Controversial Copyright Laws Approved By European Parliament


European Union lawmakers today adopted a revised negotiating position on a series of controversial copyright rules known as the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. European Parliament members voted 438 to 226 on the reforms that seek fair compensation for copyrighted material, but which still face opposition over concerns the regs could be a blow to a free and open internet.

At the heart of what has been a heated debate are Articles 11 and 13. The former includes what has been dubbed by the opposition as a “link tax” whereby websites would pay a fee for printing excerpts of news stories or linking to them. Article 13 would make digital platforms, think YouTube and Facebook, liable for any copyright infringements on uploaded content, and could require a filter to block illegal postings.

The copyright reform was originally put forth by the European Commission two years ago, but this past July, Parliament voted against, handing a temporary victory to Silicon Valley. Tweaks were made ahead of today’s vote including safeguards to protect small firms and freedom of expression.

According to the European Parliament, many of the changes to the EU Commission’s original proposal aim to make certain that artists, notably musicians, performers and screenwriters, as well as news publishers and journalists, are paid for their work when it is used by sharing platforms and news aggregators.

Among the chief positions are what is referred to as a strengthening of negotiating rights of authors and performers. Per the text, they will be enabled to claim additional remuneration from the party exploiting their rights when the remuneration originally agreed is disproportionately low compared to the benefits derived. These benefits should include indirect revenues and would empower authors and performers to revoke or terminate the exclusivity of an exploitation license for their work if the party holding the exploitation rights is deemed not to be exercising this right.

Parliament’s position will also apply to snippets, where only a small part of a news publisher’s text is displayed. In practice, this liability requires these parties to pay right holders for copyrighted material that they make available. Parliament’s text also specifically requires that journalists themselves, and not just their publishing houses, benefit from remuneration stemming from this liability requirement.

The text also includes provisions to ensure that copyright law is observed online without unfairly hampering freedom of expression. So, sharing hyperlinks to articles, together with “individual words” to describe them, will be free of copyright constraints. At the same time, in an attempt to encourage start-ups and innovation, the text now exempts small and micro platforms from the directive. Wikipedia and open source software platforms will likewise not be affected.

During the recent Venice Film Festival, some 165 leading screenwriters and directors, including Jacques Audiard, Paolo Sorrentino Lázló Nemes and Pawel Pawlikowski, signed a petition calling on Parliament to adopt the latest version of the EU Copyright Directive.

But earlier this week, YouTube’s Chief Business Officer weighed in saying that Article 13 risked “discouraging or even prohibiting platforms from hosting user-generated content.”

After the vote today, MEP Axel Voss said, “I am convinced that once the dust has settled, the internet will be as free as it is today, creators and journalists will be earning a fairer share of the revenues generated by their works and we will be wondering what all the fuss was about.”

Vocal Directive opponent and MEP Julia Reda who has nicknamed Article 13 #UploadFilters, tweeted her distaste for today’s decision and encouraged winning back the vote next spring.

The European Commission, Parliament and Council will now enter trilogue discussions in order to adopt a definitive text which will then be voted again at Parliament. After that, it would be entered into law in the individual member states.

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