MEPs warn of dangers of EU Commission's copyright proposals

A cross-party group of MEPs have joined forces to reject the European Commission's proposal for extra copyright for European news websites. 

Computer | Photo credit: Fotolia

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

19 Sep 2016

The Commission's proposed overhaul of EU copyright rules would pare back the legal protection afforded to YouTube and other video-hosting websites, potentially making it easier for content owners to challenge them in court.

In a key shift, the proposals, tabled by the executive last week, would require websites that host videos to shoulder more responsibility for rooting out copyright infringements.

Under the current rules, YouTube, Facebook and other video platforms remove material on a case-by-case basis only after being notified by rights-holders. If adopted, the proposals would require them to run proactive software checks to determine whether content they are hosting contains copyright material.


The new rules attempt to make a distinction between sites that actively promote and package online video, which stand to lose legal protection, and passive ones that merely host it.

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced the plan in his state of the union address in Strasbourg.

But a group of MEPs, including Daniel Dalton, Julia Reda, Marietje Schaake and Brando Benifei, say they oppose the plans.

Schaake, a Dutch ALDE group member said, "This plan would break the internet as we know it. The way people share news online today - by posting a link that includes a short snippet or image from the article - would be made illegal unless a licence had been previously agreed."

UK ECR group MEP Dalton added, "We all value journalism - but attempting to charge search engines and social networks for the privilege of sending visitors to news sites will do no good. European start-ups, unable to pay the new licence fees, will be collateral damage of this attack on diversity and consumer choice."

Further criticism comes from Reda, of the Greens/EFA group, who said, "This retrograde proposal would spell disaster for freedom of expression on the internet and for European start-ups' ability to compete. 

"On top of that, it will backfire for publishers: If we effectively erect a paywall in front of links to European news sites, internet platforms and users will just avoid sharing them. We may even see geoblocking of links: 'This link is not available in your country' could become a common sight."

S&ED group MEP Brando Benifei, meanwhile, says, "This idea already failed spectacularly in Germany and Spain - it's incredible that the Commission is still trying to push it through. 

"The European Parliament has rejected the idea in resolutions before - it must do so again now. MEPs who understand the importance of an open internet are coming together across party lines to defend the freedom to link."

According to drafts seen by the MEPs, the proposed rules would apply even to 20-year-old news articles. No exemption is provided for individuals or for even the shortest of extracts. The new rules would apply to anyone running a website as well as to search engines, news aggregators, social networks and many others.

The MEPs are among the 86 signatories of an open letter to Juncker asking him to stop the controversial plans.


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