MEPs approve Copyright Directive despite wide-spread criticism

Now the controversial ‘upload filter’ and ‘link tax’ will soon become law in EU nations

President of the European Magazine Media Association, Xavier Bouckaert

Despite a ferocious campaigning led by tech giants, copyright holders, and digital rights activists for 2 years, the European Parliament has given today its final approval to the Copyright Directive, a controversial package of legislation, aimed at updating copyright enforcement in Europe for the internet age, with Julia Reda, an MEP for the German Pirate Party who led much opposition to the law, saying it marks a “dark day for internet freedom.” .

As the Parliament's press office announced, MEPs voted 348 in favor of the law and 274 against. A last-minute proposal to remove law’s most controversial clause - Article 13 or the so-called ‘upload filter’ - was narrowly rejected by just five votes. The latter, along with Article 11, has been the main focus of campaigning.

Article 11 will let publishers charge platforms like Google News when they display snippets of news stories, while Article 13 (renamed Article 17 in the most recent draft of the legislation) gives sites like YouTube new duties to stop users from uploading copyrighted content. In both cases, critics say these well-intentioned laws might create more trouble than solve. Article 13, for example, could lead to the introduction of “upload filters” that will scan all user content before it’s uploaded to sites to remove copyrighted material, eventually causig a censorship on free speech. The law does not explicitly call for such filters, but critics say it will be an inevitability as sites seek to avoid penalties. Experts also insist that any filters introduced will likely be error-prone and ineffective. They also note that given the cost of deploying such technology, the law may have the opposite effect to its intent — solidifying the dominance of US tech giants over online spaces.

The effects of the link tax are expected to be equally harmfult. The law is mainly focused on services like Google Search and Google News, which show snippets of news articles. Google has said that if newspaper choose to levy licenses for this material it will be forced to strip back the content it shows in search and shutter Google News altogether. Critics have accused the company of scare tactics, but previous attempts to introduce similar fees in Germany and Spain both failed.

Yet, industry groups in music, publishing, and film welcomed the passage of the law.

“This is a vote against content theft,” said Xavier Bouckaert, president of the European Magazine Media Association. “Publishers of all sizes and other creators will now have the right to set terms and conditions for others to re-use their content commercially, as is only fair and appropriate.”

"This directive is an important step towards correcting a situation which has allowed a few companies to earn huge sums of money without properly remunerating the thousands of creatives and journalists whose work they depend on. At the same time, the adopted text contains numerous provisions that will guarantee that the internet remains a space for free expression," Rapporteur, Axel Voss also commented after the vote. 

"This is a directive which protects people’s living, safeguards democracy by defending a diverse media landscape, entrenches freedom of expression, and encourages start-ups and technological development. It helps make the internet ready for the future, a space which benefits everyone, not only a powerful few,” he added.

The directive is now expected to be passed on to EU Member States, who will have two years to translate it into national law.

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