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EU approves new copyright rules despite censorship warnings

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German MEP Axel Voss, who brought the copyright directive before the European Parliament, celebrates the vote in its favour, 12 Septembre 2018. Reuters/Vincent Kessler

EU lawmakers voted in favour of a controversial reform of online copyright laws on Wednesday. While supported by cultural industries and media, the proposal will continue to face opposition from web giants and from groups warning of censorship.


The new copyright directive would oblige web companies to make payments to content creators if their work is copied or linked to online.

Supporters hailed the vote as a victory for Europe’s creative and media industries and the individuals who work in them.

“There are important provisions on transparency in exploiting authors’ works and for fair and proportionate remuneration,” says Pamela Morinière, a campaigner with the International Federation of Journalists.

“Then there is the neighbouring right,” she adds. “We all agreed on the need to do something against the GAFA [Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon] using all content online for free.”

Fees to news providers

"Neighbouring right" refers to a measure by which web companies would pay news media a fee when users link to stories.

It is one of the more controversial measures, along with another that would oblige web platforms to filter out content containing copyrighted material.

Critics say call these measures “upload filters” and say they amount to automated censorship.

Recent months have seen intense lobbying for and against the directive, and an earlier version was struck down in July.

“I’ve received more than 40,000 emails in the past two weeks. I’ve never seen anything like it,” French Socialist MEP Virginie Rozière told a press conference.

“The messages claim the directive will censor the internet and that we have to save the internet. These messages appear to come from within the European Union, but analysis shows they are the work of lobbies financed by web companies based in the United States.”

Supporters of the directive say the campaigns around it have distorted its implications for web users.

“There have been a lot of wrong messages sent around this directive, and actually users will continue to use press the way they use it at the moment,” says Pamela Morinière.

“It’s just that the GAFA will have to make an effort, hopefully sign licences with our publishers, and stop indexing everything for free.”

Concerns remain

But critics of the directive say the underlying concerns remain.

“Legal uploads like memes or parodies will still be automatically blocked by upload filters and posting so much as a headline of a news article on social media will require the payment of a licence fee,” said Julia Reda, an MEP from the Pirate Party in Germany.

The EU parliament’s approval does not mean the measures enter into immediate effect.

The European Commission and member states will now work together on legislation to update their existing copyright laws and during that time debates will continue.

“I expect that the public protest against these proposals will only increase during the negotiations with the member states until the final vote on the directive in the spring,” Reda said.

“If we fail to find a fair compromise between the interest of creators and the public, the entire copyright directive may end up being rejected.”