Crucial EU copyright vote set to take place this week

MEPs are set to vote this week on a long-awaited update of EU copyright laws.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

18 Jun 2018

The proposals will be up for a vote in the legal affairs committee on Wednesday.

The draft law has pitched internet giants like Google up against influential press publishers like Axel Springer, with both sides lobbying committee members in an effort to win them over.

The vote has been postponed several times due to what a Parliament spokesperson called “long and tortuous debates” at committee stage.


The spokesperson, speaking at a news briefing in parliament on Monday, said, “This has not been an easy process due to the need to balance the widely different interests at stake.”

He added, “But an update to the legislation is very much needed because the current laws dealing with copyright law date  back to 2001, which may not seem that long ago but is an eternity in the online world.

“We should remember that back then Google was still in its infancy, Google news did not exist and YouTube was still three years down the line.

“It was a very different landscape. Today, we face a completely new world so the copyright rules need to be upgraded. This is especially the case for the smaller artists and small to medium size publishers, many of whom are struggling.

“There is a balance to be struck but it is not an easy one.

“On the one side you have artists and publishers while, on the other hand, you have internet providers who want to be able to continue uploading their videos and sharing news stories.”

He added, “We are now, however, coming to the crunch where a balance between the two competing sides needs to be struck.”

The spokesperson declined to speculate on the likely outcome of the vote on Wednesday, adding, “It is still very much in the balance.”

Likening the situation to “shifting sand”, he said there were three issues that “remain in the balance” and still need to be addressed.

These are the clauses in the directive relating to breach of copyright, the so-called ‘publishers’ rights’ - or ‘neighbouring right’ - and a third issue about text and data mining.

The European Commission made the initial proposal for a copyright directive two years ago and at its heart were two radical changes that fundamentally change copyright practice in most of Europe.

First, the draft creates a new ancillary right for news publishers, often dubbed ‘the link tax’, and second, it places a new general obligation on internet platforms and websites to pre-monitor user content on their website for copyright infringements.

It is the so-called ‘publishers’ right’ clause in the directive that has arguably proved to be the most controversial element of the draft law

German EPP group member Axel Vos is steering the draft law through Parliament. He supports the ‘publishers’ right’ element in the complex legislation. This clause is also backed by most major media and press publishers. 

However, internet companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter, fiercely oppose it.

The EPP group in Parliament is pushing for the committee to adopt the legislation, including the publishers’ right clause.

Ahead of the vote, more than 100 MEPs - 32 Greens/EFA, 25 ALDE, 18 S&D, 14 GUE, 7 ECR, 6 EFDD and 2 EPP - have sent a letter to Vos.

It says, “While we support efforts to ensure a level playing field between online platforms and businesses through the enforcement of competition and consumer rules, we believe that the introduction of a new European neighbouring right will have an injurious effect on citizens’ access to quality news and information.”

On Monday, an EPP group spokesperson said the draft “seeks a balance between the right holders and artists and internet users on the other side.”

The spokesperson added, “The aim of the directive is to adapt copyright rules to the new realities of the 21st century. The EPP group is of the opinion that platforms who develop their commercial activities on uploaded creative content need to fairly remunerate the creators.

“In this respect, quality journalism in Europe is also to be maintained by protecting the legal certainty of the publishers against some news aggregators that use the content of press publications without contributing to sustaining the investments in their creation.”

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