05 Jul, 2018

Copyright Directive: a never-ending battle

After nearly two years of debate, on 6 July 2018 the European Parliament voted against a reform of the copyright rules known as the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market.

The rejection, which was the result of a rarely invoked Parliament procedure, does not mean the copyright bill is dead. It just gives Parliament’s 751 lawmakers a chance to submit fresh amendments to the text as they please come September, when negotiations start all over again.

What is the reform about?

The Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, also known as the EU Copyright Directive, was first proposed by the European Commission back in 2016 and it is part of a bundle of proposed directives intended to harmonise aspects of the European Union copyright law and corroborate the Digital Single Market.

An update of the copyright legislation appeared needed since the laws dealing with copyright date back to 2001 – which may not seem that long ago but it is an eternity in the online world.

The proposal mainly introduces new rules regarding publishers’ rights as well as setting a text and data mining exception.

Where does the controversy lay?

The process has been particularly difficult due to the need to balance widely different interests at stake – namely those of Big Tech vs those of publisher and media companies.

The dispute mainly focused on two contentious points: Articles 11 and Article 13.

Article 11 would have given press publishers direct copyright over use of their publications by internet platforms such as online news aggregates. It is known as a "link tax", on the basis that requires platforms "to obtain a license before linking to news stories."

Article 13 would have required websites who primarily host content posted by users to take "effective and proportionate" measures (automatic filters) to prevent unauthorised postings of copyrighted content or be liable for their users' actions. It is known as a "meme ban", on the basis that the content-matching technologies employed to meet its requirements cannot identify fair dealing such as parody.

Who is in favor and who is against?

All the major parliamentary groups ended up being split over this bill.

On the PRO side, there were those MEPs thinking that the bill was designed to help protect media and the creative sector’s power in an increasingly digitalised world.

They argue that:

From their perspective, the bill represented a step further in establishing a legal certainty between the copyright holders and users on the internet.

On the AGAINST side, there were those MEPs arguing that the draft bill would have seriously undermined basic internet freedoms and would have done more harm than good even to small and medium media publisher.

They argue that:

Despite they stated that they support the efforts to ensure a level playing field between online platforms and businesses through the enforcement of competition and consumer rules, from their perspective, the introduction of those copyright rules would have had unacceptably put the interests of large media companies ahead of the ability to participate freely online.

Europe’s war over internet copyright rules isn’t over. The anti-copyright camp won this round, but the war is not over. Lobbying is set to intensify once again, as debates resume on one of Europe’s most intensely watched legislative files.

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