EU passes controversial copyright law, approves 'upload filters' and 'link tax'

Wikipedia exempt, but Google, YouTube, Facebook to be affected


Member countries from the European Union voted in Luxembourg on Monday to approve changes to the controversial EU Copyright Directive, which mandates social media platforms to ensure their users do not upload copyrighted content and introduces stricter controls on websites that link to content.

The most controversial part of the bill is Article 13 (later renamed Article 17), which makes tech and social media companies liable, forcing them to ensure copyrighted content is not uploaded on their platforms. In addition, they would have to sign licensing agreements with copyright-holders like authors, musicians, news publishers and performers in order to use their content. News aggregators like Google News will be required to pay news publishers for uploading snippets of their content, under Article 11 (dubbed the 'Link Tax').

Non-profits and encyclopedias like Wikipedia will be exempted from the ambit of the directive, which covers “content-sharing service providers”, and can continue to use data for research and educational purposes according to Deutsche Welle.

The vote concludes months of debate, protest and political battle, in what has been dubbed as a case of “Hollywood vs Silicon Valley”.

While media industry figures from Paul McCartney, David Guetta, Ennio Morricone and Axel Springer have voiced out in support of the legislation, opposition has been firmest from tech companies like Google and Reddit as well as from organizations like Wikipedia.

Internet users have protested fearing the bill would make 'upload filters' mandatory on all social platforms, barring users from putting up copyrighted content (which could be anything from a meme to a song used in the background).

In March, Wikipedia blacked out its pages in Europe in protest against the legislation. Other platforms like Reddit, Twitch and Pornhub displayed protest banners on their homepages. In Germany, thousands marched against the bill and online censorship, amidst fears that the legislation would make sharing memes illegal.

German-Protests-EU-Copyright-Directive Germans protested in the thousands on March 23, against the EU's proposed Copyright Directive. (Peter Endigdpa via AP)

The Directive was amended to exclude memes and gifs from its purvey, as they come under provisions safeguarding “quotation, criticism, review, caricature, parody or pastiche”. According to a press release by the Council of the EU, “...platforms will in principle have to obtain a licence for copyright protected works uploaded by users unless a number of conditions provided for in the directive are met”.

The bill itself was approved by the European Parliament in March; the latest vote just confirms the individual votes of member states. Big EU states like the United Kingdom, France and Germany all voted in favour of the bill. However, German ministers stressed in the minutes that 'upload filters' would not be made mandatory in Germany.

Five countries that were against the directive, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Poland, Italy and Finland, issued a joint statement criticizing the directive.

“We believe that the Directive in its current form is a step back for the Digital Single Market rather than a step forward. Most notably we regret that the Directive does not strike the right balance between the protection of right holders and the interests of EU citizens and companies.”

A press release by the Council of the EU calls the directive one that “modernises existing EU copyright law to pave the way towards a true digital single market”. The new “digital single market” was also hailed by EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who tweeted:

“#CopyrightDirective: When it comes to completing the #DigitalSingleMarket, the agreement on #copyright is the missing piece of the puzzle. Clear rules will guarantee fair remuneration for creators, strong rights for users and responsibility for platforms.”

Member states of the EU will have two years to implement the provisions of the bill.