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Europe to cast final vote on controversial copyright law

Natasha Bernal
Google stock image - AP

Google, YouTube and Facebook are bracing for a final vote on controversial European Union copyright laws on Tuesday that could force them to police all content on their sites.

MEPs are expected to cast a make-or-break final vote on new laws that could enforce copyright filters on all content posted online and allow publishers and artists to charge for their content to be reproduced.

The proposals tabled today will include a softer version of the most contentious part of the laws, Articles 11 and 13, which called on a link tax on major websites that use other people's content and enforced recognition tools to "prevent the availability" of copyrighted material online.

The proposed copyright laws, backed by a string of artists including Sir Paul McCartney, Annie Lennox, and Mike Leigh, the British film director, have been subject to intense debate and lobbying and were already voted on twice by EU MEPs. 

Technology giants including YouTube and Google vehemently opposed the copyright reform, claiming that it would harm creative industries and put the onus on sites to rule on copyright disputes.  

Google threatened to pull its news service from Europe and YouTube chief executive Susan Wojcicki said that the copyright directive was "unrealistic" because owners often quarrel over who owns the right to online material. 

However, changes made since September have "watered down" the impact on big technology companies and have made concessions to lobbyists, according to Kathy Berry, senior professional services lawyer at Linklaters. 

"It does not apply to hyperlinking or extracts, and has saved the right to news snippets," she said. "It's therefore unlikely to impact Google News at all."

Julia Reda, an MEP from Germany argued that the changes made since September to the new copyright proposal "address the concerns of big tech" but no one else. 

"I think YouTube and Google are less concerned about the tax now, because under the original Parliament proposal online platforms were directly liable for copyright infringement -- full stop," she said. "In the final text they are liable unless they use upload filters."

Ms Reda, who is among a group of MEPs who plan to vote against Articles 11 and 13 on Tuesday, said the final version of the copyright proposals will benefit companies who have the expertise and manpower to develop filter algorithms to police content and hand more power to technology giants. 

Despite this claim, Google has already stated that it is not happy with the revised laws. Kent Walker, senior vice president of Global Affairs at Google said that these laws will "not help but rather hold back" Europe's creative talent in a recent blog post

"The directive creates vague, untested requirements, which are likely to result in online services over-blocking content to limit legal risk," he said. "And services like YouTube accepting content uploads with unclear, partial, or disputed copyright information could still face legal threats."