A draft law known as the ‘Copyright Directive’ designed to reform the existing digital copyright protection for on-line data has been voted down in the European Parliament with 318 MEP’s against and 278 MEP’s in favour of the new legislation. This means that the controversial new law will need to be re-drafted before being returned to the Parliament for a second time later this year.
The law was drafted so as to update copyright protection for the internet and was being championed by Sir Paul McCartney and many other prominent musicians in an attempt to safeguard the future of the music industry against on-line piracy and copyright infringement. It was primarily intended to prevent the online streaming of pirated music and videos, but the broad scope of Article 13 would have covered all copyrightable material, including images, audio, video, software, code and the written word. If enforced, it would also have posed a threat to memes that make use of copyrighted images.
European Union’s current copyright law states that companies are liable for unlicensed content uploaded onto their platforms only after they have been informed and warned that a copyright violation has occurred. However, under the Copyright Directive, companies would be liable the moment that content has been uploaded to their platform. As it’s currently impossible to police uploads manually, it would mean that they would have to develop filters that automatically identify and block copyright-infringing content before it’s been published on their site. YouTube spent millions of Euros developing its content checker software called ‘Content ID’ and it’s been vilified by online video creators as a serious barrier to their work. It’s been prone to confusion that deprives YouTubers of much needed ad revenue and it’s difficult to appeal when content has erroneously been targeted as a copyright infringement.
The new law would force all companies such as Facebook and Google, who own YouTube, to pay publishers, producers, and owners for the rights to use their music even if it has been uploaded by third parties without gaining the necessary permissions or licenses. It would make each platform liable to litigation for every occurrence of such an infringement. Also, online publishing platforms would be required to pay a ‘link tax’ forcing these platforms to pay for links to stories generated by other news agencies or organisations.
Campaigners had suggested that the law was unworkable and placed undue pressure on individual websites and companies such as Google to act as police to enforce the law to check all materials uploaded to them and on technology companies who would have to incur the cost of adapting software so as not to infringe the new law. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the wide world web, warned that it threatened internet freedom and the future of the internet as we know it. Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales described the plans as “disastrous”.