ECLA Newsletter,

September 2018


EU Parliament approves controversial copyright reform

The EU aims to update online copyright laws to reflect the internet age and to strengthen the rights of newspaper publishers and other authors vis-à-vis digital platforms. Critics, however, claim that the planned reform will threaten free use of the internet and make services like Wikipedia impossible to operate. On Wednesday, 12 September, the Parliament voted again on an amendment and approved the controversial and heavily criticised Copyright Directive.

The Directive was originally rejected by MEPs in July following criticism of two key elements concerning the “link tax” and “upload filter”, i.e. Articles 11 and 13. On 12 September, the European Parliament approved an updated version of the copyright reform. 438 MEPs voted in favour of holding talks between the EU Parliament, the Council representing the member states, and the EU Commission, while 226 opposed the much-discussed directive.

The heart of the matter

The dispute between opponents and supporters focuses on two key elements of the amendment: the “upload filters” and “ancillary copyright”. Upload filters are software that make it possible for online platforms to check during the upload process whether images, videos or music are copyrighted. The new EU rules would require certain services, like YouTube, to seek consent from potential right holders, including for content uploaded by users. If approval is not received, the material may not be published. To date, platforms have only had to delete protected content upon notification.
Second, in line with ancillary copyright, portals such as Google News may no longer display clippings of press releases without the publisher’s consent. They could also be held liable for copyright violations.

The main arguments

Supporters of the reform want newspaper publishers, authors, record companies and other rights holders to get a bigger piece of the pie currently being devoured by the major internet companies. Copyrights are being violated on a massive scale, from one song to entire movies. The goal is to strengthen intellectual property rights.
Critics, however, see the “link tax” as especially unfavourable for publishers, who depend on being named by online search engines, and as a result, have a weak bargaining position, for example, with Google. The opponents even went so far as to speak of censoring the internet: Anything you want to publish would need to be approved by upload filters, which could make sure that in the future popular online services, such as Wikipedia or YouTube, would no longer be available as they are now.

What’s next?

Even though the copyright reform has been approved, including the two heavily debated amendments dubbed by critics as catastrophic for an open internet, the fight is not over yet. The directive now becomes the subject of negotiations between the EU Council and the Commission, where details may change again. Once they reach an agreement, the EU Parliament will hold a final vote in January 2019. Despite all the back and forth, one thing is already clear: if the Copyright Directive receives final approval at the beginning of next year, it will have a massive impact on the internet as we know it.

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