Sunday 20 October 2019

Controversial changes to EU online copyright laws set for final vote

Critics fear internet censorship, while supporters believe content creators will be paid more fairly for their work.

(Nick Ansell/PA)
(Nick Ansell/PA)

By Jamie Harris, Press Association Science Technology Reporter

A decision on whether to adopt copyright changes that would create a tighter grip over online content will be voted on by MEPs on Tuesday.

Supporters in the creative and music industry argue that the Copyright Directive will enable content makers to be fairly paid for their work, while opponents, including the tech giants themselves, fear the changes could have an impact on freedom of speech and expression online.

EU decision makers have been deliberating about the extent of the reforms for years, most recently tweaking the text to make some exemptions, such as non-commercial encyclopaedias like Wikipedia, and introducing protections for popular web memes.

Two parts of the law, Article 11 and Article 13, have been most contentious since talks started, with the likes YouTube warning that viewers across the EU could be cut off from videos.

“With so many MEPs still undecided, the hotly debated vote still has the potential to pass, especially in view of the powerful advocacy coming from artists and creators such as Debbie Harry and Ennio Morricone, and the EU elections in May,” Raffaella De Santis, associate at law firm Harbottle & Lewis, said.

“Artists and creators are asking for European law makers to grasp the nettle to ensure the directive passes into law, so that they may be properly remunerated. In its current form however, Article 13 could still be voted down.”

If passed, EU member states will have two years to implement the law, although it is not clear what it would mean for the UK in the face of Brexit uncertainty.

“Whether the UK leaves Europe with or without a deal, it’s hard to see that it would not follow Europe’s lead on this, whatever the respective outcomes of the EU vote tomorrow and Brexit,” Ms De Santis added.

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Blondie front singer Debbie Harry is a supporter of the copyright reforms (Ian West/PA)

More than five million people have signed a ‘save the internet’ petition against the changes, as well as taking to the streets in protest across Europe over the weekend.

Some 120 MEPs have publicly pledged to vote against the reforms, but that only includes three of the UK’s 73 MEPs.

“If passed, this copyright crackdown will lead to a chilling effect on freedom of speech,” said Catherine Stihler, chief executive of Open Knowledge International.

“It could change the web as we know it and restrict how we share research that could lead to medical breakthroughs or how we share facts to combat the spread of ‘fake news’.”

On the other side of the debate, Sir Paul McCartney and Debbie Harry are among the most vocal supporters of the proposals.

“It will allow artists to continue to create the music loved by fans all over the world by ensuring that the digital services that generate vast profits from music can no longer claim to have no responsibility for the content their businesses depend on,” Blondie singer Harry wrote in the Guardian last week.

The proposals have also been supported by news agencies across Europe, with the EANA (European Alliance of News Agencies) arguing it provides an opportunity to further develop quality news services and enables it to compete more fairly with tech giants.

Votes are set to be cast around midday, with an announcement of the result expected soon after.

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