Controversial Copyright Bill Approved By EU Committee

A controversial bill have been approved by European MEPs, which critics argue will fundamentally change the nature of the Internet in the years ahead.

The Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament voted on Wednesday in favour of tougher copyright rules.

The rules had been proposed by the European Commission two years ago, and are designed to force the owners of online platforms such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft, to share revenues with publishers. These firms also have to bear liability for copyright infringement on the internet.

Controversial elements

According to Reuters, the vote by the Legal Affairs Committee is likely to be the EU Parliament’s official stance as it heads into negotiations with EU countries on a common position, unless these against it force a vote at the general assembly next month.

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 Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, internet pioneer Vint Cerf and others.

“We urge all MEPs (members of parliament) to contest this report and to support balanced copyright rules, which respect online rights and support Europe’s digital economy,” Maud Sacquet the lobby group CCIA’s spokesman is reported to have said.

Raegan MacDonald, head of EU public policy at Mozilla, creator of the Firefox web browser, was quoted as saying it was a sad day for the internet in Europe.

“It is especially disappointing that just a few weeks after the entry into force of the GDPR – a law that made Europe a global regulatory standard bearer – parliamentarians have approved a law that will fundamentally damage the internet in Europe, with global ramifications,” she said, referring to Europe’s new data protection law.

Meanwhile Open Rights executive director Jim Killock told the BBC: “Article 13 must go. The EU parliament will have another chance to remove this dreadful law.

“The EU parliament’s duty is to defend citizens from unfair and unjust laws,” he said. “MEPs must reject this law, which would create a robo-copyright regime intended to zap any image, text, meme or video that appears to include copyright material, even when it is entirely legal material.”

Long fight

However, the EU law is being backed by publishers 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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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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