U.S. Markets closed

EU Parliament approves sweeping digital copyright reforms

Natasha Bernal
MEP Axel Voss celebrates as the European Parliament passes a dramatic overhaul of copyright reforms to reduce the power of Google and YouTube - European Parliament

The European Parliament has voted in favour of a sweeping overhaul to copyright law which could dramatically change the way that internet giants like Google and Facebook operate. 

The EU agreed to adopt controversial measures to drastically curb tech giants' power over online content, forcing companies to police copyrighted material and allow publishers and artists to charge for it. 

The proposed new rules were carried after 438 MEPs voted in favour of the reforms, 226 voted against and 39 abstained in a vote.

The amendments approved included Articles 11 and 13, which aimed to introduce a controversial "link tax" to undercut the revenues of tech giants like YouTube, its parent company Google, and Facebook. 

They state that sites will have to pay to show copyrighted content online, including in hyperlinks and snippets of text - and that sites will be responsible for scanning information uploaded by users to make sure it does not breach copyright. 

"Members of the house, a heartfelt thanks for the job that we have done together. this is a good sign for the creative industry in Europe,"  said MEP Axel Voss, who campaigned for the overhaul of existing copyright laws.

The hotly-debated report will now be sent to an EU committee to kickstart further negotiations between the European Parliament, Council and Commission. 

This second vote passed after a series of amendments to the original proposals, which were voted down earlier this summer. 

Artists have campaigned to bring in laws that would require YouTube and Facebook to stop users illegally uploading their music.

Conservative Legal Affairs spokesman Sajjad Karim claimed that this vote demonstrates that copyright law is catching up with the digital age.

"This legislation is now better balanced, answering many of the concerns of journalists, publishers and musicians whose work was being shared freely online without stifling innovation or fundamentally changing the nature of the internet," he said.

The vice president of the European Parliament, MEP Sylvie Guillame, said that the vote "preserved an independent press and freedom of expression" on Twitter in the minutes after the vote. 

The European People's Party Group, which backed Mr Voss in the vote, said that it "stands behind" the journalists, creators, authors, publishers and legitimate copyright right-holders. "We are protecting independent journalism in Europe," the group said.

UK Music chief executive Michael Dugher said that the #LoveMusic campaign, launched by UK musicians, "exposed the tricks" that some of the big tech firms tried during the lobbying of the bill.  

“There must be no watering down of this breakthrough commitment to creators," he said. "It’s important that everyone continues to work together to implement real change as quickly as possible.”

The opponents of the copyright law claimed that bringing in new regulation would lead to self-censorship on the biggest internet streaming sites, which could mean that creators' videos could never be published. Meanwhile, satirical pieces such as memes, which adapt existing work, could be banned.

MEP Marietje Shaake said that the vote today had the "worse possible outcome".  "The Parliament squandered the opportunity to get the copyright reform on the right track," she claimed. "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 Daniel Dalton said that the fact that Article 11 and 13 remained virtually unchanged is "not good for the future of Europe". "I don't believe it will help creators either but it will introduce filtering. Much more legal content will get taken down," he said. 

Thomas Boué, director general of software advocate BSA,  expressed his disappointment with the outcome of the vote today and said it would "work with all stakeholders" to progress the negotiations. 

EDiMA, the trade association representing online sites, said that MEPS have decided to "support the filtering of the internet to the benefit of big businesses in the music and publishing industries".

For publishers, these new rules could mean a boost for original journalism, which is currently competing with copycat sites for space on search engine results, and the potential for Google to be forced to remunerate journalists for showcasing their articles on Google News.

However, it also means that in principle publishers could be held liable for links to articles outside their own organisation, or could be found in breach of copyright by using similar wording to existing articles.

For musicians, the introduction of new copyright rules could mean a larger cut of the revenue generated by streaming sites like YouTube or Spotify, but it could also be problematic for artists' song covers or music inspired by copyrighted material, which may be classed as a breach of the rules.