EU copyright reform: back to square one

With 318 votes to 278 in the European Parliament, the so-called ‘Copyright Directive’ has been rejected. The opposition of the directive breathe a sigh of relief as the potentially wide-reaching impact of the reforms has been stayed until MEPs have debated the topic further.

The objectives of the new legislation were to harmonize copyright protection in the EU and to adapt the law to the digital market and the aim was to find the right balance between protecting IP rights on the internet and ensuring freedom of expression and information of users.

However two provisions in particular, raised concerns. Article 11, also called “Link Tax”, would have forced companies like Google or Facebook to get a license from publishers in order to show snippets of news articles. This provision would restrict the use of hyperlinks since users need to read about the link before clicking. Limiting snippets in turn limits the ability to link sources and news articles, consequently making information much harder to spread and access.

Whereas internet platforms had no general obligation to monitor content uploaded by users so far, Article 13 would have required companies to prevent copyright infringement by setting up filters – a provision which primarily affects sharing platforms. It aimed to reduce the “value gap” between the money user-uploaded platforms make out of copyrighted works and the actual revenue returned to the creators. Although Article 13 could have been extremely profitable to artists themselves, smaller platforms may not be able to afford filter mechanisms, for which Youtube spends £53m annually. On a lighter-hearted, but no less important note, this article could impact other aspects of the internet such as memes and remixes, effectively ‘censoring’ any shared content and not allowing for any parodies or variations on images which aren’t intended to copy the source.

It is clear from the limitation of information and the risk of excessive censorship, that the directive had various flaws which need to be tackled in the debates held in September.

Briffa’s Comment:

The European commission is trying to tackle the highly topical and complicated debate of internet regulation. Copyright law needs to be adapted to the digital market but the risk is to see the internet turned into “a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users” as Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia founder, said.

If the EU copyright reform is adopted without adequate change, the consequences won’t be the same for everyone:

  • Copyright holders, especially in the music industry, will be more fairly remunerated for the content uploaded on platforms such as YouTube thanks to filter mechanisms.
  • Small publishers and start-ups are likely to suffer from the investments they will have to make either to set up filter mechanisms or to pay licences to show snippets.
  • Internet users will be exposed to surveillance technologies and their freedom of speech and access to information will be limited.
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