Safeguarding authors’ rights

Since entering office in the National Book Council, I have ensured that the Council serves as a bastion for the defence of authors’ rights.

The recently approved legal notice of the National Book Council obliges it to safeguard the rights of both authors and publishers at a state-policy level, meaning that whenever laws or policies are being drawn by the government or by parliament, the Council, by default, has to take the sides of authors and publishers. The Council is also obliged by law to defend the rights of authors and publishers abroad in international institutions and fora.

Whenever the rights of authors and publishers conflict, the Council is required to find a compromise between both.

One of our most recent campaigns to safeguard the rights of authors was our work done in the European-wide campaign of authors against article 12 of the currently proposed EU Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive. We have opposed this article for various reasons. This article was introduced by the Commission to solve Germany’s internal rights problems after the infamous decision of the Reprobel vs HP case at the EU Court of Justice.

Unfortunately, even if article 12 is a ‘may’ provision, which means that it ‘may’ be introduced at the discretion of member states, we share the view of thousands of authors in Europe who believe that the way article 12 is written may set a precedent which will give publishers even more legal power over authors than the arguably excessive power they already wield. In literary circles this situation is known as the arena of the lion and the mouse.

One such precedent, a direct consequence of article 12 which we oppose actively, is the distribution of public lending rights to publishers when existing EU legislation clearly states that PLR is the exclusive right of the author.

Malta has been on the forefront in the struggle among member states to get a better deal for authors on article 12, and in fact, Malta has managed to convince the Bulgarian Presidency to reword the recital to the article to prevent any form of new legal precedents. We are still unhappy with the overall article, but Bulgaria’s rewording has brought a much needed and improved change.

Only Italy and Slovenia supported Malta during the member-state negotiations while Germany was adamantly for article 12. Having worked against such odds, it is only appropriate that I thank the sterling work of Malta’s diplomat in Brussels, Lorenzo Vella, who ensured that our concerns are carried forward. I’m sure that we will forever be grateful to Lorenzo and the diplomatic team in Brussels who have proudly defended the rights of authors in the negotiations to this EU directive.

This doesn’t mean that we wish to pit authors against publishers – of course not. We would like to see a harmonious balance between the two parties. Indeed, during the negotiations for the DSM directive, we have also fought tooth and nail to protect the rights of publishers when it comes to other articles. For example, we are against the introduction of a law which would allow websites to upload content without prior permission from their rights-holders, and we are also against introducing a law which gives an exception to websites to reproduce long excerpts of published content without prior permission from the rights-holder.

We believe that such laws will not serve the educational and intellectual development of our countries, but will only serve to help big internet giants such as Amazon, Google, Facebook and others to make even greater profits at the expense of small publishers who are being squeezed from every direction by these monopolies. We will always strive to see that publishers work in a safe environment.

Of course, it is always a great advantage to have government’s support and the Labour government has been greatly receptive and supportive of our bid to defend authors’ rights. The media bill recently approved by parliament is a sterling example of government’s drive to strengthen and improve laws relating to freedom of speech. This media bill is undoubtedly one of the most liberal media bills in Europe as it has abolished criminal libel and introduced the one libel-one story rule which effectively caps any libel suit to not more than €12,000 in damages – one of the lowest limits in Europe.

Government should now consolidate its stance as a leading European pioneer in free speech legislation by working with the EU Commission to introduce a new EU-wide directive which would prohibit libel tourism and SLAPP. The Labour government has also abolished censorship laws which have been used by previous right-wing governments to systematically persecute and prosecute artists and writers.

The brutal assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia has surely not helped all the legislative progress that has been made under the Labour government. Daphne’s murder has brought increased political tensions in the country. The new Daphne Project is ensuring that her death does not compromise our freedom of speech as it helps break down any possible fears journalists may have.

More robust protection measures should be provided for journalists and media houses especially when they investigate criminal organisations as Daphne was doing prior to her death. Already, three men have been charged in court with Daphne’s murder, and this has been a significant step forward, but this is not enough.

Now we need to know who ordered Daphne’s murder and for what reason. I am confident that with all the pressure being faced by our institutions, both inquiring magistrates and leading police investigators intend to get to the bottom of this case. Such a success will mark government’s consistent legacy in defending free speech and protecting authors’ rights.

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