European Parliament votes again to approve controversial copyright changes

12 Sep 2018

Lawmakers at EU parliament today (12 September). Image: Mauro Bottaro/EC Audiovisual services

The European Parliament has voted again on polarising copyright rules.

The EU copyright battle continued today (12 September) as parliamentarians entered yet another day of plenary meetings.

The debate was put on ice in July after MEPs voted to reopen talks on the planned changes. This came after the proposals were initially voted on in June.

The articles explained

Today, MEPs voted to endorse the new regulations, including the controversial Articles 11 and 13. Article 11, or the neighbouring right for press publishers, is colloquially dubbed the ‘link tax’ or ‘snippet tax’. In a basic sense, this would force tech firms to pay online publishers for the use of news snippets.

Critics say that while large firms such as Google News would be able to afford to pay the news publishers, smaller firms would struggle. Proponents say hyperlinks would be excluded.

Article 13 is also known as the ‘upload filter’. This article means that websites would have much higher copyright liability for user-generated content (UGC), from memes to remixes. The proposal states that content-filtering systems would need to be deployed to review all UGC.

This article in particular caused concern among internet freedom activists, while some musicians and other creatives lobbied for it to pass. Opponents included Tim Berners-Lee and Jimmy Wales, while Paul McCartney and Wyclef Jean were among those who campaigned in favour.

EU copyright vote sees a divide

The parliament voted to adopt the mandate to start negotiations, and several MEPs were disappointed. 438 MEPs voted to adopt the mandate, while 226 voted against and 39 abstained.

MEP Marietje Schaake said: “The parliament squandered the opportunity to get the copyright reform on the right track. This is a disastrous result for the protection of our fundamental rights, ordinary internet users and Europe’s future in the field of artificial intelligence. We have set a step backwards instead of creating a true copyright reform that is fit for the 21st century.”

MEP Julia Reda, who led the parliamentary efforts to dissuade lawmakers from voting the directive in, said that the parliament has “failed to listen to citizens’ and experts’ concerns”.

What comes next?

Andrus Ansip, vice-president for the digital single market in the EU, and Mariya Gabriel, commissioner for digital economy and society, said: “Our aim for this reform is to bring tangible benefits for EU citizens, researchers, educators, writers, artists, press and cultural heritage institutions, and to open up the potential for more creativity and content by clarifying the rules and making them fit for the digital world.

“At the same time, we aim to safeguard free speech and ensure that online platforms – including 7,000 European online platforms – can develop new and innovative offers and business models.”

Angela Mills Wade, executive director of the European Publishers Council, said of Article 11: “Today, we give credit to MEPs who voted for press freedom, democracy, professional journalism and European values.”

MEP Axel Voss, who led the charge on introducing the changes, said the vote was “a good sign for the creative industries in Europe”.

It is unclear as yet how the directive will impact platforms such as Facebook and YouTube, which both lean heavily on UGC as an element of their respective business models. For now, the legislation still faces a final vote in the European Parliament at the start of 2019. If it passes at that stage, each member state will interpret the directive as it chooses.

Updated, 8.17am, 13 September 2018: This article was updated to clarify that the final vote on the legislation will take place in early 2019.

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