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EU member states approve copyright reform

April 15, 2019

EU member states have given final approval for copyright reforms ensuring artists and news publishers get their due in the internet era. The proposed reforms have triggered Europe-wide protests over internet freedom.

Mobile phone showing upload symbol with YouTube logo on computer screen behind
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/R. Knipping

A controversial reform of EU copyright law aimed at ensuring the rights of artists and news publishers in the digital age was approved at a final vote by the bloc's member states on Monday. At the vote, held on the sidelines of a meeting of agriculture ministers in Luxembourg, 19 members were in favor and six were against, with three abstentions

The package has faced bitter criticism from those who fear it could obstruct the free exchange of information and creativity on the internet. Supporters of the reforms say, however, that they will ensure fair remuneration for those producing content displayed online.

Read more: Opinion: EU online copyright reform won't break the internet

What is the reform?

The draft law will mean that:

  • Social media platforms will have to ensure uploaded content is not in breach of copyright rules.
  • Companies will need licensing agreements with rights holders such as musicians, performers and authors to use their content.
  • The likes of Google News will have to pay publishers for press snippets shown in search results.
  • Nonprofits and encyclopedias such as Wikipedia will still be able to use data for research and educational purposes.
  • Fledgling companies with an annual turnover below €10 million ($11.3 million) are exempt.

Knowledge is power

Why the reform?

European copyright law dates back to 2001, and the European Court of Justice has long been calling for it to be modernized in line with the digital era. EU officials are aware of the fact that a lot of copyrighted material ends up online without the original owners being fairly remunerated.

Read more:German Wikipedia goes offline in protest over EU copyright law 

Why is it controversial?

The reform has been subject to two years of bitter debate and has provoked major street protests across Europe. The package has been opposed largely by tech giants, which make huge profits from advertising on content they host, and by supporters of a free internet. Among other things, critics fear the installation of "upload filters" that could catch and delete legal content by error, thus hampering the free exchange of information. Publishers and artists have been in favor of the reforms, as they have often lost out on essential revenue when the content they produce has been made accessible free of charge on the internet.

Read more: New EU copyright law: Will upload filters destroy the internet as we know it?

What was Article 13?

One of the most hotly debated features of the reform has been Article 13, which would require social media platforms to make sure before they upload content that it does not violate copyright laws. This could lead to the use of the above-mentioned upload filters. In the finalized bill, Article 13 is now called Article 17.

Read more: Article 13: Will it hinder or promote artistic expression?

How did Germany vote?

The German government agreed at the last minute to approve the bill. However, in a statement to the minutes, it was to stress that the use of upload filters was not going to be made compulsory in Germany, according to government sources cited by the Reuters news agency.

What happens now?

The measures had already been approved by the European Parliament. Now final approval has been given by member states, their governments will have two years to implement the laws at a national level.

tj/rt (dpa, Reuters)

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