Guest Post Volker Rieck
A year later: A review of the campaign against EU copyright reform
More recent findings allow a closer look at the campaigns, their backgrounds and, in particular, the key players in financing them.
About a year ago, the German protests against the reform of EU copyright law began. A group of about 120 demonstrators gathered in front of the Brandenburg Gate, but they had some bad luck with the weather; June 22 was one of the few rainy days in the otherwise very dry German summer of 2018.
As reported in this blog, the discrepancy between the size of these and other demonstrations and the sheer mass of mails and tweets received by MEPs in July and August 2018 gave rise to considerable doubts about the actual size of the alleged protest movement. The fact that the protests themselves had a real core was not questioned by anyone – not even by reports published here. However much more was made of the online tools used at the time, because there were, for instance, no verifications. These tools could easily be controlled by automated scripts as we demonstrated several times on this website. And indeed, there were many indications that many of the tweets and emails were not organic. For instance, why did number of tweets remain steady or increased in overnight hours in Europe. Why were tweets directed a specific country’s MEPs and then suddenly change to another set of MEPs?
Nevertheless, such facts seem to have little relevance for Green politicians* like Tabea Rössner – in her statement made in a debate in the Bundestag on 13.03.2019 she stated that we claimed in our reports “bots” were responsible for the protests and couldn’t be explained otherwise.
This is not only factually wrong, but also foolish. No such claim was ever made.
While Ms Rössner puts forward these straw man arguments she also successfully represses other facts. For example, she fails to note that she herself gave a speech at the “Day of Action” against the Directive at the end of August 2018 in Mainz in front of just 10 demonstrators, while MEPs were flooded with emails and tweets.
2017: Origins of the campaigns
In order to better understand the campaign as a whole, it is worth taking a somewhat broader look back. In spring 2017 the terms Censorship-Machines and Linktax appeared at the Canadian NGO Open Media in connection with the EU directive.
Illustration: OpenMedia promoted the slogans “link tax” and “censorship machines” in March 2017 including a webform to contact MEPs.
Unfortunately, Open Media is anything but transparent with regard to its financing. The last audited annual report dates back to 2016. Platinum sponsors like Mozilla mysteriously disappear from the website, and financial reports were temporarily removed from the site. Who really financed Open Media in 2017 and beyond remains unclear. One should note Open Media’s board does includes Jacob Glick formerly Public Policy chief for Google in Canada.
Shortly after Open Media introduced the framing of the terms Censorship-Machines and Linktax for their campaign in the EU, the Internet conference Re:Publica took place in Belin, where a panel on Censorship-Machines was shown.
Illustration: Youtube video of the panel from 17.05.2017
The composition of the panel is particularly interesting because 3 of the 4 panel participants or their employers should play a decisive role in the later course of the campaign.
The participants were present:
– Jake Beaumont-Nesbitt, International Music Manager Forum, rather an exotic in the group, but his association is a member of Copyright for Creativity (C4C).
– Raegan MacDonald, Senior EU Policy Manager of Mozilla,
– Diego Naranjo, Senior Policy Advisor at EDRi
– Caroline de Cock, who is described on the Re:Publica websites as coordinator of Copyright for Creativity (C4C); that she is also managing director of the Belgian lobby company N-Square, was not mentioned at all.
Illustration: Re:Publica presentation pages of the panel participants
Mozilla was demonstrably one of the financiers of Open Media, which in turn, through its subsidiary New/Mode, provided the “engagement tools” with which MEPs were flooded with e-mails and tweets in the summer of 2018.
Mozilla sponsored financially and technically the telephones calls to MEPs. The webform that auto connected callers helpfully included a script to read to MEPs and their representatives.
In autumn 2018, however, Mozilla suddenly disappeared from the Open Media sponsor list.
As was already known, it was Caroline de Cock who registered the website saveyourinternet.eu in May 2018. At no time did the site itself have a legally valid legal notice in accordance with the E-Commerce Directive, but merely referred to C4C. At some point at the end of 2018 C4C disappeared from the site and was replaced by the note “managed by EDRi”, which also does not fulfill the legal notice obligation. The site also began to use the anonymization service Gandi. It seems obvious that the actual owner or operator of the site was persuaded by someone to better conceal the ownership of the site.
Moreover, saveyourinternet.eu completely lacks data protection notices, which are also mandatory under the Basic Data Protection Regulation.
The lynchpin of the relevant campaigns: a US industry association!
The “ad hoc coalition” C4C (own statement) with the “coordinator” de Cock counts the US industry association CCIA (Computer and Communication Industry Association) among its donors.
However, the CCIA also financed the campaign site Create.Refresh, which had demonstrably targeted YouTubers since the summer of 2018 in order to have videos created against the (what was then called) Article 13 of the Copyright Directive. In practice, this procedure included talking points which, although wrong, were bluntly adopted by several prominent YouTubers.
Research from the German newspaper FAZ also found that some YouTubers were offered money to create such videos.
Create.Refresh may also have invested a large part of its money in the campaign via Twitter. From August/September 2018 on, it was impossible to avoid the sponsored Twitter posts anymore, especially since the German Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda happily retweeted these sponsored tweets – which, I might add, are political advertising.
Illustration: Retweet of a campaign contribution of Create.Refreh by Julia Reda in August 2018
The CCIA can be described as a key player in the campaign. They not only used to finance C4C, saveyourinternet.eu and Create.Refresh, but also to provide substantial parts of the N-Square/KDC Group 2018 budget, as the EU Transparency Report stated at the end of June 2019.
Illustration: Extract from the EU Transparency Register, N-Square/KDC Group Financing 2018
As payments in the EU Transparency Report only have to be reported in funding level brackets,the CCIA’s share of N-Square’s business may well have been significant.
No less than four organizations that played a decisive role in campaigns against the copyright reform received money from a US industry association that tried to exert a massive influence on EU legislation and at the same time to sell these efforts as civil society resistance (grassroots movement).
Friends of science
To complete the picture, at the Re:Publica 2019 Prof. Kretschmer from the University of Glasgow gave a lecture on EU copyright reform.
Illustration: Prof. Martin Kretschmer at the Re:Publica 2019, source YouTube
Prof. Kretschmer expressed doubts about the evidence presented by myself, this blog, The Times of London and other newspapers on the funding and actions of the groups identified in this article. This despite the fact all the evidence comes from the groups themselves or is derived from the EU transparency database. And the actions of these groups are proudly proclaimed by the groups themselves. In the American vernacular Kretschmer acts as a “merchant of doubt” despite the fact there seems to be no doubt to sell.
Almost inevitably, however, the question arises about Prof. Kretschmer’s cooperation with N-Square, which as noted here was of central importance in the campaign. Did it cease in 2017?
Illustration: Website of the University of Glasgow about Prof. Martin Kretschmer and his projects in June 2017
It can therefore only be speculated whether his statement, heard in the video, that he was “not completely innocent” in the debate was possibly meant quite differently.
Prof. Kretschmer only knows the truth himself.