EU Copyright reform: a change to the web as we know it?

Thursday 28th March 2019

The European Parliament have approved an overhaul of copyright law that many believe will change the internet. ­­

The new Copyright Directive is aimed at updating copyright laws to fit the digital age by, amongst other things, giving creators fair compensation for the work they share online. Sounds noble, but it has come under heavy criticism, with two clauses in particular causing the most controversy.

Article 13 – the censorship law

Article 13 aims to protect content creators from unauthorised use of their work. In short, it requires platform providers to get permission from copyright owners  when publishing their content. If they don’t, the platform will be held liable if it doesn’t block/remove access to the content . It effectively gives platforms the responsibility for protecting the rights of creatives. The new rules do however make exceptions for some types of content, such as parodies and memes.

EU law makers see the new law as a step towards stopping the tech giants earning huge sums without properly paying creatives for their work. Platforms on the other hand say they lack the technology to filter the vast amount of content that’s uploaded every day to decide whether it is or isn’t copyright infringement.   Technology  isn’t at a place to decide whether something is a parody or not – that requires human intervention, which is expensive and time consuming. Platforms will likely be forced to apply blanket bans to suspicious content, potentially stifling creativity and freedom of expression.

Article 11 – the link tax

Article 11 requires social media platforms, search engines and news aggregators to pay for the use of links from new websites. The tech giants believe this would force companies to reduce their use of published content. Ultimately making it harder for users to find news stories.

EU law makers have pushed back on those claims saying the likes of Google and Facebook will be able share ‘short snippets’ of text. Any more than a short snippet requires payment. Unfortunately the law doesn’t specify what a short snippet actually means. This will be left to EU member states to determine . Effectively, each country will decide what’s acceptable and what’s not. If there’s inconsistency in  implementation by member states, it’s thought tech providers will play it safe and limit content extensively. Other critics fear the new law could lead to an avalanche of fake news from dishonest publishers that permit use of their stories free of  charge in order to spread their misinformation.

So what’s next?

Although the new directive has honourable aims, its vagueness provides limited certainty on how it will work in practice and what tech companies will need to do in order to be compliant.

It’s now up to EU member states to approve the decision. If they do, they will have two years to implement it once it is officially published by the EU. If the UK leaves the EU with a deal, the directive will apply during any transition period.

If you would like further information or would like to discuss how your discuss how business may need to adapt to these changes, please contact Ryan Gracey.