The EU just voted to fundamentally change how the internet works

Julia Reda of the Pirate Party, which campaigned to reject the directive, called Wednesday's vote “catastrophic.”

by David Gilbert
Sep 12 2018, 12:30pm

Getty Images

The EU Wednesday passed a controversial law that could fundamentally change the way the internet works, forcing companies like Google and Facebook to pay publishers every single time someone shares a link to an article.

The Copyright Directive was introduced in order to update copyright law for the digital age, but the inclusion of two controversial provisions led to significant opposition from rights groups and activists.

Despite the opposition, European lawmakers voted to pass the legislation with 438 votes to 226. MEPs previously voted against the directive in July, but more than 250 amendments have been made since.

The two provisions that have prompted the most concern have been dubbed the “link tax” and the “upload filter.”

  • Article 11: This provision is intended to force big tech platforms like Google and Facebook to pay publishers when they share a link to an article. Some have suggested it could spell the end of services like Google News in the EU.
  • Article 13: This is a provision that activists claim will “kill the internet” as it forces all tech companies to filter all user content before it is put online and check for any copyright material.

Critics say the new legislation will seriously harm freedom of expression and the flow of information online, while proponents say the bill’s impact has been mischaracterized and the new amendments introduced in recent months will limit the worst excesses of the legislation.

READ: The EU is done warning tech companies about removing extremist content — now they want to act

Julia Reda of the Pirate Party, which campaigned to reject the directive, called Wednesday's vote “catastrophic.”

Supporters of the legislation include musicians, filmmakers and authors who believe the new directive will compensate them for their work. High profile proponents of the bill included Sir Paul McCartney and filmmaker Mike Leigh.

Wyclef Jean was among the more high-profile opponents of the bill.

Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web, and Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, warned in June what passing this legislation could mean: “[It] takes an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the internet from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users.”

The vote is the latest in a series of actions by EU lawmakers to stifle the reach of big tech firms — almost all of which are from the U.S. Earlier in the day, the European Commission announced new legislation that could see platforms like Google and Facebook fined billions of dollars for failing to remove terror content from their platforms within one hour.

Wednesday’s vote is not the end of the process. Negotiations between politicians and member states will take place — a process called trilogue — before a final vote in the European parliament which will likely happen early next year.

Cover image: The Google logo is seen in an Android mobile with European Union flag on the background. (Omar Marques/SOPA Images/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)