European MEPs Reject Controversial EU Copyright Bill

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Reprieve for memes, as MEPs reject copyright bill in its current format. But the fight isn’t over just yet

A controversial bill has been narrowly rejected by European MEPs in its current format, but they will reconsider the new law in September.

The ‘Copyright Directive’ was rejected in the EU Parliament on Thursday after a heated debate and close vote. Indeed, a total of 627 MEPs voted on the directive, with 278 MEPs backing the directive, but 318 were against (there were 31 abstentions).

The defeat comes after intense pressure from the tech industry, as well as privacy campaigners and meme creators, after critics argued the bill would fundamentally change the nature of the Internet in the years ahead.

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Surprise rejection

Indeed, earlier this week Italy Wikipedia shut down for a day in protest at the plans, which co-founder Jimmy Wales has described as “disastrous”.

Yet today’s rejection of the bill in its current form is something of a surprise, considering that the Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament had voted last month in favour of tougher copyright rules.

It had been widely assumed that the Legal Affairs Committee was likely to be the EU Parliament’s official stance as it headed into negotiations with EU countries on a common position.

Essentially, there are two especially controversial aspects to this bill.

Article 11 for example requires online platforms such as Google to pay publishers a fee if they link to their news content.

European lawmakers believe this will help support smaller news publishers and drive users to their homepages rather than directly to their news stories.

The second is article 13, which would require online platforms (YouTube, Instagram etc) to install filters to prevent users from uploading copyrighted materials or seek licences to display content.

The bill could therefore severely clamp down on user generated content and signal the end of memes for example.

It has already been fiercely criticised by Internet stalwarts such as Jimmy Wales, World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, internet pioneer Vint Cerf and others.

Long fight

However, the EU law is being backed by publishers and artists (Paul McCartney etc) who feel that rights holders should be rewarded.

And the arrival of the this law has been a long time coming.

Back in 2010 MEPs urged the European Commission to create a directly enforceable EU-wide copyright law.

But tech giants have been fighting the law for years.

Google for example has fought the German government after it passed a law that would allow German newspaper publishers to charge Google a fee for providing links to newspaper stories.

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