European Committee Approves Controversial Copyright Law

European Parliament Building in Brussels

The EU Parliament will vote in July on new legislation that would require upload filters to block copyright-protected material and force sites to pay publishers for snippets or links to news stories.

Members of the European Parliament’s legal affairs committee have voted in support of a controversial new copyright law that critics say will “destroy the Internet as we know it.”

The committee Wednesday approved legislation that will overhaul copyright law across the European Union. The law still needs to be approved by the entire European Parliament in a plenary vote set for early July.

The new law, called the EU Copyright Directive, has the support of several media industry giants and lobby groups, including the U.K.-based Alliance for Intellectual Property and Proponents, which say they will help copyright holders crack down on piracy and allow publishers to better protect, and monetize, their content. But lobbying group CCIA — whose members include Google, Facebook, eBay, Amazon and Netflix — have criticized the law, as have Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web.

The stated purpose of the new law is to force big media companies such as Google or Facebook to share revenues with copyright holders and to better police their sites. But Julia Reda, a German member of the European Parliament and vocal opponent to the legislation, says the directive would only benefit large media companies and would disrupt the regular operation of the Internet.

“People will run into trouble doing everyday things like discussing the news and expressing themselves online. Locking down our freedom to participate to serve the special interests of large media companies is unacceptable,” she said in a statement, saying she intended to challenge Wednesday's outcome and would request a vote in the European Parliament next month. 

Opponents fear the law will lead to suppression of free speech and will prove unworkable.

The most contested parts of the Copyright Directive are article 11 — which would require users using snippets of online news to license that content from publishers — and article 13, which would force platforms to monitor, and block, the posting of copyright-protected material.

Article 11, which has been dubbed the “link tax,” would force news aggregator and search sites to pay publishers for showing news snippets. Similar laws were introduced by Spain and Germany in the past with mixed results. Google News pulled out of Spain, and traffic to news sites in both countries dropped sharply.

But it is Article 13 that is most controversial, as it would require mandatory upload filters for online platforms. Critics say this will mean the end to Internet meme culture, where users mock, remix or comment on culture and society using other people's photos, music or video. Others say the law, because it requires platforms to monitor its users' online activity, could become a tool for spying on EU citizens.