European Parliament Approves Controversial New Copyright Laws

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Critics warn the new copyright directive could stifle free speech and destroy user-generated content online.

The European Parliament has voted to approve an amended version of the controversial copyright directive that would overhaul copyright law across the European Union.

You can read the text of the amended directive here.

While many had predicted a close vote, parliamentarians in Strasbourg, France, overwhelmingly backed the directive, with 438 votes in favor, 226 against and 39 abstentions.

The Parliament rejected an earlier draft of the legislation in July. The version passed Wednesday includes several amendments meant to address criticisms that the new regulations could stifle free speech.

The most controversial parts of the directive are known as Article 13 and Article 11.

Article 13 puts the onus on web giants such as Google and Facebook to ensure content posted to their platforms conforms with European copyright laws and that rights-holders are properly compensated. Critics warn the regulation will result in online “content filters,” which will block user-generated content and restrict free speech.

Article 11 forces online platforms to compensate news organizations for citing snippets of news stories or linking to them online, something critics call a “link tax.” Opponents say Article 11 will only benefit big publishers and will not curb the influence of online giants.

Leaders of the EU's member states still need to sign off on the rule changes. Then individual countries have to draft local laws to put them into effect.

Wednesday's vote was welcomed by creatives in the European film and TV industries. In a joint statement, the Federation of European Film Directors (FERA), the Federation of Screenwriters in Europe (FSE) and the Society of Audiovisual Authors (SAA) thanked the members of the European Parliament “for listening to the authors and for establishing the need to define rules in the digital space to guarantee authors’ rights and support European creation.”

Many artists, including musicians Paul McCartney and James Blunt and European directors including Jacques Audiard and Mike Leigh, backed the new legislation. But musician Wyclef Jean spoke out against the directive, appealing to the Parliament to "embrace and improve the internet, rather than attempt to block and hinder it.”

YouTube's chief business officer Robert Kyncl said recently that Article 13 was particularly problematic, as it risked "discouraging or even prohibiting platforms from hosting user-generated content.”

Julia Reda, a German member of Parliament for the Pirate Party, and an outspoken opponent of the legislation, said the European Parliament "voted to make nothing but cosmetic changes to the controversial plans for upload filters and a 'link tax'" and called Wednesday's vote "a severe blow to the free and open internet," which puts "corporate profits over freedom of speech and (abandons) long-standing principles that made the internet what it is today."

It was a sentiment echoed on the opposite side of the Atlantic by Gus Rossi, Global Policy Director at Washington-based think tank Public Knowledge, who warned that the European regulation could become a model for similar legislation worldwide.

“Bad ideas travel fast across the Atlantic, and it’s only a matter of time before the American entertainment industry tries to enshrine these misguided reforms in U.S. law," said Rossi in a statement. "The Copyright Directive threatens freedom of expression, creativity, and the ability of voters to access trustworthy information around the globe."