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European Parliament to vote on divisive internet copyright directive

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This afternoon, the European Parliament is to vote on the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, which updates copyright law for the digital age.

The bill would be the first update to EU copyright legislation since 2001. It was first proposed by the European Commission (EC) in 2016; the EC argue that the bill is necessary for preventing internet giants from gaining lasting dominance over content creators by preventing web sites streaming and linking to content created and published by others without proper recognition, agreement or compensation. The directive is intended to be a step towards a unified “digital single market” across Europe and to “make EU copyright rules fit for the digital age”.

The directive’s contentious elements are Article 11, which proposes giving press publishers direct copyright over reproduction of their content by other platforms (the ‘link tax’), and Article 13, which requires web hosts to prevent users posting copyrighted content, such as by using an upload filter, or to be liable for their users’ actions (the ‘meme ban’). Critics have argued that Article 11 would require web sites to obtain a license before linking to news stories, while Article 13 would have a detrimental effect on satirical content – such as remixed media, fan edits and memes – and would be extremely difficult for smaller platforms to implement.

The European Parliament Committee on Legal Affairs approved the full set of proposals in June, but in July the European Parliament voted 318-278 against the proposal in that form, setting in course weeks of further discussion and the possible introduction of amendments to the legislation.

The vote has split MEPs and is too close to call. Both sides have come under heavy lobbying efforts. Critics of the bill (or more pointedly of Articles 11 and 13) include Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the World Wide Web; Vint Cerf, co-inventor of the Internet Protocol Suite; Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia; Human Rights Watch; Reporters Without Borders; GitHub; Google and Facebook. Supporters of the bill include the UK Labour Party, French President Emmanuel Macron, musicians Paul McCartney, David Guetta and James Blunt and major academic and press publishers, such as Agence France-Presse.

If the bill is approved, the EC will begin a consultation process with national governments to agree on common positions before the bill can come into force. National governments will have the authority to decide on how the directive will be enforced.

The directive is reflective of the tough line European legislators are taking on internet companies, following the implementation of GDPR in May and the record €4.34bn fine levied on Google due to antitrust violations in July.

Edit: The European Parliament has voted in favour of the directive, including Articles 11 and 13, with 438 in favour and 226 against.

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