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EU targets tech giants with new copyright rules

February 14, 2019

The European Union claims a new draft deal to force internet platforms to share revenues will empower authors and artists. But critics say the freedom of the internet is at risk.

User typing into Google
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/L. Schulze

Negotiators from the EU member states, the European Parliament and European Commission reached a tentative breakthrough deal on Wednesday night after a two-year debate on how to protect the bloc's cultural heritage, and reward publishers, broadcasters, writers and artists fairly.

Commissioner for the Digital Single Market, Andrus Ansip said: "Europeans will finally have modern copyright rules fit for the digital age with real benefits for everyone: guaranteed rights for users, fair remuneration for creators, clarity of rules for platforms."

How it works

The rules will oblige online companies such as Alphabet Inc's Google and Facebook Inc to pay publishers for displaying news snippets and share revenue with the creative industries and remove copyright-protected content on YouTube or Instagram. They will have to sign licensing agreements with rights holders such as musicians, performers, authors, news publishers and journalists to use their work online. They will have to install filters to prevent users uploading copyrighted material.

Exemptions are in place for companies

  • that are less than three years old;
  • with an annual turnover below €10 million ($11.3 million);
  • with fewer than five million monthly users.

Non-profits and encyclopaedias such as Wikipedia will still be able to use data for research and educational purposes without being subject to the new copyright rules.

Those in favor...

German MEP Axel Voss from Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU party welcomed the deal which would make the internet giants pay: "This deal is an important step towards correcting a situation which has allowed a few companies to earn huge sums of money without properly remunerating the thousands of creatives and journalists whose work they depend on," he said.

In a joint statement, the Federation of German Newspaper Publishers and the Association of German Magazine Publishers described the move as a "good day for diversity of opinion and press plurality in Europe," and said it would offer "great opportunites for independent journalism in the digital age."

... those against

Google lobbied against the new rules and said it would study the text of the rules before deciding on its course of action. "Copyright reform needs to benefit everyone — including European creators and consumers, small publishers and platforms," it tweeted.

The head of the German parliament's Digital Agenda committee, Jimmy Schulz of the pro-business FDP, warned the compromise "endangered the basic right to freedom of opinion."

Consumer groups also expressed their disappointment. "It will become much harder for users to share their own, non-commercial music, video or photo creations online. This reform is not based on the reality of how people use the internet," said Ursula Pachl of the European Consumer Organisation BEUC.

What next?

The deal still needs to be formally approved by the European Parliament and EU countries before it becomes law.

jm/rt (Reuters, AP)

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