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EU Passes Controversial Copyright Law With ‘Link Taxes’

Lawmakers exempted non-commercial and smaller platforms from the directive, but opponents of the law still worry that it will lead to greater censorship on the internet.

The European Parliament approved the controversial Copyright Directive, which would require publishers to pay a “link tax” for sharing anything more than “insubstantial” portions of other publishers’ content.

Under the new law, passed on Wednesday with a vote of 438 to 226, any website that allows users to upload content must also implement a filter that checks this content against a database of copyrighted materials.


European lawmakers in favor of the bill, such as Germany’s Axel Voss, who was instrumental in shaping the directive, argued that the vote was a “good sign for creative industries in Europe.”

“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,” Voss said in a statement. “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.”

Opponents argue that the bill will be next to impossible to implement and may lead to rampant censorship.

As Karl Bode recently wrote in Motherboard, the original version of the bill introduced to the Parliament in 2016 didn’t distinguish non-commercial websites from commercial ones, so a link tax was thought to cripple volunteer and non-profit organizations such as Wikipedia and GitHub, which rely heavily on content from other publishers. The new version of the Copyright Directive distinguishes commercial publishers from non-commercial and open-source platforms.

Content moderation systems have historically been incredibly expensive to create and even then don’t work that well. Google’s $100 million Content ID system, for example, often flags items that aren’t covered by copyright. This was demonstrated earlier this year when a musician posted hours of white noise and was hit with five different copyright violations. It would have effectively been impossible for smaller publishers to comply with this aspect of the directive, but the final version of the bill exempted “small and micro platforms” from compliance with this part of the bill.

Read More: This Musician Just Showed How Broken Copyright Filters Are

The Copyright Directive will not go into effect immediately. As activist and author Cory Doctorow explained to Motherboard, there will be more “closed-door negotiations” with each of the European Union’s 28 member states and another vote in January. At that point, each member state will have some leeway in terms of how they will turn the directive into functional law in their country.