MEPs back copyright rules that will result in major cultural shift online

MEPs have approved a proposal that will enforce new copyright rules for content produced on the Internet

Europe’s press publishers have applauded MEPs’ approval of MEP Axel Voss’s amendments on the proposal for a publisher’s neighbouring right in EU copyright rules.

The European Parliament’s position for talks with member states to hammer out a final deal was approved by 438 votes to 226, with 39 abstentions. It makes some important tweaks to the June committee proposal.

Many of Parliament’s changes to the EU Commission’s original proposal aim to make certain that artists, notably musicians, performers and script authors, as well as news publishers and journalists, are paid for their work when it is used by sharing platforms such as YouTube or Facebook, and news aggregators such as Google News.

After the vote, rapporteur Axel Voss (EPP, DE) said, “I am very glad that despite the very strong lobbying campaign by the internet giants, there is now a majority in the full house backing the need to protect the principle of fair pay for European creatives.

“There has been much heated debate around this directive and I believe that Parliament has listened carefully to the concerns raised. Thus, we have addressed concerns raised about innovation by excluding small and micro platforms or aggregators from the scope.

“I am convinced that once the dust has settled, the internet will be as free as it is today, creators and journalists will be earning a fairer share of the revenues generated by their works, and we will be wondering what all the fuss was about.”

Fair pay for artists and journalists while encouraging start-ups

Parliament’s position toughens the Commission’s proposed plans to make online platforms and aggregators liable for copyright infringements. This would also apply to snippets, where only a small part of a news publisher’s text is displayed. In practice, this liability requires these parties to pay right holders for copyrighted material that they make available. Parliament’s text also specifically requires that journalists themselves, and not just their publishing houses, benefit from remuneration stemming from this liability requirement.

At the same time, in an attempt to encourage start-ups and innovation, the text now exempts small and micro platforms from the directive.

Protecting freedom of expression

The text includes provisions to ensure that copyright law is observed online without unfairly hampering the freedom of expression that has come to define the internet. 

Merely sharing hyperlinks to articles, together with “individual words” to describe them, will be free of copyright constraints.

Any action taken by platforms to check that uploads do not breach copyright rules must be designed in such a way as to avoid catching “non-infringing works”. These platforms will moreover be required to establish rapid redress systems (operated by the platform’s staff, not algorithms) through which complaints can be lodged when an upload is wrongly taken down.

The text also specifies that uploading to online encyclopaedias in a non-commercial way, such as Wikipedia, or open source software platforms, such as GitHub, will automatically be excluded from the requirement to comply with copyright rules.

Stronger negotiating rights for authors and performers

Parliament’s text also strengthens the negotiating rights of authors and performers, by enabling them to “claim” additional remuneration from the party exploiting their rights when the remuneration originally agreed is “disproportionately” low compared to the benefits derived.

The text adds that these benefits should include “indirect revenues”. It would also empower authors and performers to revoke or terminate the exclusivity of an exploitation licence for their work if the party holding the exploitation rights is deemed not to be exercising this right.

A spokesman for the European Newspaper Publishers’ Association and News Media Europe ​said: “It’s a great day for the independent press and for democracy. The Publisher’s Right will help secure our independent media for the next generation, help ensure journalists can benefit from a share of any revenue generated by the right, modernise copyright with a proportionate approach that does not stifle digital innovation, and promote fairness in the digital ecosystem.”

The European Publishers Council welcomed the adoption of the right. Angela Mills Wade, Executive Director of the EPC said: “Today, we give credit to MEPs who voted for press freedom, democracy, professional journalism and European values.  We thank the Rapporteur, Axel Voss, MEP, for working tirelessly to achieve a balanced outcome.”

The vote will result in a major cultural shift on YouTube, impacting everything from Let’s Play videos to commentary and meme channels, according to those at risk.

The idea behind the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, colloquially known as the EU Copyright Directive proposal, is to instill an aggressive protection for rights holders by making the platforms hosting user content — like YouTube — liable for copyright infringement. User content will run through even more aggressive filters than YouTube’s current Content ID system, forcing platforms like YouTube to “take measures to ensure the functioning of agreements concluded with rights-holders for the use of their works,” according to the proposed directive.

Despite criticism, there is a large amount of support for the suggested rules from European publishers, networks and studios. Many rights holders argue it’s a necessary anti-piracy move, adding that the long-term benefits will outweigh the short-term consequences.

YouTube creators, internet freedom lobbyists, corporations and much of the general public say otherwise.

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