April 11, 2019
On April 15, the Council of the European Union will hold a vote on a controversial copyright measure that could force tech giants such as Google and Facebook to compensate publishers for news posted on their services and filter or block copyright-protected content.
The European Parliament, the other house of the EU’s bicameral legislative branch, approved the measure on March 26, 2019 by a vote of 338 to 284. Previously, the Committee on Legal Affairs of the European Parliament voted in favour of the proposed legislation, which could require Google, Facebook, and other online services to sign licensing agreements with intellectual property creators in order to use or link to their work.
The proposal for a “Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market” (the “Directive”) was initially introduced in 2016.
Consumer groups and the tech industry have aggressively opposed the measure. Criticism has focused on the Directive’s Article 11 (now known as Article 15, which would prohibit reproduction of anything but minuscule pieces of works without a license) and Article 13 (now known as Article 17, which would require most websites to take steps to prevent users from uploading unauthorized copyrighted content). Opponents colloquially refer to these elements as the “link tax” and “upload filter.” Some commentators have suggested that these requirements would disproportionately impact smaller online content platforms.
A petition opposing Articles 15 and 17, posted on Change.org, has amassed over 5.2 million signatures, and Wikipedia staged an intentional blackout of its German, Danish, Czech, and Slovak editions as a protest. Google has suggested that it would go as far as to remove its Google News service from Europe if the Directive becomes law.
Negotiators from a majority of EU countries endorsed a compromise version of the proposal on February 20, 2019, and the Committee on Legal Affairs voted to advance the measure at a special meeting on February 26 in Brussels.
Representatives of the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Poland, Italy, and Finland have declined to support the compromise currently progressing through the legislative process. In a joint statement released on February 20, these countries stated that they could not support the proposed Directive because it failed to “strike the right balance between the protection of right holders and the interests of EU citizens and companies” and lacks sufficient clarity.
On the other hand, non-governmental organizations representing intellectual property creators have released an open letter in support of the proposed Directive, arguing that the measure would help to create a “much-needed level playing field for all actors of the creative sector in the European Digital Single Market” while also increasing consumer access to content.
Before the text of the Directive can be adopted into European law, both houses of the EU’s legislature must approve it. With the vote of all 751 members of the European Parliament completed in advance of elections in May, the measure now moves to the Council of the European Union. If the Directive receives Council approval, it will enter into force 20 days later and EU member states will have a further two years to implement it in their own national laws. However, if the Council rejects the measure, the Directive will return to the EU Parliament for a second reading.
The EU’s current copyright rules date to 2001. The European Commissioner for Digital Single Market, Andrus Ansip, has suggested that the Directive represents “modern copyright rules fit for [the] digital age.”