Public pressure secures narrow rejection of EU copyright bill

5 Jul 2018

The vote on copyright in the Digital Single Market that was held on 20 June 2018. Image: European Parliament

Significant public pressure on EU representatives appears to have played a massive part in the rejection of the controversial EU copyright bill in its current form.

Internet stakeholders, privacy campaigners and meme creators are celebrating the news that the EU Copyright Directive has been rejected in the EU Parliament after a heated debate and close vote.

Shortly after 11am IST today (5 July), the parliament put the directive to a vote. A total of 627 votes were cast, 278 for the directive and 318 against, with 31 abstentions.

With this rejection, the wording of the directive – including its controversial Articles 11 and 13 – will now have to go back to the drawing board, with another vote expected to take place between 10 and 13 September.

One of those campaigning for the directive to be rejected was Julia Reda, MEP for the Pirate Party in Germany. She tweeted that the vote was a great success and an indication of the power of protests as well as letters sent to MEPs.

Last month, the European Parliament Committee on Legal Affairs voted 15 to 10 to adopt Article 13, and 13 to 12 to adopt Article 11. If today’s vote had passed, the directive would have entered law.

Article 11, or the so-called neighbouring right for press publishers, could force tech firms to pay publishers for using news snippets. Known as the ‘link tax’ or ‘snippet tax’, critics of the article note that the definition of what constitutes a link is vague in the documentation and details have been left up to the 28 wildly differing member states to bash out.

Meanwhile, Article 13’s critics warned that its passing could see a drastic change made to the creative atmosphere of the internet, affecting user-generated content, from memes to remixes.

Websites would need to deal with markedly higher copyright liability for content posted by users, and artificial intelligence-powered content recognition systems to review all user-generated content would need to be sourced and installed.

Angry reactions from some

Just prior to today’s vote, some of music’s biggest names came forward calling on MEPs to pass the vote, including an open letter sent by Paul McCartney. He said Article 13 in particular would “address the value gap and help assure a sustainable future for the music ecosystem and its creators, fans and digital music services alike”.

The reaction from those who had hoped the directive would pass has been angry, to say the least, with a coalition of major publishing companies describing the MEPs as having succumbed to an intense lobby of manipulative anti-copyright campaigners.

“It is disgraceful that a handful of powerful vested interests can get away with using misleading scare tactics and exaggerated false claims – that they know to be untrue – to interfere with the democratic process,” a spokesperson for Europe publishers EMMA, ENPA, EPC and NME said.

“Four European Parliament committees have scrutinised, clarified, amended and approved the EU Copyright Reform over the past two years, and today those efforts to create a fairer, more sustainable digital ecosystem for the benefit of creators, distributors and consumers have been jeopardised.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic