EU backs copyright reforms in blow to big tech

Reforms will force Google to pay publishers for use of their content, a move critics say threatens the free internet.

European Parliament copyright vote
MEPs in Strasbourg passed the draft law with 348 votes in favour, 274 against and 36 abstentions [Vincent Kessler/Reuters]

Members of the European Parliament have endorsed an overhaul of the bloc’s two-decade-old copyright rules, adopting controversial reforms championed by news publishers and media companies, but punishing tech giants that lobbied against it.

Following intense debate, MEPs backed the draft law by 348 votes to 247 on Tuesday. 

The reforms will force Google and Facebook Inc to pay publishers for the use of news snippets and make them filter out protected content. 

Media companies and artists loudly backed the changes, saying it would enable them to be better paid when their output is used by information aggregators and social networks. 

However, it met strong opposition in Silicon Valley, especially from Google, which makes huge profits from the advertising generated on the content it hosts, and also by supporters of a free internet who fear the reforms will usher in unprecedented restrictions to web freedom. 

MEPs were sharply divided on the issue, with both sides subjected to some of the most intense lobbying the EU has ever seen from tech giants, media firms, content creators and online freedom activists. 

Divisive reforms

The European Commission’s digital chief for Europe, Andrus Ansip, welcomed the outcome of Tuesday’s vote, saying the reforms would improve the position of writers, journalists, singers and musicians and actors in relation to the big platforms that benefitted from their content. 


“Today’s vote ensures the right balance between the interests of all players – users, creators, authors, press – while putting in place proportionate obligations on online platforms,” he said in a statement after the vote.

“I know there are a lot of fears about what users can do or not – now we have clear guarantees for freedom of speech, teaching and online creativity,” Ansip said . 

The commission began reviewing the rules two years ago in a bid to protect an industry that is worth some 915 billion euros ($1.03 trillion) a year, accounting for 11.65 million jobs and 6.8 percent of the EU economy. 

For their part, Google said the reforms had “improved” previous legislation but warned they “will still lead to legal uncertainty and will hurt Europe’s creative and digital economies”.

The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) echoed that criticism. 

“Consumers will have to bear the consequences of this decisions. Their concerns had been voiced loud and clearly but MEPs chose to ignore them,” BEUC director general Monique Goyens said. 

Article 13

German MEP Julia Reda, a prominent critic of the reforms, said they threatened the free internet. 

Reda and her supporters were most concerned by Article 13, which aims to strengthen the bargaining power of rights holders with platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and Soundcloud, which use their content.

They warned that Article 13 would require platforms to install expensive content filters that would automatically and often erroneously delete content from the web. 

“Algorithms cannot distinguish between actual copyright infringements and the perfectly legal re-use of content for purposes such as parody,” said Reda.

The final days before the vote were marked by marches and media stunts, including tens of thousands of people protesting in Germany on Saturday under the slogan “Save the internet”.

There were similar protests in Austria, Poland and Portugal, while major Polish newspapers on Monday printed black front pages in an appeal that MEPs adopt the reform.

Rzeczpospolita tweeted a graphic showing content disappearing from their front page to be replaced with the message “Newspapers without creators would look like this”. 


Source: News Agencies