The European Union has voted against a controversial copyright reform proposal that would have severely hampered internet freedom—while driving up operating costs for many of your favorite websites. The effort was derailed thanks to a 318-278 vote by members of the European Parliament, after numerous critics complained that the highly-flawed proposal was being fast-tracked behind closed doors. For months, members of European Parliament (MEPs) had been bombarded with comments by opponents and activists warning about the problematic rule changes.
An online petition opposing the plan had gathered nearly 850,000 signatures at the time of the EU vote. Wikipedia's Spanish, Italian, and Polish language versions were also blacked out this week in the hopes of raising user awareness ahead of the EU vote. As noted previously, the terrible wording of the law opened the door to numerous, significant problems. Article 13 of the plan demanded that any website that lets users upload text, sounds, images, code (read: most of them) be forced to implement automated copyright filters on their own dime. Such systems often either don’t work, or wind up filtering legitimate internet content, stifling free speech and user expression. Worse, the EU’s proposal provided users whose content was falsely flagged and removed for copyright violations little to no recourse to false claims, opening the door to rampant abuse of the system by rights holders. Groups like the Wikimedia Foundation had come out firing against such filters, noting they’d not only undermine the work of websites like Wikipedia, but unnecessarily drive up costs for startups forced to comply with the requirements.
“Requiring all platforms to implement these filters would put young startups that cannot afford to build or buy them at a tremendous disadvantage,” the group stated before the vote. “This would hurt, not foster, the digital single market in the European Union, as it would create a tremendous competitive advantage for platforms that already have implemented such filters or are able to pay for them.” Meanwhile, Article 11 of the proposal demanded that anyone sharing snippets of news story contents be forced to pay a “link tax.” Under Article 11, publishers large and small would have been forced to pay a toll simply for sharing “insubstantial” portions of text from published works— though what was deemed “insubstantial” was never adequately defined. The link tax was primarily driven by brick-and-mortar publishers, many of which operate under the false impression that the levy would save them from having to evolve in an advertising era dominated by the likes of Google and Facebook. Similar efforts have previously failed in countries like Spain and Germany, in some instances resulting in a traffic decline.
While Facebook and Google certainly played a role in scuttling the EU’s copyright proposal, activists and internet users were the driving force of opposition against the measure. With the EU’s copyright plan derailed for now, discussion of the rules will continue this September, potentially giving European lawmakers time to dramatically reform and improve its most controversial components.
“The rejection, for now, of the mandate means the Parliament has another few months to get it right,” said Alyn Smith, MEP and Scottish National Party Member of the European Parliament for Scotland. “I look forward to supporting colleagues in that and will continue to be active in efforts to strike a balance that works for everyone.”