EU lawmakers face a major vote on digital copyright reform

The ambitious law has provoked one of the most intense lobbying wars in European Union history

The European Parliament will vote today on a contentious copyright law, which has provoked one of the most intense lobbying wars in European Union history. Rejected in July, the reform has been amended in hope of answering the fears of advocates of internet freedom who helped sink the law in the first place. Now, amid last-minute writing and rewriting of more than 203 amendments, the final outcome seems unpredictable.

"The feeling of many in parliament is that on Wednesday we decide the life or death of the law," said right-of-centre MEP Marc Joulaud of France, a backer of the measure, adding that this " is the last slot".

The draft directive is aimed at ensuring creators of content - whether music, movies or news - are paid fairly in a digital world. It has been however sternly resisted by major US tech giants as well as online freedom activists, with some campaigners warning it could spell the end of internet freedom, diversity and affect overall user experience. The lobbying battle is mainly over two parts of the planned law.

The first is Article 13, which would make platforms like Google-owned YouTube legally liable if their users share copyrighted material, to prevent content producers being ripped off. Critics, including several Silicon Valley giants, argue that the change will lead in effect to blanket censorship of platforms that have become an online hub for creativity as well as the prime source of entertainment - at the expense of TV - for younger generations. In short, as Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of World Wide Web stated, such measure would transform the internet from an open platform into a tool for “automated surveillance and control”.

"Let's put it very bluntly, if the platforms have a liability to make sure that (copyrighted) content doesn't show up, then anything that could be perceived as a copyright infringement would be taken down," Siada El Ramly, director of EDiMA, a lobby group for the tech sector, also said.

Even more hotly disputed is Article 11, which aims to create a so-called "neighbouring right", meaning that newspapers, magazines and news agencies would have to be paid a fee when Google or other web services link to their stories. In short, if internet companies post “snippets” of news content – for example, the headline, picture and text bundles as Facebook feeds and Google News do now, they have to pay the source.

Opponents are no less forceful. Fervently backers of the measure are traditional media and content providers in urgent search of revenue at a time when so much can be seen online for free. A column signed by the CEOs of around 20 agencies, already backed the law and urged the European Parliament to help address a "grotesque imbalance", as they accused Google and Facebook of "plundering" news for free.

“For the sake of Europe’s free press and democratic values, EU lawmakers should press ahead with copyright reform,” said a statement signed by the agencies, including the Press Association and Agence France-Presse.

Moreover, at the Venice film festival last week, 165 European film-makers and screenwriters, including Mike Leigh and Jacques Audiard, also urged EU lawmakers to pass the law.

If adopted, MEPs will be able to start negotiations with the EU Council - representing the 28 member states, which already reached a compromise on the issue in May. These closed-door discussions, which also include the European Commission, are known in EU jargon as "trilogues" and can take several months before any compromise found is put to a fresh vote. Amid last-minute writing and rewriting of amendments, the final outcome cannot be predicted.

Proponents of the reform would like a law before the European elections in May 2019, when many fear an influx of eurosceptic MEPs with little use for the reform.

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