European Parliament rejects controversial EU copyright law

MEPs have voted to block a controversial EU Copyright Directive that dissenters claimed would have killed the internet as we know it but which was backed by a majority of musicians and singers • The law will now need to be amended before a final vote is taken

MEPs will likely be called to vote on the Copyright Directive again once amendments are agreed upon
MEPs will likely be called to vote on the Copyright Directive again once amendments are agreed upon

The European Parliament has voted to reject draft reforms to the EU's refreshed copyright directive, which has been the subject of controversy from major tech firms in recent weeks.

The controversial EU copyright law - which has pitted Beatles legend Paul McCartney against the creators of Wikipedia - was a major overhaul of EU copyright law intended to make sure that creators of creative content, whether music, movies or news, are paid fairly in a digital world.

The two most disputed aspects to the reform were an effort to boost revenue for hard-up news publishers and a crackdown on non-copyrighted material on tech platforms such as Google-owned Youtube or Facebook.

Major publishers pushed for the news media reform -- known as article 11 -- seeing it as an urgently needed solution against a backdrop of free online news that has decimated earnings for traditional media companies.

But US tech giants and internet freedom activists were against the idea, calling it a "link tax" that would stifle discourse on the Internet. They also argued it would only benefit well-known news providers to the detriment of independent and start-up news companies.

Resistance has been especially heated to Article 13: the proposal to make online platforms legally liable for copyrighted material put on the web by users. Music legend McCartney as well as major music labels and film studios have lobbied politicians urging them to back the changes.

Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja told MaltaToday last week that the directive was crucial if the music industry was to survive.

READ ALSO: Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja: ‘Music industry faces extinction without EU legislation’

But critics warned the reform would lead to blanket censorship by tech platforms that have become an online hub for creativity, especially Youtube. It would also restrict the usage of memes and remixes by everyday internet surfers, they said.

Wikipedia went down in at least three countries on Wednesday in a protest ahead of the European Parliament vote. "The directive would threaten online freedom and would impose new filters, barriers and restrictions to access the web," Wikipedia Spain said in its statement.

Today’s parliament vote is not final, but only sets out the negotiating position of MEPs.

There will now follow negotiations with member states for a finalised law which Austria, holder of the EU's six-month rotating presidency, would like finished by the end of the year.

Four European Parliamentary committees (LIBE, ITRE, IMCO, JURI) have previously voted in favour of the legislation.

Maltese Nationalist MEP Francis Zammit Dimech, a member of JURI (Legal Affairs) Committee, voted in favour of the directive.

“I voted in favour of the directive to protect the interests of artists and creators because, contrary to what many are claiming, this legislation does exactly that,” he told MaltaToday.

Reacting to today's vote, he said he was proud to have represented Maltese artists and creators.

"While fully respecting the decision of the European Parliament, I am proud to have stood on the side of Maltese artists and creators," Zammit Dimech said. "I augur that this will also present an opportunity for further reflection to reach the right wording that strikes the right balance between the different interests involved."

In a post on Facebook after the vote, Maltese Labour MEP Miriam Dalli said that while she remained in favour of remuneration to all artists, particularly Maltese artists, she felt that the way the legislation was drafted raised serious concerns about the freedoms of citizens on the internet.

"I ask for a proper balance to be reached in this regard. We need to have a directive that reaches broad support and is properly discussed," she wrote. "That is why I voted for a proper debate on this Directive in September and give everyone the opportunity to properly contribute to a balanced text that makes sense, protects everyone’s interest and ensure proper remuneration to artists and authors. We cannot fast-track such an important legislation."

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