The EU Copyright Directive, and its controversial Article 11 and Article 13 provisions, seemed dead. The backlash from advocates, businesses, and individual web users was swift and significant. And when EU members couldn’t agree on how to implement the new laws, they shelved them. But then they came back with a vengeance. France and Germany worked out a resolution to revive the EU Copyright Directive. Now the ink has dried on the final text, and it’s even worse than we thought.
What is the EU Copyright Directive?
The EU Copyright Directive — formally known as the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market — is a regulation that updates copyright laws for the modern internet. The European Parliament originally approved the new legislation in September 2018. Controversially, the text included an overhaul of news aggregation and content filters.
But it hit a road bump in January 2019. Member nations could not agree on who should install the content filters. This came as a surprise because the key points of the text were unchanged from September. With time running out, the Copyright Directive faced an uncertain future.
Clarity would soon come, however. Weeks later, on February 5, Germany and France announced a compromise to revive the Copyright Directive. Worryingly, their deal rescued the most hotly-debated aspects of the law: Article 11 and Article 13. In fact, they made them worse.
What is Article 11?
As initially drafted, Article 11 establishes a so-called ‘link tax.’ It allows publishers to charge a fee when news aggregators like Apple and Google share snippets of their articles.
When unveiled, Article 11 was met with immediate pushback. Smaller news aggregators were concerned they would be priced out and lose ground to larger competitors. Additionally, Google illustrated how the proposed rules would fundamentally alter search engine UX.
How About Article 13?
As for Article 13, the original EU Directive text makes websites with user-generated content liable for that content’s copyright violations. Even more than the hated Article 11, Article 13 was universally condemned.
Because it would destroy the internet’s functionality, critics had two huge issues with the proposal. First, it would place an unreasonable burden on websites; second, because it would introduce content filters. Both meme culture and user-generated videos rely on the concept of free use through repurposing copyright material. Article 13 would threaten their future.
What Will the Updated Laws Do?
Article 11 and Article 13 were disastrous when they were first unveiled. Now? They will break the internet in Europe. Julia Reda is a German Member of the European Parliament. As MEP Reda illustrates, the final text of the EU Copyright Directive creates impossible hurdles.
To comply with Article 11, aggregators who reproduce more than “single words or very short extracts” of news stories must obtain a license. Zero exceptions will be allowed. This will seriously harm new services for nonprofits, small businesses, and individual aggregators.
With Article 13, free speech will decrease. Commercial websites and applications that host user-generated content will require licenses to cover any copyright content that may be uploaded on their services. Essentially, that means they must get licenses for all copyright content in existence. Additionally — excluding the very small and very new — websites must work to prevent unauthorized duplicates of copyright work from being uploaded; that means introducing content upload filters.
The financial burden this puts on websites and apps is unfathomable. Both copyright licenses and content upload filters are incredibly expensive. Also, all sites will be punished for infringements as if they had violated copyrights themselves. That means users will suffer. Not wanting to risk penalties, they will likely employ the strictest filters possible. This will hurt users, as they see their free speech rights suffer.
Is There Any Hope Left?
While the text has been finalized, the EU Copyright Directive is not yet official. It must now pass three votes. The first is the Legal Affairs Committee vote in Parliament, likely to be held on February 18, 2019. The second the Council vote, which is held by EU member state governments. The third vote is the final vote in the plenary of the European Parliament.
The final plenary vote is our best chance at eliminating Article 11 and Article 13. This will likely be held between March and April of 2019. At the final plenary vote, MEPs have three options: (1) they can pass the Copyright Directive as it, (2) they can remove provisions, like Article 11 and Article 13, and pass a revised law, or (3) they can put the EU Directive on pause until after the May elections.
If you live in the EU, you can still make a difference. To stop the Copyright Directive:
- Add your name to the change.org petition
- Review your representatives’ voting history
- Contact your MEPs’ offices to politely make your case against Article 11 and Article 13