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EU to vote on copyright rules to decide the future of YouTube and Google

Natasha Bernal
Busker Madeleina Kay performs outside YouTube's offices in Kings Cross London as part of the #LoveMusic campaign which supports copyright law 

A milestone vote on EU copyright law has pitched celebrities including Paul McCartney and Annie Lennox against Google, YouTube and Facebook.

If the vote passes, the EU will introduce controversial measures to drastically curb tech giants' power over content online.

The vote in the European Parliament on Wednesday could force companies such as Google and YouTube to police copyrighted material and allow publishers and artists to charge for their content. 

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

They say that existing outdated copyright laws mean publishers, artists and musicians are not being remunerated fairly for their work and are being undercut by internet giants. 

However, opponents of the copyright law claim that bringing in new regulation would create an atmosphere of 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.   

Musician Wyclef Jean was in Brussels today campaigning against the introduction of new copyright laws, and held a press conference on Tuesday where he said that upload filters "will stop artists from making and creating the future".

"We will never forget the past, but we live in the present, so that we may see the future. Musicians and artists thrive when they collaborate and share," he said. 

"I’ve worked with so many young artists – the future – who have sampled my music and succeeded. Upload filters or anything else that restricts this will stop artists from making and creating the future, and I hope MEPs will reject that tomorrow.”

The internet's founder, Sir Tim Berners-Lee is also among the high profile figures who have opposed the law, arguing it cause the web to become a platform for “automated surveillance and control.” 

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson said that a copyright law would help break up the "duopoly" of Facebook and Google.  "YouTube is offering take it or leave it very poor deals to creators," he warned. 

Mr Watson called for a single regulator to be granted new powers to deal with market-dominating platforms.

"It's my view that the Government feel unwilling or are unable to deal with their market dominance and we believe that is because they are running rings around legislators and regulators with lawyers and lobbyists and that's why we need a new regime," he said.

One controversial proposal is the introduction of a so-called "link tax" to undercut the revenues of tech giants like YouTube, its parent company Google, and Facebook.  If voted through, sites would have to pay to show copyrighted content online, including in hyperlinks and snippets of text.

The proposed tax is designed to help smaller news publishers by driving traffic to their sites rather than simply to their stories. Critics argue it could cause problems by flagging short sentences used to link to other news outlets as infringing copyright. 

Another controversial proposal, known as Article 13, places the responsibility on tech giants to enforce copyright using automated content-recognition systems. However, these bots could prove inaccurate, regularly flagging content that doesn't need to be taken down. 

Musicians say, despite potential flaws, it would help them get fair pay for their work online. According to figures from the #LoveMusic pro-copyright reform campaign, 1 million streams on YouTube generates £540 for the artist with the company paying creators £0.00054p per views of a music video. 

YouTube's parent company grew its advertising revenue by 24pc to $28bn in the second quarter of 2018, while Facebook grew by 42pc to £13bn - making up the vast majority of its overall income. 

"I would be totally OK if the money wasn't being made, but it is," said British musician Newton Faulkner.

"A lot of everyone's favourite songs were written by professional songwriters, and it's an important job, it changes the way the world feels. I want to protect it as a viable career option for the future."

Although Britain will be exiting the European Union, it will have to uphold the European Parliaments' decision and implement changes in its current copyright structure. 

This is the second vote concerning these proposals. In July, EU politicians voted against an overhaul of the internet directive after a tense row over internet giant's potential self-censorship as a result of these rules, curtailing freedom of expression online.

Open Rights Group published a statement last week saying that internet platforms would become "de facto copyright enforcers" if these proposed laws get the green light. "An algorithm’s poor judgement will cause innocent speech to be routinely blocked along with copyright violations," the group said.