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EU Parliament Approves Controversial Copyright Law

The European Parliament approved major new changes to EU-wide copyright laws which critics claim could lead to de facto mass censorship of online content.

Tech giants like Google and Amazon have been mobilizing their users for months to protest ahead of the vote, but in the end the Copyright in the Digital Single Market directive was voted in by 348 MEPs to 274.

Most controversial is Article 13, which requires sites and internet platforms to filter any user-generated content that is being uploaded without permission, or else be held liable for infringement. Although they already scan for unlicensed content, this will put a greater liability on such sites for doing so.

While artists have claimed that the new law will help protect their content from infringement, advocates of internet freedom argue that it could amount to backdoor censorship of the web — although memes and use of copyrighted content for parody are excluded.

Also hotly contested was Article 11, which demands that news aggregators and search engines pay to feature links from news sites on their pages.

As it currently stands, the law will only cause more confusion, not least because — as a directive and not a regulation — member states will be given greater latitude to interpret it when transposing into local law.

This could cause a great deal of inconsistency across the EU, argued the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s international director, Danny O’Brien.

“It’s unclear who is supposed to impose consistency in the EU between, say, a harsh French regime and a potentially softer German solution, or interpret the Directive’s notoriously incoherent text,” he wrote.

This could mean it falls to the courts to decide, with rights holders on one side and internet companies on the other.

“But there’s also opportunities for the courts to rein in the directive — or even throw out its worst articles entirely,” O’Brien added.

“One key paradox at the heart of the directive will have to be resolved very soon. Article 13 is meant to be compatible with the older E-Commerce Directive, which explicitly forbids any requirement to proactively monitor for IP enforcement (a provision that was upheld and strengthened by the ECJ in 2011). Any law mandating filters could be challenged to settle this inconsistency.”

Google also pointed to potential “legal uncertainty” and claimed the law will “hurt Europe’s creative and digital economies.”

The directive is now likely to gain approval when the European Council meets later this month, unless any member states change their minds.

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