EU MEPs vote to approve maligned copyright law changes

20 Jun 2018

Copyright symbol. Image: Creative icon styles/Shutterstock

Many internet luminaries had criticised the proposed changes to EU copyright law, saying that creativity on the web would be suffocated.

Controversial changes to European copyright law have been approved by a committee of MEPs voting on the issue today (20 June). Both Article 13 and Article 11 have been passed by the European Parliament Committee on Legal Affairs.

The committee voted 15 to 10 to adopt Article 13, and 13 to 12 to adopt Article 11. The vote will most likely become the official parliamentary stance as it enters negotiations with all EU member states to find common ground, unless lawmakers against the proposals force a vote at an assembly in July. EDRi has a more detailed breakdown of next steps for the proposals.

The link tax explained

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. This could turn into political abuse of news flow in certain countries. Smaller firms without the budgets of the likes of Google may also struggle to afford a licence.

A stifled internet?

Article 13’s critics have 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 AI-powered content recognition systems to review all user-generated content would need to be sourced and installed.

There is a major issue with the AI filter solution proposed by the EU in terms of Article 13. Daniel Markuson, digital privacy expert at NordVPN, explained that AI filters are poor at detecting the nuances that separate plagiarism from the concepts of fair use, satire and derivative works. “Can the filters distinguish between a quote and plagiarism? Can they tell when a photo is being used unfairly and when it’s being used as political satire or as a playful meme? In the end, we’ll have ‘censorship machines’ running the internet.”

Just last week, more than 70 internet pioneers, including Tim Berners-Lee, signed a letter voicing their collective opposition to Article 13.

The letter stated: “By requiring internet platforms to perform automatic filtering [on] all of the content that their users upload, Article 13 takes an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the internet, from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users.”

MEP Julia Reda, who voted against the proposal, said: “People will run into trouble doing everyday things like discussing the news and expressing themselves online.”

Raegan MacDonald, head of EU public policy at Mozilla, expressed disappointment at the decision, particularly just weeks after the enforcement of GDPR, a law that made the EU a global standard-bearer for internet regulation. “Parliamentarians have approved a law that will fundamentally damage the internet in Europe, with global ramifications.”

Civil Liberties Union for Europe also slammed the committee’s vote. “MEPs listened to lobbyists and ignored our fundamental rights. We will take this to the plenary and keep fighting for freedom of speech in the EU,” the union’s Eva Simon said.

Publishers claim victory

Publishers and copyright-holders seemed positive about the EU’s vote, describing it as a victory for rights-holders. Victor Finn, CEO of IMRO, said: “This vote is the welcome result of a sustained campaign by IMRO and our European counterparts to ask the political system in Ireland and beyond to value creativity and the arts as much as technology.

“Our position has always been that sharing of content online is good for music, for fans and for artists. What we are asking is that, like any professional in any sector, is that someone who writes, publishes and performs music gets a fair return for the use of their work.”

While creators should be fairly remunerated for their work, critics are calling these changes clumsy and outdated, particularly given how internet culture has evolved beyond current copyright law concepts.

Before the vote, activist Cory Doctorow wrote that the changes would be “self-destructive and unworkable”, adding that the “European Parliament is genuinely about to turn this foolish, terrible idea into the law of 28 countries”.

Unless the outlined trajectory goes in another direction, prepare for a drastically altered internet experience.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects