EU approves controversial copyright law

MEPs approved contested digital copyright reforms yesterday, in their second vote on the matter.

The reforms, first proposed by the European Commission two years ago, are intended to shift the balance of power between internet giants such as Google and Facebook and those who produce content such as music, films and news.

The European Parliament’s position was approved by 438 votes to 226, with 39 abstentions. This means it can begin negotiations around the directive with member states, before finalising the revised directive and bringing it into force.

A final vote is scheduled for January of next year, after which, if approved, it must be implemented by member states. As the revisions are not classified as EU regulations, member states will be free to implement them as they see fit.

One of the most controversial provisions is Article 11, which requires payment to newspapers, magazines and agencies for posting “snippets” of their material, such as the headlines, pictures and text found on Facebook feeds and Google News.

Meanwhile, Article 13 will make YouTube and similar platforms liable for copyrighted material, and require them to have content deals with rights holders.

The European Parliament said it had specifically amended Article 13 so that it now requires content platforms to design their filters in such a way that they do not bar legitimate use of content, such as permitted quotations or parodies.

EU digital commissioner Mariya Gabriel said the proposals that have now been approved present no danger to the open internet, contrary to messages made by tech company lobbying efforts.

Meanwhile, MEP Axel Voss - who has spearheaded the reforms through the European Parliament - said the outcome was “a good sign for the creative industries in Europe”.
However, Julia Reda of the Pirate Party, which opposed the changes, called the vote “catastrophic”.

The European Commission argues current law has allowed content distributors such as YouTube to rake in massive profits while underpaying content producers, because it is not held legally responsible for the material on its website.

In seeking to close that loophole, internet firms argued the laws go too far and will effectively make it impossible for user-created content such as memes to continue to exist. Free speech groups add that the changes will hamper freedom of expression.

Twenty news agencies, including the Press Association and Agence France-Presse, have stated that the rules will help redress a situation in which Google and Facebook are “plundering” news producers’ advertising revenues, creating a “threat to democracy”.

Elsewhere, internet inventor Tim Berners-Lee was among 70 prominent internet figures who argued the reforms will transform the internet from an open platform into a means of “automated surveillance and control”.

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