The Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament has voted to pass the controversial new EU Copyright Directive

MEPs of the Legal Affairs Committee recently approved a new Copyright Directive. The entire European Parliament will now hold a vote on 4 July or 5 July on whether to approve the committee’s result.

The Directive contains some provisions which have sparked much controversy.

Article 11 of the Directive requires the payment of a licence fee when including snippets of news stories in link previews.  This is designed to protect the rights of news publishers.

However, it is Article 13 of the Directive that is proving to be the most controversial.  It states that “Information Society Service Providers” (ISSPs – for example, Youtube or Facebook) should “take measures to ensure the functioning of agreements concluded with rights-holders for the use of their works”.

The tech community and digital rights campaigners are concerned that the law will result in censorship of materials that are uploaded to the internet.  Also, the types of “measures” that are needed to filter content are actually very expensive, so while YouTube and the like may be able to afford such tools, smaller companies cannot.  Even if the legislators try to exempt SMEs from these onerous requirements, there would still be a chilling effect from the legal uncertainty and the risk of broad interpretation of the terms in the legislation.

An opponent of the reforms is the MEP Julia Reda. As another example of the concerns which have been raised, the campaign Copyright 4 Creativity alleges that the proposals could “destroy the internet as we know it”.  They say that Article 13 threatens blogging platforms, discussion platforms, meme sharing, livestream gaming, parody sharing and even the ability to link.

On the other hand, the legislation is intended to address the so-called “value gap” between payouts made by platforms to rights holders as compared with the revenue that platforms can generated from their copyrighted content.  A European Commission spokesperson has stated: “The idea behind our copyright proposals is that people should be able to make a living from their creative ideas.  The proposals to modernise EU copyright provisions will not harm freedom of expression on the internet.”

This is a genuinely complex area and there are subtleties on each side.  It is proper for rights holders to be fairly protected against piracy and to make a fair living from their work.  However, it is important for society that the internet remains an open platform to enable creativity and innovation.

In this writer’s opinion, some of the more alarming concerns that are being raised are unlikely to come to pass.  It is surely an exaggeration to say that this will be the “end of all that’s good and pure about the internet“.

However, at the same time it is clear that the legislation will certainly have unintended consequences. Copyright law always struggles to catch up with technology, and there are sure to be many loopholes that could catch out smaller companies or enable the large platforms to wriggle out of making fair payments to musicians and other rights holders. The legal uncertainty could also hinder innovation and create an environment which will make it hard for new startup social media companies to establish themselves.

If you feel strongly that the existing reforms are dangerous, you can take action. Or maybe the reforms are a good idea which are giving justice to rights holders, so they can close the value gap?  What do you think? Please feel free to comment below, or get in touch and let us know your opinion!