What to know about the EU’s vote for copyright changes

The European Parliament voted Sept. 12 to update copyright laws to give more legal rights to publishers, musicians and filmmakers over the distribution of their content online.

The vote comes after over two years of active lobbying from free-speech campaigners, web pioneers, artists and publishers, with skirmishes leading to spamming the inboxes of members of Parliament and, in extreme cases, death threats. It’s set for final three-way negotiations with the European Commission and the Council of the European Union.

What has changed
The two most controversial changes, articles 11 and 13, aim to give media producers the same copyright protections online as they have offline. Tech companies will be held more responsible for copyright infringements that take place on their platforms, potentially putting them in line for billions in payouts. Publishers also get the right to charge platforms for displaying snippets of their content.

Under the new proposal, aggregators and platforms don’t necessarily need a copyright license to display publisher content, just some form of contract with the publisher, like a revenue share, says Angela Mills Wade, executive director at the European Publishers Council.

Who’s for the proposals
Certain publishers that distribute their content on platforms like Google and Facebook are looking to get paid by them to cover their content costs. Four European publishing trade bodies have supported the directive: the European Magazine Media Association, the European Newspaper Publishers’ Association, the European Publishers Council and News Media Europe.

Last week, 165 filmmakers also pressed Parliament to pass the proposed changes in the directive, giving them more rights to direct how streaming services like Netflix and Amazon distribute content and the copyright fees they pay out.

Who’s against
Opponents include free-speech advocates, who say platforms will over-censor to avoid heavy fines, voicing similar concerns to laws passed Germany that requires platforms to remove hate speech in a certain time frame. Also in opposition are tech figures like Tim Berners-Lee and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, who said the changes will hamper the free sharing of information on the internet; and tech platforms, who will have to add technology filters and draw up contracts to comply with the changes.

Wikipedia shut down in some countries in protest over the changes, which it said would lead to the closure of the encyclopedia. A spokesperson from Mozilla said that the rules would force online services to implement “blanket upload filters,” which could signify the end to the memes, mashups and GIFs of internet culture.

Not all publishers are for the reforms. Publisher NewsNow, whose business is based on aggregating links from other publishers, gathered over 100 publisher signatures to its petition earlier this year and has been campaigning against the changes. Greg Witham, COO at NewsNow, said the directive challenges the foundations of the open web and hurts smaller publishers if platforms don’t pay to distribute their content. The company wouldn’t comment on how the new directive would impact its business.

“We do know it’s likely to be a patchwork of legislation across nation states, and at the very least will be a giant admin headache for all concerned,” Witham said. “Legislation is bad news for consumers and most publishers, reducing media plurality and placing more power in the hand of a few giant media corporations.”

As Robert Guthrie, partner for international law firm Osborne Clarke, also points out, it is not yet fully clear what the final text of the directive will be, but regular, non-commercial internet users won’t be impacted. “In my view, the directive was never going to prevent individuals from linking to content, provided they did not reproduce part of the content when sharing it,” he said.


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