European Parliament Backs Controversial Copyright Reform

The European Parliament in Brussels. Image credit: European Parliament

The vote brings in sweeping reforms intended to ensure publishers and content creators are compensated for material used online, but critics fear unintended consequences

The European Parliament has backed controversial copyright reforms that aim to close loopholes that currently allow big tech companies such as Google and Facebook to provide new from third-party sources without paying for it.

Some 348 MEPs voted in favour of the Copyright Directive on Tuesday, with 278 against.

The initiative’s Article 11 allows publishers to charge platforms that feature more than short excerpts of articles.

However, it isn’t clear how effective such rules would be; after Spain tried to implement a similar measure in 2014, for instance, Google simply turned its news service off in that country.

Implementation questions

In Germany, meanwhile, it opted to feature only content from those who agreed to provide it for free.

The initiative’s Article 17 (previously Article 13) also attempts to ensure that creators are paid for copyrighted content by holding online platforms responsible for copyright violations.

Critics say Article 17, while well-intentioned, could further cement the dominance of the biggest online services providers, such as Google, who can afford to operate expensive filtering systems.

Some also say the reforms could kill off user-generated content, which often makes use of copyrighted material, although lawmakers say the directive does not apply to such uses.

With the law’s passage, member states now have a two-year period in which to implement it, intended to ensure there is a maximum of legal clarity and that smaller platforms are protected from unintended consequences.

The directive has been backed by publishers and creators, with large tech firms amongst those lobbying against it.

Filtering tech

Raffaella De Santis, associate at legal firm Harbottle & Lewis, said it remains unclear how the directive balances content producers’ rights with the economic realities for smaller online services, which are now to be forced to implement expensive filtering technologies.

“The tech giants have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on this filtering technology, a resource that vital smaller services simply don’t have access to,” she said.

She noted that the UK is likely to follow suit in implementing the directive in some form, regardless of its exit from the European Union.

“Whether the UK leaves Europe with or without a deal, it’s hard to see that it would not follow Europe’s lead on this,” De Santis said.

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