European Parliament Rejects Controversial Copyright Law

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The Copyright Directive will force online platforms to share revenues with copyright holders, but critics say it will clamp down on free speech and cripple innovation.

The members of the European Parliament have voted to reject a controversial overhaul of European copyright law that has been hailed by the creative industry, but condemned by social media companies and free speech advocates.

On Thursday, the EU Parliament voted 318 to 278 against a committee proposal on the law, the EU Copyright Directive, in its current form, with 31 members of the parliament abstaining. The EU Parliament said it would return to the issue in September. "Parliament’s position will now be up for debate, amendment and a vote during the next plenary session, in September," it said.

Axel Voss, a member of the parliament, said: "I regret that a majority of members of parliament did not support the position, which I and the legal affairs committee have been advocating. But this is part of the democratic process. We will now return to the matter in September for further consideration and attempt to address peoples’ concerns whilst bringing our copyright rules up to date with the modern digital environment."

Julia Reda, a German member of the European Parliament for the Pirate Party, and one of the most vocal opponents to the new law, celebrated the vote as a victory for democracy, congratulating European citizens who contacted the parliament to voice their concerns about the legislation.

The stated purpose of the new law was to force big online companies, such as Google or Facebook, to share revenues with copyright holders and to better police their sites. Two of its key components are Article 11, dubbed the "link tax," which forces news aggregation and search sites to pay publishers for showing news snippets or linking to news stories on other sites, and Article 13, which mandates upload filters for online platforms to prevent copyright-protected material from being illegally posted. 

Opponents fear the law would lead to suppression of free speech and will prove unworkable. Both Spain and German previously introduced a "link tax" similar to Article 11 with decidedly mixed results. Free speech advocates warned that Article 13 would lead platforms to block legitimate free speech, including parodies and internet memes. Because the law requires platforms to monitor its users' online activity, the directive could also fall foul of Europe's data protection legislation.

The creative industries had lobbied hard for the Copyright Directive. Organizations representing European directors and screenwriters, as well as several big media companies, had come out in support of the new law.

Just this week, the music industry made a big push to convince European law makers, with the likes of Paul McCartney and James Blunt signing an open letter to EU parliamentarians asking them to vote in favor of the new law.

The Society of Audiovisual Authors (SAA) was one of the first creative groups to express disappointment following Thursday's vote, saying it undermined months of intense work and negotiations and sends "a strange signal about Europe's ability to define a favorable legal framework for authors’ rights in the digital era."

In a statement, SAA executive director Cecile Despringre said it was "very disappointing that a majority of members of the European Parliament gave in to the aggressive pressure put on them by digital platforms and the opponents to copyright instead of listening to European authors. This will only delay much-needed rules for authors whose earnings are weakened in the digital era.”

Georg Szalai in London contributed to this report.