Who’s afraid of the big bad directive ?

The new European directive on copyright in the digital single market adopted on 12 September by the European Parliament, which is undoubtedly beneficial for music or film broadcasting, is worrying the academic world of research.


Essentially because the publication – and therefore dissemination – of public research results is a fundamentally different process.

Traditionally, in the music industry, the author’s were, in principle, remunerated for their creation by the sales of records, CDs, etc. thanks to the profit obtained on the sales of these objects. The same was true for the film industry, which made its profit in cinemas or through cassettes/DVD/BlueRay, etc.

The transition to the Internet broke this logic and today it has become very simple to download any piece of music or film for free(*).

So if we look at it superficially, we could establish a similarity with Open Access. But that is not the case. The difference, and it is significant, is that the authors of scientific articles (the situation can be very different for books) are not paid by the publisher for their work (they usually earn a living from another source) and, in addition, they abandon to the publisher all their rights on their own production.

If we use the analogy between a singer and a researcher, we understand the difference:

The author/performer lives off the profit generated by the sale of his work; the researcher is paid by his university or a funding agency.
The profit from the song goes to the producer who distributes it, a percentage goes to the author/performer; the profit from the scientific article goes to the publisher and nothing goes to the researcher.

The European directive aims to require GAFAs to share their earnings with producers (and therefore indirectly with authors/performers) in order to stabilise the system and avoid artistic drying up; from the point of view of the research community, the directive has no reason to apply to scientific articles put online by their authors who derive no financial benefit from them, which is why it clearly stipulates the academic exception. However, it is a concern for publishers, of course.

It will be necessary to ensure that this exception is maintained and clarified, specially since formal discussions must still be held and are expected to conclude in January 2019. If formalised, each of the EU’s member countries would then be required to enact laws to support the directive. Without these précisions, indeed, the directive could prove destructive for the Open Science that Europe is so keen to see developed.

(*) In fact, there is no real gratuity because, with GAFAs, « if you are not the customer, you are the product » (anonymous quote), but we have the illusion of it.

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