A controversial European Union bill regarding the reform of copyright laws has been officially approved despite fierce opposition from tech firms, meme creators, and privacy campaigners.

A majority of EU officials agreed to the copyright law reform, but according to Reuters Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Poland refused to back the deal – and two other EU countries abstained.

Approval of the bill had been delayed last month after a key meeting between European lawmakers, representatives from EU countries and Commission officials, was called off after those attending failed to resolve their differences on the matter.

Copyright reform

The European Parliament had already approved the controversial copyright reforms in September last year, despite heavy lobbying by tech giants, who were opposed to the changes, while the European Commission had argued changes were urgently needed.

There are two especially controversial aspects to this bill that caused widespread concern.

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, but Google has suggested that it might pull Google News from Europe altogether.

The second concern 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 concern is that this reform could severely clamp down on user generated content and signal the end of memes for example.

The fact that it took the EU two years to get an agreement, shows the concern the Act will generate. Indeed, dissenting countries said the proposed changes could hinder innovation and hurt the bloc’s competitiveness in the digital market.

“We regret that the Directive does not strike the right balance between the protection of right holders and the interests of EU citizens and companies,” the dissenting countries was quoted by Reuters as saying in a joint statement.

Tech opposition

It seems the copyright reform has a few more hurdles to cross however. It needs a vote by a committee of lawmakers next week followed by a parliamentary vote either next month or early April before the changes can become law.

The bill 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.

Tim Berners-Lee for example argued the bill would transform the internet from an open platform into a means of “automated surveillance and control”.

However supporters of the reforms have included, most recently, a group of 165 film-makers and screenwriters, including the UK’s Mike Leigh, and other notable figures in the entertainment industry.

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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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