Europe approves tough new digital copyright position

The European Parliament has voted to adopt a position on copyright rules that opponents inevitably fear will break the internet.

This is an incremental, but significant step towards Europe implementing laws that will impose new conditions on internet companies to compensate rights holders when they share their copyrighted material. The position was initially rejected back in July but in true EU style they decided to keep voting on it again until it went the right way.

“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,” said Eurocrat Axel Voss.

“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.”

“Discussions between the co-legislators can now start on a legislative proposal which is a key element of the Digital Single Market strategy and one of the priorities for the European Commission,” said Eurocrats Andrus Ansip and Mariya Gabriel in a joint statement.

“Our aim for this reform is to bring tangible benefits for EU citizens, researchers, educators, writers, artists, press and cultural heritage institutions and to open up the potential for more creativity and content by clarifying the rules and making them fit for the digital world. At the same time, we aim to safeguard free speech and ensure that online platforms – including 7,000 European online platforms – can develop new and innovative offers and business models.

“The Commission stands ready to start working with the European Parliament and the Council of the EU, so that the directive can be approved as soon as possible, ideally by the end of 2018. We are fully committed to working with the co-legislators in order to achieve a balanced and positive outcome enabling a true modernisation of the copyright legislation that Europe needs.”

The usual suspects are appalled at this development with the site featuring the following statement: “The European Parliament blatantly disregarded your thousands of emails, calls and messages and adopted a horrible version of Article 13 on 12 September. But the battle against Article 13 isn’t over: we must now ask the EU governments to stand up for our rights!”

At its core this seems to be about sharing stuff on the internet and to what extent the owner of the stuff being shared should get some kind of royalty payment every time it’s done. On one hand the internet has wrecked industries like music and journalism by making it so difficult for them to charge people for consuming their products, but on the other the genie is out of the bottle and such sharing is endemic. Either way this debate seems likely to rage for some time yet.

Eurocrats lose vote to ‘break the internet’

The European Parliament has voted to reject a new Copyright Directive that many feared would critically damage the way we use the internet.

The Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market is positioned as an attempt to harmonise online copyright laws with offline ones and, of course, to standardise these across the continent. The key distinction seems to be around the republishing of copyrighted material, which happens all the time online via memes, mash-ups and all kinds of other user-generated interpretations of public material.

You can read the full details of the proposed directive, together with the reasons for drafting it, here. But for those of you that have better things to do with their time, the stated rationale is to encourage creativity by giving rights holders more protection. Those opposed to it, of which there are many, think it will undermine a core premise of the internet by imposing onerous copyright burdens on platforms and creators.

The part that upset these dissenters is Article 13:

Use of protected content by information society service providers storing and giving access to large amounts of works and other subject-matter uploaded by their users

  1. Information society service providers that store and provide to the public access to large amounts of works or other subject-matter uploaded by their users shall, in cooperation with rightholders, take measures to ensure the functioning of agreements concluded with rightholders for the use of their works or other subject-matter or to prevent the availability on their services of works or other subject-matter identified by rightholders through the cooperation with the service providers. Those measures, such as the use of effective content recognition technologies, shall be appropriate and proportionate. The service providers shall provide rightholders with adequate information on the functioning and the deployment of the measures, as well as, when relevant, adequate reporting on the recognition and use of the works and other subject-matter.
  2. Member States shall ensure that the service providers referred to in paragraph 1 put in place complaints and redress mechanisms that are available to users in case of disputes over the application of the measures referred to in paragraph 1.
  3. Member States shall facilitate, where appropriate, the cooperation between the information society service providers and rightholders through stakeholder dialogues to define best practices, such as appropriate and proportionate content recognition technologies, taking into account, among others, the nature of the services, the availability of the technologies and their effectiveness in light of technological developments.

Thanks to the involvement of prominent figures like Actor Stephen Fry, Internet creator Tim Berners-Lee and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, the opposition movement was large and prominent. A bunch of them sent a letter to the President of the European Parliament and urged people to hassle their own MEPs about it. A few national Wikipedia sites even shut themselves down in protest prior to the vote.

Well it seems to have worked because the vote took place today and 318 out of 627 MEPs voted against it, with 31 abstaining. This apparently means the whole thing is shelved until September, then it will be debated further and, in theory, amended before being voted on once more. You can be sure those amendments will be closely scrutinised by the above protest groups.

MEP Axel Voss was the person promoting the directive within the European Parliament. He wasn’t happy with the nature of the opposing campaigns and had the following to say after he lost. “I regret that a majority of MEPs did not support the position which I and the Legal Affairs Committee have been advocating. But this is part of the democratic process. We will now return to the matter in September for further consideration and attempt to address peoples’ concerns whilst bringing our copyright rules up to date with the modern digital environment.”

Jimmy Wales was pretty happy and symbolically retweeted a photo from a Hollywood movie to both celebrate the victory and illustrate the kind of meme-driven online activity that he and his fellow dissenters feared would be prohibited by the directive.

The #saveyourinternet campaign came over as somewhat hysterical and hyperbolic, but it made its point well and, for the time being at least, won. Europe has a bad habit of prioritizing harmonization and standardization over all other considerations and this was probably a much needed reality check. Voss and co will surely need to deliver substantial improvements to the directive before any of those 318 MEPs can justify switching sides in September.