EU Commission Consultation on neighbouring rights, IIP: no obstacles to freedom of information, please

Rome, 16 May 2016 – The European Commission has launched, until June 2016, a public consultation ( concerning, among other things, the introduction of a legislation on the “neighbouring rights” to be extended to entities such as press publishers (even and especially online). As the Commission explains, press publishers do not currently benefit from neighbouring rights which are similar to copyright but do not reward an authors’ original creation (a work). They reward either the performance of a work (by a musician, a singer, an actor) or an organisational or financial effort (for example by a producer) which may also include a participation in the creative process.

The Italian Institute for Privacy will respond to the consultation by European Commission, although its President, Luca Bolognini, reports already a major concern: “This consultation clearly shows the intent of the institutions, to hyper-regulate the online information industry following – potentially – obsolete reasons and legacies belonging to pre-digital era.”

Mr. Bolognini gives a precise, logical and legal explanation: “Specifically, to reward the publishers not with rights related to the content of an article itself but – in addition – for the mere manner and context chosen by the publisher for publishing it (graphics, technological formats) would be a trick worthy of Zeno’s paradox (the one in which a segment is divided into infinite fractions and impossible to be completely crossed by Achilles running after the turtle, where the segment would be, in the present case, the neighbouring right and the turtle, ridendo dicere verum, the European Union). ”

He further adds: “From a purely legal point of view, this “mitosis of the law” would bring with it the risk of a multiplication of layers and legal superstructure that would prevent even more – in a Europe already not particularly friendly to fair use – free access to information and free expression in the digital age. Such a formalistic and bureaucratic millefeuille would only benefit the traditional publishing market, effectively preventing, in substance, what has been achieved, 68 years ago, with art. 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression: this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

“If it were to pass a law of this kind,” Bolognini concludes, “it would be clear that its intent aims to limit in Europe the margin of manoeuvre of news search engines; and it is evident that this would only snare one victim: the possibility of the digital users-citizens to obtain information easily, with a few clicks, by finding content that would otherwise be unattainable, of which the average user would often ignore its existence.”