Shaking up EU copyright laws: a step in the wrong direction

What does the copyright vote mean for the future of the internet?

This week the European Parliament voted through new rules for copyright in the digital single market.

The proposals did not go in the way I wanted and I believe will cause significant disruption to the future of the tech industry in Europe, and will be very bad for European consumers. 

Firstly it’s worth mentioning that this is a directive, so that means that member states have the ability to transpose it flexibly into their own law. It will not therefore apply equally to all countries in exactly the same way. 

Secondly this is just the parliament vote. Next that position will be negotiated with EU governments before there is another vote by MEPs.

So this is not the end of the road - but here are the main points.

A new sports right has been introduced. this means that any photo or video taken with your own camera in a sports ground during an event would be in breach of the copyright directive if it was uploaded to a platform. This could spell the end of Vlogs like this one 

This new right passed by one vote, and even the Rapporteur Axel Voss, who supported it, didn’t appear to know what it was about in an interview shortly after the vote

The amendment proposing an amendment for text and data mining (TDM) was also rejected, meaning that companies wanting to engage in TDM for research or other data purposes will need licenses, even though the TDM process just scans the text, it doesn’t use it. This is a big step backwards for research in Europe. 

Luckily the UK has a text and data mining exemption so will escape this particular restriction, but it’s very bad for research in the rest of Europe. 

However the two most controversial parts of the proposals were Article 11 and Article 13. 

Article 11 proposed a new publishers right, which will allow publishers to block the use of even tiny snippets of text from their articles and will hit users of google news, twitter and Facebook particularly badly. It will also hurt small news aggregators (websites which collate news articles on one place so they are easier to find the news).

The aim of the proposal is to force web giants to pay for directing people to publishers websites. It is in my view a misguided proposal because these websites actually act as advertisers for publishers and help drive web traffic to the publishers websites, where the publishers can then monetise the visit. To try to charge platforms for helping publishers makes little sense.

It will mean that sites like Google News are likely to close, denying consumers of an easy way to know what news articles are available to read. In addition, as even only a few words will be covered by the new right, it will likely mean that it will not be possible to share a link to an article on a social media site like twitter or Facebook unless the publisher agrees. 


Newspapers will be hurt by this law


This repeats previous failed attempts by newspapers to claw back seemingly ´lost’ revenues.

Spain´s government tried this in 2014 with a new law designed to make Google pay for the sharing of news.

It led to a drop-off in traffic to media sites and the US tech giant started to remove Spanish articles from its services. We can expect the same thing to happen in the whole of the EU. 

Amendments that would allow at least the headline in the link to be used were rejected. 

Article 13 was designed to address the “value gap” the issue that platforms like YouTube use music and videos without paying a fair price for the content. This is a genuine issue although under the Ecommerce Directive, a platform which isn’t actively managing the content (as most platforms relying on user generated content aren’t) isn’t liable for the content on the site. As a result they don’t offer a fair price to creators for a license. 

Article 13 is designed to address this problem and to give more power to music labels to negotiate a better deal.

This is a genuine problem that needs addressing. However the problem with the proposals is that the Parliament chose to address it by placing a liability on all platforms for all content that is on them.

That would mean that websites would be obliged to ensure that no copyrighted material is on their website.

The only way to do that is to use filtering devices to try to identify copyrighted content and to take it down. As in many cases the copyright holder is not known or it is not clear whether a picture or video is copyright protected, most content will be automatically filtered and taken down. This is made worse by the fact that most content scanning methods are not able to accurately access what is copyrighted material and what isn’t. 

Rapper Wyclef opposes the law


Musicians, such as Paul McCartney, argued that this will help bring in extra royalties.

But, as one superstar explains, what about the struggling, upcoming artist just desperate to get their music out there for free?

Or the ordinary user who creates and posts a parody video for one of their favourite songs which doesn’t get past the content filter? 

Millions of people could potentially be caught by the changes, which could fundamentally change the way the internet is used. 

If the EU is serious about a creating a consumer-friendly digital single market, then is this is a massive step in the wrong direction.

Huge tech firms might have deep enough pockets to tackle the extra burden, but it could strangle smaller start-ups.

European Parliament negotiators must realise there is still significant opposition to these ideas.

They will now need to sit down with EU governments and the European Commission to agree a common position.

The problem is the European Council has a negotiating position which is similar on many of the key points so we are unlikely to see huge differences in the final agreement.

However, the European Parliament will get to vote for one final time on this dossier early next year, let’s hope the proposals have become more workable by then.