The vote by European lawmakers to reform EU copyright law could redefine internet freedom. The fight over the European internet is just getting started. An alliance of tech giants and internet activists lost a battle against content creators seeking more protection for their work.
A multi-year battle that saw media organizations and creative individuals seeking content protection face off against against big tech and internet-freedom activists came to a head in Strasbourg on Wednesday, when the European Parliament voted to update copyright legislation for the age of content-sharing platforms.
MEPs voted 438-226 with 39 abstentions in favor of the EU Copyright Directive that is set to give more power to artists, news and traditional media companies as opposed to tech giants like Facebook, Microsoft and Google.
“This is a good sign for Europe’s creative industry,” said German MEP Axel Voss, who helped move the bill along through parliament. MEPs voted on a range of conflicting amendments prior to the vote, making the make-up of the final draft law not immediately clear.
Two contentious proposals were at the heart of the drama: Article 11, which covers the rights of press publishers, would see newspapers, magazines and other such agencies receive a fee when content platforms link to their stories, so-called “neighboring rights”; and Article 13, which would hold content distributors like YouTube liable for copyright infringement committed on their platforms, an attempt to ensure content producers don’t get ripped off.
The law’s critics fear that Article 11 will be unworkable and Article 13 could lead to “upload filters,” or algorithms that would give tech giants control over what content appears on their platform, effectively censoring information. They warn that overly cautious algorithms could also ban content even when it does not breach copyright law, known as “overblocking.” They also warn of the cost that such a requirement would have for smaller publishing platforms.
Since it was first proposed in 2016, the copyright directive has become a battleground for artists. Many want to stop internet platforms from freely hosting their content, and internet activists, who fear the vaguely-worded rules will crush freedom of expression on the internet. Before existing copyright laws can be updated, however, the approved copyright law bill will now pass for approval to the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, and the leaders of the EU’s 28-member states.