348-274. 11 and 13. 24. All these numbers are extremely important for the controversial EU Copyright Directive which is formally known as Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market 2016/0280 (COD). The Directive which has been a bone of contention among legislators and stakeholders alike (regarding the link tax and censorship related provisions) for the past two years has finally been passed.
On March 26, 2017, the Directive received its final clearance from the Members of the European Parliament with 348 members voting in support and 274 voting against the Directive. The two articles from the Directive which are the focal points of the most criticism, Articles 11(‘link tax’) and 13(‘upload filter’), also remain in the Directive. Member states of the European Union are supposed to ratify the provisions of the Directive into their national laws within 24 months. A proposal extended to remove Article 13 from the Directive scrapped through barely with a 5 vote difference.
The present Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market was preceded by the Copyright Directive 2001 which aimed at reducing conflicts in the international Copyright regime and unifying the Copyright laws across Europe in light of the digital developments. The European Commission sought to review the Directive and after much negotiation proposed the first draft of the new Directive in the year 2016 (hence its name).
Article 11 which is also known as the ‘link tax’ provision requires platforms such as Google, Facebook, etc. to obtain licenses from the news sources to link their pages or use parts of their content. Article 13 dubbed as the ‘content filter’ provision requires websites such as Facebook to have a copyright check on the content before it is uploaded on their websites. If the content is found to be infringing third party copyright, this provision holds the host websites responsible, contrary to the current practice of taking down material on takedown request by these parties.
Many opposing the Directive argue that the vagueness of both these articles would lead to restriction of free information on the internet, especially Article 13 (now Article 17) which may result in faulty copyright detection tools or an outright ban on the use of copyrighted material even when it qualifies under the fair use principle like parodies or memes. The Commission released a press statement highlighting that the concerns are misdirected. It said, “vote ensures the right balance between the interests of all players – users, creators, authors, press – while putting in place proportionate obligations on online platforms.” What happens next will be interesting to see as this law has long-lasting implications on how the internet works. Are we going backwards in our approach regarding copyright protection? Google sure thinks so. Google has threatened to ban its news and social media services across Europe if the Directive is implemented by the member states of the EU.
“Copyright Reform: the Commission Welcomes European Parliament’s Vote in Favour of Modernised Rules Fit for Digital Age.” European Commission – PRESS RELEASES – Press Release – Copyright Reform: the Commission Welcomes European Parliament’s Vote in Favour of Modernised Rules Fit for Digital Age, www.europa.eu/rapid/press-release_STATEMENT-19-1839_en.html