The issue has been the subject of a particularly fierce social media campaign, with MEPs being swamped with emails and letters from people on both sides of the debate.
The vote in favour of the directive represents Parliament’s negotiating position on the draft proposed by the European Commission in September 2016. Parliament’s position for talks with member states to hammer out a final deal was approved by 438 votes to 226, with 39 abstentions. It makes some important tweaks to the June committee proposal.
The next step is for Parliament to open negotiations with EU governments and the Commission to agree a common position.
Parliament’s rapporteur on the file, EPP group member Axel Voss, told reporters he was “totally relieved” at the outcome of the keenly awaited vote.
“My name is on the report but the 400 plus MEPs who voted for my report have made a success of it.”
He insisted he was not looking for a “confrontation” or that the proposals should be seen as an attack against the internet or internet platforms like Google.
“What we want to do is ensure that the current legislation is adhered to and make sure copyright is respected in the digital world. I think that with this we have found a way of doing things but, I repeated, we don’t want to stop anything or seek a confrontation but to make sure that copyright is respected,” said Voss.
Voss said the issue had recently been characterised by “insults and threats that we MEPs have been exposed to.”
He said, “This has not been very helpful at all and if people conduct that sort of campaign we won’t get very far. They need to be more constructive in future.”
Voss said, “I am very glad that despite the very strong lobbying campaign by the internet giants, there is now a majority in the full house backing the need to protect the principle of fair pay for European creatives.
“There has been much heated debate around this directive and I believe that Parliament has listened carefully to the concerns raised. Thus, we have addressed concerns raised about innovation by excluding small and micro platforms or aggregators from the scope.
“I am convinced that once the dust has settled, the internet will be as free as it is today, creators and journalists will be earning a fairer share of the revenues generated by their works, and we will be wondering what all the fuss was about.”
His comments were largely echoed by Helga Trüpel, a German Greens MEP, who backed the proposals and was also speaking alongside him at the press conference.
She said, “We need quality journalism, but people never ask the question about how you pay for it.”
Trüpel also bemoaned the “massive spamming campaign” undertaken, she said, by those who were opposed to the directive.
“I am angry about this and have been deleting emails for weeks. It has not been nice. Lobbyists have to do their work but not to this extent. Everyone is angry about by this.
“For weeks I have talked and talked to people to convince them to vote for the directive. It’s been a lot of hard work.”
One part of the draft law, known as Article 11, proposes forcing web companies to pay news organisations for the right to share their articles.
Another key part, Article 13, would force internet companies to use ‘upload filters’ to ensure content placed online does not fall foul of copyright rules.
Many of Parliament’s changes to the Commission’s original proposal aim to make certain that artists, notably musicians, performers and script authors, as well as news publishers and journalists, are paid for their work when it is used by sharing platforms such as YouTube or Facebook, and news aggregators such as Google News.
After the vote, European Commission Vice-President for the digital single market Andrus Ansip and Commissioner for digital economy and society Mariya Gabriel also welcomed the outcome.
In a joint statement, they said, “We welcome today’s vote. It is a strong and positive signal and an essential step to achieving our common objective of modernising copyright rules in the European Union.”
They said that discussions between the co-legislators can now start on a legislative proposal which is a key element of the digital single market strategy and one of the Commission’s priorities.
“Our aim for this reform is to bring tangible benefits for EU citizens, researchers, educators, writers, artists, press and cultural heritage institutions and to open up the potential for more creativity and content by clarifying the rules and making them fit for the digital world.
“At the same time, we aim to safeguard free speech and ensure that online platforms - including 7000 European online platforms - can develop new and innovative offers and business models.”
Their statement went on, “The Commission stands ready to start working with Parliament and the Council of the EU, so that the directive can be approved as soon as possible, ideally by the end of 2018. We are fully committed to working with the co-legislators in order to achieve a balanced and positive outcome enabling a true modernisation of the copyright legislation that Europe needs.”
Julia Reda, who was Parliament’s Greens/EFA group shadow rapporteur on the dossier and one of the proposals’ most fierce opponents, was outraged at the result of the vote.
She said the decision was “a severe blow to the free and open internet. By endorsing new legal and technical limits on what we can post and share online, the European Parliament is putting corporate profits over freedom of speech and abandoning long-standing principles that made the internet what it is today.
“Unfortunately, all the concerns by academics, experts and internet users that led to the text being rejected last July still stand. Unless filters are explicitly excluded in the negotiations, public protest will only increase and the entire directive may well still be rejected when it comes up for a final vote right before next year’s European elections.”
Many of Parliament’s groups were split on the vote, including the ECR. Group member Daniel Dalton voted against the directive, explaining, “There is little evidence to show that creating new rights for press publishers will make media outlets more money. It could discourage people from sharing their content. And upload filters risk creating uncertainty for users and companies alike.
“Big tech giants with deep pockets might be able to swallow such changes, but small web firms could struggle to cope. The legitimate concerns of the press and creative industries should be addressed. But you don´t do it in a way that could kill innovation and limit consumer choice. Parliament negotiators should take recognise that is still substantial opposition from MEPs to these proposals.”
However, his colleague, Sajjad Karim, said, “Copyright law is at last catching up with the digital age. This legislation is now better balanced, answering many of the concerns of journalists, publishers and musicians whose work was being shared freely online without stifling innovation or fundamentally changing the nature of the internet.
“It also takes into account the rights of users, ensuring that materials used for teaching and research, and by cultural and heritage organisations, are not encumbered by unnecessary restrictions.
“I look forward to it being discussed in trilogue talks between the European Parliament, Council and Commission, where the remaining issues can be ironed out. No one doubted the need to update copyright laws, the difficulty has been striking the right balance between adequately rewarding right holders and safeguarding users' rights.
“Today’s vote brings us much closer to achieving that. Intellectual property is the backbone of our creative industries and it must be protected online just as it already is in the analogue world. However, this must be achieved without stifling innovation on the internet or closing it off to entrepreneurs and start-ups.”