Europe Approves Controversial Copyright Law Opposed by Web Giants

By Nick Gutteridge
Nick Gutteridge
Nick Gutteridge
September 12, 2018 Updated: September 12, 2018

BRUSSELS—European lawmakers voted to significantly strengthen copyright laws on the continent after a battle that pitched big tech companies against publishers and artists.

Members of the EU Parliament backed a series fiercely contested proposals, which have been designed to help struggling creative industries survive the internet era, by a significant margin. They voted 438-226 on Sept. 12 to approve a new Copyright Directive, overcoming fierce opposition from web giants, including Google and Facebook.

The new law contains two controversial measures that regulators hope will help creators, like journalists and musicians, claim back a bigger slice of the revenue websites generate from using their content.

A Google logo inside an office building in Zurich on Sept. 5, 2018. (Reuters/Arnd WIegmann)
A Google logo inside an office building in Zurich on Sept. 5, 2018. (Reuters/Arnd Wiegmann)

However, representatives for large tech companies have argued the current wording of the regulation is heavy-handed and will impinge on free speech on the internet, even amounting to a “ban on memes.”

Internet personalities including web pioneer Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales have complained that, if implemented, the measures will significantly restrict online creativity.

However, most artists, including former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney and French DJ David Guetta, have come out in favor of European efforts to increasingly regulate online space.

Controversy has particularly centered around Article 13 of the regulation, which will make websites take “appropriate measures” to prevent user-generated content that infringes copyright. Arguments also focused on Article 11, which grants news outlets a claim to copyright over the sharing of their content online and is aimed at aggregating sites such as Google News and Facebook.

The result of the vote was immediately welcomed by the industry group News Media Europe, which said the measures will “help secure a more sustainable and digital future for Europe’s news media industry.”

“We need a publishers’ right to protect the hundreds of thousands of jobs in Europe’s news media sector and, in particular, to protect the future of professional journalism and its role in facilitating the democratic debate.” News Media Europe Executive Director Wout van Wijk said.

Meanwhile, EDiMA, the trade association representing online platforms, condemned the vote and vowed to keep lobbying individual European governments to oppose the proposals.

A woman looks at the Facebook logo on an iPad in this photo illustration taken June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/Illustration
The new Copyright Directive drew fierce opposition from web giants including Google and Facebook. (Reuters/Regis Duvignau/Illustration)

EDiMA Director General Siada El Ramly said, “Today, MEPs have decided to support the filtering of the internet to the benefit of big businesses in the music and publishing industries, despite huge public outcry. We hope that governments of the EU will hear their citizens’ concerns in the next stage of negotiations.”

The landmark vote heralded the end of a bitter campaign that has deeply divided MEPs not only along national lines but also within their respective parties.

Representative Sajjad Karim, who is legal affairs spokesman for the British Conservative in the EU Parliament, said it showed that “copyright law is at last catching up with the digital age.”

However Daniel Dalton, a lawmaker from the same party, was dismayed by the result.

“This is not good for the future of tech in Europe. I don’t believe it will help creators either but it will introduce filtering. Much more legal content will get taken down,” he said.

Having been passed by the Parliament, the law will now be considered during technical talks with the EU’s other two institutions—its executive arm, the Commission, and the Council, which represents national governments.

Officials said the result of the discussions, known as trilogue, during which the text could be amended, is expected to be announced by the end of this year.

Nick Gutteridge
Nick Gutteridge