On Saturday, 16.03.2019, an article entitled „Purchased Protests?“ was published in the FAZ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung), which stated that Create.Refresh tried to influence YouTubers and offered money to them to publish negative videos about the EU Copyright Directive.
This influence of Create.Refresh will be described in more detail below. Here, too, we will come across important German protagonists of the campaign who are against the planned regulation.
France – The failed attempt
In summer 2018, the Create.Refresh campaign addressed various YouTubers across Europe on this topic, including the French YouTube collective Tatou.
Tatou actually released a video in December 2018. However, the directive is not criticized in this one, in fact they backed the directive. Tatou documented how Create.Refresh contacted them.
Tatou also shows that Create.Refresh’s contact to the European YouTubers apparently went far beyond the mere proposal of video creation. As Tatou explains in their video, Create.Refresh sent a script, which other French YouTubers used for their videos.
In doing so, they even adopted mistakes that were contained in the script.
One of them is the assertion that trademarks may no longer appear in a video after the adoption of the Directive.
The Lefloid case
Also, some German YouTubers have reproduced exactly the same errors in their videos against the directive. Thus, giving an unmistakable acknowledgement of receipt of the Create.Refresh letter.
To get an impression of how much influence Create.Refresh also has in Germany, take a look at the Lefloid case.
Lefloid is one of the most prominent and influential German YouTubers with a growing fan base. In addition, he is one of the few to be present in the media outside of YouTube.
He was also one of the first prominent YouTubers to comment on article 13 shortly after Create.Refresh sent the letter (Tatou dates it to 08.06.2018). On 18.06.2018 he published an angry video dealing with the EU directive. Surprisingly Lefloid’s video follows the Create.Refresh script including all false assumptions.
Whether Lefloid was actually contacted by Create.Refresh is not clear from the available sources. Neither has the FAZ published the names of the 17 German YouTubers who confirmed that they did not receive the letter, nor has Create.Refresh responded to the FAZ’s request.
The short time between the distribution of Create.Refresh’s letter and the appearance of his video and the similar content gives us food for thought.
Of course, it is also possible that Lefloid simply used the content from videos that had already been published. Both, however, would raise important questions about his credibility.
In February 2019 Lefloid appeared in a livestream of Heute+. There he used the term „fair use“ several times and gave the impression that it was part of the current debate on guidelines or a possible alternative to the current copyright law.
With this term he uses one of the favourite buzzwords of the copyright opponents in the debate. For years, copyright opponents have been trying to import this US rule into the European legal area, perhaps because it sounds so positive: behave fairly, then everything is fine. In essence, however, the demand for a fair-use principle is aimed at abolishing the principle of the „Author´s Right“ that applies in Europe and a complete reorganisation of copyright law in favour of consumers and industry.
Of course, Lefloid does not go into this connection. In the stream, he repeatedly describes himself as a great fan of the fair-use principle, although he is obviously not familiar with the practical application. When the presenter of the stream addresses him about the famous case of the Beastie Boys, which, in the end, became very expensive for a user from the USA because he could not invoke the fair-use principle as assumed, Lefloid does not have an answer.
It is quite obvious, that he does not know that in Europe, with its own European barrier regulations. Such regulations already exist that reflect the „fair use principle“ within the European legal framework and solve practically all the supposed problems he mentioned.
This ignorance of the facts is astonishing in so far as Lefloid talks three times in this stream about having been in contact with the YouTube legal team. Apparently, they had concealed the existence of the European barrier regulations from him, otherwise he could have or even should have mentioned them in this context both in the stream and in the video on his YouTube channel.
Ignorance of the European barriers also explains his further remarks and the criticism of European copyright law. All the problems mentioned would be covered by the barriers or are not problems related to the reform, such as his example of a journalist’s blog, which is not a platform.
Most impressive, however, was the answer to the question of whether Lefloid would like it if third parties simply used his work and monetized it.
His answer: he would like to benefit from the monetarization process.
Whether this answer was included in Create.Refresh’s script is highly questionable. Lefloid is thus demanding exactly what the planned directive proposes for the use of third-party work on platforms: licences.
Nevertheless, Lefloid’s appearance shows how strongly his statements already conform to the positions propagated by Create.Refresh.
Create.Refresh, Twitter advertising and Julia Reda
Create.Refresh advertised on Twitter in the summer of 2018, propagating in sponsored Twitter advertising that the EU directive concerns the banning of memes, although at that time it had long been clear that this claim was simply wrong. MEP Julia Reda was one of the retweeters of these Create.Refresh postings. This is astonishing the tweet was immediately identified as fake news when it appeared.
In January 2019 Julia Reda even promoted a Create.Refresh Meme-Generator in the course of the campaign to give the impression that memes are forbidden by the directive or can only be used rudimentarily.
What exactly is Create.Refresh?
Create.Refresh is an initiative of the US campaign company Purpose.com.
It describes itself as a „group of organizations fighting for freedom of expression for creative people“ and includes C4C, Open Knowledge, CC (Creative Commons) and Open Media in its list of members. They have declared that they want to abolish the controversial Article 13 of the planned EU directive.
It is financed by C4C (Copyright for Creativity); the Dutch initiative Kennisland; the US industry association CCIA (Computer and Communication Industry Association); and the CDT (Center for Democracy and Technology). CCIA represents the US Tech-Giants, which also strongly support the CDT.
The role of Create.Refresh since summer 2018
The members of Tatou also carried out research into Create.Fresh and presented the results in their video: According to the video, Create.Refresh is part of a wide-spread campaign against the EU directive, which points to the action site Saveyourinternet.eu. Create.Refresh explicitly refers to this in its cover letter to YouTubers. Saveyourinternet.eu is financed by the C4C alliance (Coypright for Creativity).
This is an association of different interest groups from civil rights initiatives to associations, which is essentially financed by the US industry association CCIA and the US foundation OSF and which aims to influence the discussion about copyright at EU level.
This blog has reported about these connections in the summer of 2018; they are once again confirmed by the research carried out by the French YouTube collective.
There is evidence that Create.Refresh and the Saveyourinternet.eu campaign were financed by the same group (at least until they became anonymous): The US body CCIA.
In the summer of 2018, the organizational links between Saveyourinternet.eu and Create.Refresh were still clearly visible. Moreover, Create.Refresh provided a Twitter tool for the campaign in summer 2018.
In the meantime, those responsible have covered their tracks. Create.Refresh simply no longer appears on the saveyourinternet.eu website and more information has now disappeared from the Saveyourinternet.eu website, as already reported in this blog.
The influence on public opinion by supposed grassroots movements such as Create.Refresh and others financed from the USA has meanwhile been discussed in detail here in the blog, but also in the press. Details about their questionable financing and techniques for concealing interrelationships under circumvention of the GDPR were also presented.
Currently, the influence actually reaches deep into the content that prominent YouTube influencers disseminate and that it is quite obviously not limited to Germany.
The EU parliamentarians will therefore have to answer the question of whether the public protest against the directive, which is now clearly visible, would be so visible even without financing from potent US sources. And whether the criticism of the directive expressed therein is actually based on facts or possibly has its origin in calculated fears that are unfounded in the matter.
Volker Rieck is managing director of the content protection service provider File Defense Service (FDS), which works for numerous rights owners. The company also conducts studies on piracy and supports law enforcement agencies with its collected data. His articles occasionally appear on the FAZ, Tarnkappe.info, Webschauder and sporadically on the US blogs The Trichordist and Musictecpolicy. This is always about the various aspects of unregulated content distribution.