EU Set New Copyright Rules for Internet

European Parliament voted today to approve changes that make platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and Google News responsible for copyright infringements committed by their users.   

Major tech companies have argued that these rules will be costly and they will need to build expensive content filters and stop linking to publications. According to CNN, Google has said that the law will “lead to legal uncertainty and will hurt Europe’s creative and digital economies.”

The EU Commission explains that the directive addresses those platforms whose main purpose is to store, organise and promote for profit-making purposes a large amount of copyright-protected works uploaded by its users. This would exclude wikipedia, GitHub, dating sites, Ebay and numerous other types of platforms for example. The directive does not target the ordinary user.

In short:

  • The draft directive intends to oblige giant internet platforms and news aggregators (like YouTube or GoogleNews) to pay content creators (artists/musicians/actors and news houses and their journalists) what they truly owe them;
  • No new rights or obligations are being created. What is currently legal and permitted to share will remain legal and permitted to share.

The deal offers specific protection to start-up platforms. Platforms set up less that than 3 years ago, with an annual turnover lower than EUR 10 million, and average monthly unique visitors lower than 5 million, will be subject to much lighter obligations than the large, established ones.

 

What does the directive say?

Tech giants to share revenue with artists and journalists

The directive aims to enhance rights holders’ chances, notably musicians, performers and script authors, (creatives) as well as news publishers, to negotiate better remuneration deals for the use of their works when these feature on internet platforms. It does this by making internet platforms directly liable for content uploaded to their site and by automatically giving the right to news publishers to negotiate deals on behalf of its journalists for news stories used by news aggregators.

 

Locking in freedom of expression

Numerous provisions are specifically designed to ensure the internet remains a space for freedom of expression. As sharing snippets of news articles is specifically excluded from the scope of the directive, it can continue exactly as before. However, the directive also contains provisions to avoid news aggregators abusing this. The ‘snippet’ can therefore continue to appear in a Google News newsfeeds, for example, or when an article is shared on Facebook, provided it is “very short”. Uploading protected works for quotation, criticism, review, caricature, parody or pastiche has been protected even more than it was before, ensuring that memes and Gifs will continue to be available and shareable on online platforms.

 

Many online platforms will not be affected

The text also specifies that uploading works to online encyclopedias in a non-commercial way, such as Wikipedia, or open source software platforms, such as GitHub, will automatically be excluded from the scope of this directive. Start-up platforms will be subject to lighter obligations than more established ones.

 

Stronger negotiating rights for authors and performers

Authors and performers will be able to claim additional remuneration from the distributor exploiting their rights when the remuneration originally agreed is disproportionately low when compared to the benefits derived by the distributer.

 

Helping cutting edge research and preserving heritage

The directive aims to make it easier for copyrighted material to be used freely through text and data mining, thereby removing a significant competitive disadvantage that European researchers currently face. It also stipulates that copyright restrictions will not apply to content used for teaching or illustration.

Finally, the directive also allows copyrighted material to be used free-of-charge to preserve cultural heritage. Out-of-commerce works can be used where no collective management organisation exists that can issue a license.

 

How this directive changes the status quo

Currently, internet companies have little incentive to sign fair licensing agreements with rights holders, because they are not considered liable for the content that their users upload. They are only obliged to remove infringing content when a rights holder asks them to do so. However, this is cumbersome for rights holders and does not guarantee them a fair revenue. Making internet companies liable will enhance rights holders’ chances (notably musicians, performers and script authors, as well as news publishers and journalists) to secure fair licensing agreements, thereby obtaining fairer remuneration for the use of their works exploited digitally.

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It will now be down to member states to approve Parliament’s decision in the coming weeks. If the member states accept the text adopted by the European Parliament, it will take effect after publication in the official journal and then member states will have 2 years to implement it.

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