Clash of the Titans – European Union Copyright Holders Versus Technology Giants

By Carolyn Wimbly Martin

On September 12, 2018, the European Parliament took a first, but crucial, step in adopting sweeping changes to copyright law on the Internet in the European Union. The vote on this copyright directive pitted media companies who hold the copyright to music and news content against technology platforms such as Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook. In this round the media companies were the winner, but there promises to be continued intense lobbying on both sides of the issue in the months to come.

The focus of the directive is on two key issues, both designed to require technology firms to share more revenue with content providers, including music publishers, researchers, educators, writers, media and cultural heritage institutions. (Chee, Foo Yun, 2018)

The most controversial is Article 13, which would make content sharing platforms like YouTube liable for copyright infringements by their users. This would require technology companies to rely on automatic filters to prevent users from uploading copyrighted material, something YouTube does now on a voluntary basis. For example, the directive would hold technology platforms responsible for paying for content such as copyrighted music playing in the background of an uploaded home video. Reuters quoted Monique Goyens, director general of The European Consumer Organization, BEUC, a critic of the legislation, as saying, “Consumers nowadays express themselves by sampling, creating and mixing music, videos and pictures, then sharing their creations online.” Critics argue that the provisions are too broad and that filters could hurt freedom of expression. There is also the practical issue that filters such as YouTube’s Content ID system are imperfect - flagging legitimate works, while still missing copyrighted works. (Kottasová, 2018, EFF, 2018) In an attempt to strike a balance and avoid overly burdensome costs, prior to the vote a change was made to exempt small platforms or aggregators from the directive’s obligations. (Michaels, 2018)

Article 11 would require sites like Google to pay publishers for digital use of their content. Media companies argue that, without such protection, the technology firms are sharing published material with nominal or no revenue or user data flowing back to the publishers, while also undercutting the publishers’ efforts to attract subscribers. Critics have called this a “link tax,” while proponents note that hyperlinks will be exempt. (Browne, 2018) Others point out that when Spain passed a similar law, Google shut down its local Google News service, and in Germany publishers gave Google licenses for free rather than lose traffic. (Michaels, 2018, Kottasová, 2018)

A separate piece of legislation in the European Union would require streaming services in the EU, such as Netflix and Amazon, to dedicate at least 30% of their on-demand catalogs to local content. (Vivarelli, 2018)

The directive sets parameters for negotiations between the Parliament, the European Commission and the 28 national governments, and includes amendments that still need to be thrashed out starting in October. One hope is that there is more clarity in the final document, which would benefit both sides in the debate. If and when the law is finally passed, EU member states will have two years to implement the new rules. (Vivarelli, 2018)

Optimistically, these copyright issues could be ready for a final vote by the end of the year. We will keep you posted.

 

Sources:

Browne, Ryan. “‘Catastrophic’: EU passes controversial copyright law that could hit the likes of Google and Facebook.” CNBC. 12 Sept. 2018. Web. 20 Sept. 2018.

Chee, Foo Yun, “EU lawmakers back publishers over tech giants on copyright.” Reuters 12 Sept. 2018. Web. 14 Sept. 2018.

Colin, Nicolas. “The EU Copyright Directive Won’t Kill the Internet But It Will Kill Startup.” Forbes. 17 Sept. 2018. Web. 20 Sept. 2018.

Electronic Frontier Foundation. “The EU’s Copyright Proposal is Extremely Bad News for Everyone, Even (Especially!) Wikipedia” 7 June 2018. Web. 14 Sept. 2018.

Kottasová, Ivana. “Europe just approved new copyright rules that could change the internet.” CNN Tech. 12 Sept. 2018. Web. 14 Sept. 2018.

Michaels, Daniel. “Copyright Battle in Europe Pits Media Companies Against Tech Giants.” The Wall Street Journal. 10 Sept. 2018. Web. 12 Sept. 2018.

Vivarelli, Nick. “European Parliament Passes Copyright Directive Giving Artists Greater Share of Revenue.” Variety. 12 Sept. 2018. Web. 14 Sept. 2018.