EU Parliament sends controversial copyright law reform back to discussion

The European Parliament hemicycle in Strasbourg (Copyright: European Union, 2017 / Source: EC - Audiovisual Service / Photo: Mauro Bottaro)

The European Parliament hemicycle in Strasbourg (Copyright: European Union, 2017 / Source: EC – Audiovisual Service / Photo: Mauro Bottaro)


Last Thursday, the European Parliament has voted against a proposed reform of the EU’s copyright law, aimed at forcing tech giants like Google and Facebook to share revenues with publishers, broadcasters and artists. The proposed reform was formally intended to “modernise” the overall European copyright system, and to bring it more “in line” to the digital age. However, the proposal sparked a fierce debate between internet giants and content creators in the past weeks, with internet first-rate names such as Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales involved on one front and music legends such as Sir Paul McCartney on the other.

Background

The Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market 2016/0280(COD), also known as the EU Copyright Directive, is a proposed EU directive, officially aimed at harmonising the EU’s copyright laws, but also at protecting press publications, reducing the “value gap” between the profits made by internet platforms and content creators. It first saw the light in 2016, when the European Commission released the proposal currently under discussion, after it passed consultations in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Less than two months ago, on May 25, the EU Council’s COREPER (from French COmité des REprésentants PERmanents) agreed its position on the draft Directive, paving the way to closing negotiations with the European Parliament to reach a final text. On June 20, 2018, the European Parliament Committee on Legal Affairs finalised their amendments to the directive as well and greenlighted the proposal. However, last week, MEPs voted not to proceed to the negotiation stage, but instead to reopen the directive for debate.

The vote

So last week, on 5 July 2018, Parliament’s plenary voted by 318 votes to 278, with 31 abstentions, to reject the negotiating mandate proposed by the Legal Affairs Committee last month. After the vote, the rapporteur, Axel Voss (EPP,DE) said: “I regret that a majority of MEPs did not support the position which I and the Legal Affairs Committee have been advocating. But this is part of the democratic process”.

European Parliament’s rules of procedure provide that if at least 10% of MEPs (76) object to opening negotiations with the Council based on the text voted in committee, a plenary vote will be held. This was also explained by the European Parliament on an official note, which was released last week. By the deadline of midnight on Tuesday, the requisite number of MEPs had lodged their objection.

Controversial proposal

The proposed EU Copyright Directive was an attempt by the EU to officially “modernise its copyright laws”, and move towards the Digital Single Market. However, it didn’t make everyone happy, particularly because it contained two very controversial and highly-contested parts. The first one was Article 11, which was designed to protect newspapers and other news outlets from internet giants like Google and Facebook, requiring them to pay publishers when users share links.

The second one was Article 13. Article 13 was indeed designed to make online platforms such as YouTube seek direct licences for content such as music videos, images or text. Article 13 would indeed require the upload of a sort of “filter” to have all content uploaded online checked for copyright infringement.

Reactions

Opponents of the Copyright Directive clearly celebrated the rejection of the proposal. Julia Reda, a Pirate Party MEP who had campaigned against the changes, was among the first ones to tweet her satisfaction. “Great success: Your protests have worked! The European Parliament has sent the copyright law back to the drawing board”, Reda said.

Among the backers of the proposal, BPI Music, which represents the UK’s music industry, said: “We respect the decision by MEPs to have a plenary discussion on the draft Copyright Directive. We will work with MEPs over the next weeks to explain how the proposed Directive will benefit not just European creativity, but also internet users and the technology sector”.

Fierce debate

Internet’s most influential names and music industry all start massively collided on the proposal in the past weeks, with the first group claiming the reform could have a massive impact on how people use the internet, limiting freedom, and the latter in support of the law, which would have helped protecting intellectual property. Among the campaigners against the proposals there are high-profile names such as Wikipedia founder, Jimmy Wales, the world wide web inventor, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the net neutrality expert Tim Wu and the internet pioneer Vint Cerf, which sent a letter to EU Parliament’s President Antonio Tajani, saying the law was an “imminent threat to the future” of the internet.

“We support the consideration of measures that would improve the ability for creators to receive fair remuneration for the use of their works online […] But we cannot support Article 13, which would mandate Internet platforms to embed an automated infrastructure for monitoring and censorship deep into their networks”, the signatories said. “For the sake of the Internet’s future, we urge you to vote for the deletion of this proposal”, the letter also said.

Music industry’s plea

On the other hand, there were about 1,300 musicians who urged politicians to approve the Directive. Music legends such as former Beatles member Paul McCartney, Annie Lennox, Placido Domingo and David Guetta tried to persuade MEPs to make sweeping changes to copyright law, but those names were not enough. In a letter published on IFPI, Sir McCartney urged MEPs to support the proposal. “The proposed Copyright Directive and its Article 13 would address the value gap and help assure a sustainable future for the music ecosystem and its creators, fans and digital music services alike”, he said.

Next steps

With last week’s vote, the proposal has been pushed back to the European Parliament for further debate and will be revisited in September, allowing sections of the proposal to be rewritten. “We will now return to the matter in September for further consideration and attempt to address peoples’ concerns whilst bringing our copyright rules up to date with the modern digital environment”, said rapporteur Axel Voss in the official EU document. September 10 will be the date.

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