought into sharp focus the potential divergence in how the key issue of copyright is being dealt with in Europe.

On the one hand, we have German legislators on the verge of enacting a bill which may compel Google and online content aggregators to compensate the originators for the material used -- something publishers the world over will feverishly applaud.

On the other, we have publishers in Ireland fearing that our Government may plot an altogether different course, one in which the ownership rights of content owners will be loosened.

That is not to pre-empt the findings of the Review Group on copyright, but -- among Irish newspapers -- there is a genuine sense of fear that they will be 'sold out' to appease the rich and powerful technology firms.

Any loosening of Irish copyright law would have serious implications for industries that are based on significant investment in original content creation.

The Irish newspaper industry employs 4,500 people and sustains several thousand more part-time and spin-off jobs in related sectors.

It generates €830m annually for the Irish economy, including more than €110m in VAT. Any weakening of Irish copyright legislation as a result of the current review would jeopardise these jobs and the economic contribution made by the industry.

The value of newspapers to Irish society goes beyond jobs and money.

Newspapers have played an integral role in Irish life for more than 200 years: investigating, exposing, reporting, criticising and informing.

They are part of our democracy. They are also Irish -- here for the long haul, committed to this country and part of our national recovery.

The Copyright Review is an opportunity to vanquish the fears of our industry.

By clarifying the law and confirming that copyright is an essential means of protecting and valuing original work, the Government can safeguard the investment which creates that work -- and help underpin the future of the newspaper industry and other industries.

Copyright is not the only potential anomaly to raise its head in this space. Across Europe, VAT on printed newspapers is applied at reduced rates whilst the standard rate is applied to online newspapers. In Ireland the rate is 9pc on the printed edition, but 23pc on the digital edition. This renders the already difficult task of establishing a commercially viable online presence all the more challenging for publishers.

As the above indicates, the breadth of issues confronting the newspapers industry is expanding constantly, and rendering the demarcation between broadcast, online and print ever more blurry.

Justification, surely, for a dedicated Minister for Media, as exists in many other European countries. A subject so critical to our democracy and our Irishness warrants it.

Frank Cullen is co-ordinating director of the National Newspapers of Ireland

Irish Independent

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