A sweeping, controversial copyright reform bill passed through the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) on Wednesday (20 June), but the legislation could still be toppled during a make-or-break vote in the full chamber’s plenary session next month.
The EU copyright overhaul has been marked by dramatic fights since the European Commission first proposed the legal change in 2016.
MEPs from different political groups have clashed over two hotly debated measures: a so-called neighbouring right that could force online platforms to pay media outlets if they display news snippets, and a provision that would require Youtube and other platforms to filter users’ uploads automatically in order to prevent copyright infringement.
Those measures would mark a departure from current EU legislation that does not hold internet platforms responsible for proactively finding and removing copyright infringement that is posted by their users.
Discussions over the overhaul have pitted internet companies like Google against news publishers and the audiovisual industry.
Lobbyists filled the Parliament meeting room to watch MEPs vote on Wednesday morning.
— Mathias Vermeulen (@mathver) June 20, 2018
Fourteen MEPs approved the bill, nine objected and two abstained. But in a last-minute request, German Green MEP Julia Reda asked for a special vote before the full chamber of 751 MEPs that will decide whether the committee’s decision will survive. That vote will be held during a plenary session on 4 July.
Reda is one of the most outspoken critics of the copyright proposals.
“These measures will break the internet. People will run into trouble doing everyday things like discussing the news and expressing themselves online,” she said in a statement on Wednesday afternoon.
The result of the July vote could be dramatic: if the house rejects the outcome from the JURI Committee, MEPs can open new negotiations to change measures in the legislation.
Commission officials who drafted the bill admit that could result in a further setback for legal discussions. The law can only take effect after it is agreed in three-way talks between MEPs, national governments and the Commission. Diplomats from EU countries have already agreed on their version of the legislation.
The EU executive is under pressure to finish negotiations on all of its digital single market files by the end of this year—and a rejection of the copyright bill next month would deal a major blow to that timeline.
Officials working on the file are concerned. The future of the legislation appears shaky, and Wednesday’s committee vote was already very close.
The neighbouring right for press publishers was approved by a slim majority of 13 MEPs in favour and 12 against the measure.
Technology companies urged MEPs to vote against the measure.
“The upload filter and neighbouring right will result in the censorship of free speech online and a disintegration of the internet as we know it,” said Siada El Ramly, director general of EDiMA, a lobby group representing internet platforms like Google and Microsoft.
News publishers rushed to encourage the full chamber of MEPs to follow the JURI Committee’s vote by approving the legislation in next month’s session.
A spokesman for a coalition of four newspaper and magazine associations said the new right for publishers marked “a victory for fairness, and formal recognition that commercially freeriding on others’ efforts and investments is unacceptable”.
The Commission has come under fire for the two controversial measures. Its original proposal introduced the new publishers’ license for online news snippets and recommended that it last 20 years. The version of the bill approved by the JURI Committee suggested five-year-long licenses.
“This will strengthen the bargaining position of publishers when they negotiate the use of their content with online players,” Commission spokeswoman Nathalie Vandystadt said.
The Commission proposal will not prevent internet users from sharing hyperlinks online, as some critics of the legislation have argued, she insisted.
Civil liberties campaign groups, consumer organisations and internet companies have also criticised article 13 of the legislation, the measure that requires internet platforms to set up filters to detect copyright infringement.
Youtube already uses a system called Content ID to automatically find copyright violations. The technology flags the content to Youtube, which can remove it from the platform.
Monique Goyens, director general of the European Consumer Organisation, said “The internet as we know it will change when platforms will need to systematically filter content that users want to upload. The internet will change from a place where consumers can enjoy sharing creations and ideas to an environment that is restricted and controlled”.