The new controversial directive is meant to address copyright infringements and allow news organisations collect more licensing fees from news aggregators like Facebook and Google News.
The European Parliament approved a new controversial directive on Tuesday aimed at modernizing copyright rules by making online platforms liable for online infringements. While hailed by EU leaders in Brussels as a progressive solution to rampant copyright theft, digital rights campaigners have criticized the passage as a “dark day for internet freedom.”
Swiftly passed through the parliament by a vote of 348 to 274, the so-called Copyright Directive set out to assure fair renumeration to newsrooms and content creators currently losing out to massive online information aggregators like Google. Opponents however have pegged the proposed legislation as not only wildly vague, but counterproductive.
The final version of the law includes two of its most controversial clauses, Articles 11 and 13, despite a last-minute proposal to remove the latter, which was rejected. Critics worry it would force technology companies to adopt automated upload filters that would restrict user freedoms. Article 11, dubbed the “link tax,” could meanwhile restrict access to news articles by charging a fee to those who merely link to them.
“The now famous upload filters are going to bring a radical change in the way we deal with the internet and it paves the way for such filters to be used in other ways,” Diego Naranjo, senior policy advisor at European Digital Rights (EDRi), an association of civil and human rights organizations from across Europe, told TRT World.
The proposal to open the text for amendments was rejected by a five-vote difference.
“We expect to see way more control on the internet and less freedom to speak freely,” he said. “This is a sad day.”
Over the weekend, tens of thousands of people protested across Europe in opposition to the reform following an intense campaign from rights activists. Marcel Kolaja, a candidate in the upcoming European elections with the Czech Pirate Party, who helped organize such demonstrations across ten cities in the Czech Republic, said the measure was the latest example of obsolete thinking on the part of the European Parliament.
“Concerning this particular directive, it is a failure of the European Commission and the Parliament to reform copyright issues. It is a weak effort across the EU that imposes even more restrictive enforcement,” he said. “This is not the way to go.”
He and other experts agree that the law may actually hurt content providers and local aggregators in the end as conglomerates like Facebook and Google have vast resources at their disposal to negotiate favorable licensing agreements.
“[Smaller companies] will struggle to implement what the directive requests and these giants will be in the best position to implement it as they have a lot of money,” Mr. Kolaja said.
German EPP legislator Axel Voss meanwhile assured parliament ahead of the vote that the law addresses this very issue.
“It is usually omitted that the definition we have come up with specifically targets those platforms that are themselves aware that they use others’ content and make money off this content. We found a solution that is usable and a good basis to move forward with,” he said.
Other supporters of the bill meanwhile said that Europe has finally paved the way for solution to a longstanding problem by bringing tangible benefits to content creators.
“This directive protects creativity in the digital age and ensures that the EU citizens benefit from wider access to content and new guarantees to fully protect their freedom of expression online,” European Commission officials Andrus Ansip and Mariya Gabriel said in a joint statement.
The new law will now be passed on to EU member states, who will have to incorporate it into national law by 2021.