European Union copyright laws change

On Wednesday, Sept. 12, members of the European Parliament approved amendments to the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. Designed to update European copyright law for the internet age, this polarizing piece of legislation gives increased protections to copyright holders in order to level the playing field against Silicon Valley.

An extension of the original 2001 Copyright Directive, the new Copyright Directive was originally proposed on Sept. 14, 2016. Since its introduction, the directive underwent several rounds of revisions before it was eventually sent to the European Parliament for approval on June 20 of this year.

According to critics, the first major problem with the new Copyright Directive is Article 11. This first worrying portion of the legislation gives publishers the right to charge platforms a licensing fee when their stories are shared. Targeted at sites like Google News and Facebook, the Article aims to redirect a portion of the revenue generated by links back to the original creator. However, similar legislation has already failed to produce the intended result. In 2014, Spain’s passage of a similar law saw the temporary closure of Google News, a move which resulted in a major dip in online traffic to local news outlets.

However, the absence of online news aggregators may not affect Europeans as much as it would their American counterparts.

“In my observations, Germans read print newspapers way more regularly than we do,” states Professor of Foreign Languages Dave Limburg. “You often see people reading newspapers in trains, buses, coffeehouses.”

Given the European preference for print, Article 11 may not be as consequential as it has been made out to be. However, opponents have real reason to fear Article 13.

Dubbed the “upload filter,” this portion of the legislation holds corporations accountable for copyrighted material uploaded to their platform by users. In order to protect themselves from legal action, these corporations must implement content filters which prevent copyrighted material from appearing on their platform.

However, critics say that in practice the technology necessary to implement such a filter simply does not exist right now. They cite YouTube’s Content ID, a system plagued with false positives and copyright trolls.

“I think it would be hard to accurately determine what is copyrighted material,” says Early College student Derek Chen. “As a result, it [Article 13] would be difficult to enforce in the way lawmakers intended.”

Because the technology necessary to comply with these regulations does not fully exist right now, it is possible tech giants would simply block access to their platforms in Europe, as Google did with Google News in 2014. If companies like Reddit or YouTube completely blocked the European market from their services, the absence of European users would almost certainly have a profound impact on American users, even if it seems unlikely the U.S. would pass similar legislation.

“I can’t imagine we would enact similar legislation,” states Professor of Criminal Justice Will Pizio. “We have no substantive way of controlling or regulating the internet now and this would seem like a fairly significant step.”

How the new Copyright Directive will impact the internet and the way it is used remains to be seen. Before it’s interpretation and implementation by individual EU member states, the Directive must first face further negotiations and one final vote by the European Parliament in early 2019.