IFLA has joined Creative Commons and Europeana in signing an open letter to European lawmakers, underlining that proposals to impose fees on companies and institutions that share content online pose a real threat to libraries and others in their work to enforce cultural rights. 

The idea that companies and organisations should pay telecommunications companies for the content that they share with users has emerged in a number of different countries. Most recently, it has been the subject of a consultation by the European Commission.

The argument from telecommunications companies is that they require additional money in order to invest in networks, beyond what they receive from internet users to access the internet.  Arguments here focus on the idea that companies like Netflix or YouTube should be paying more here.

There are of course more general counter-arguments, focusing on the profitability of such companies in general, as well as the degree to which it is people’s demand for films and other material that drives them to buy internet subscriptions in the first place. Furthermore, content providers already pay for their internet connections.

However, this idea does raise significant issues for libraries, which of course themselves are (potentially) very significant providers of access to online content.

First of all is the impact on libraries if they were expected to pay to share content with users. This would impose an unacceptable burden on libraries, drawing resources away from activities such as preservation, services to users, and more.

Secondly is the threat this poses to net neutrality. In 2016, IFLA already released a statement, underlining that violations of net neutrality (i.e. the equal treatment of internet content), for example by prioritising or de-prioritising content from certain providers pose a threat to freedom of access to information and freedom of expression, as well as wider cultural rights.

In effect, such provisions risk meaning that bigger players with deeper pockets are better able to reach users, and so in turn, users receive a distorted picture of the internet as a whole.

Both outcomes are unacceptable to libraries, and so IFLA has joined with Creative Commons, Europeana and others in signing an open letter submitted to the European Commission to underline the need to think again.

We encourage governments everywhere to take the needs of libraries – and the rights of their users – into account when taking decisions in this area.