European Interest

New copyright rules draw mixed reaction

Flickr/European Parliament/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
“This vote marks the first step of the parliamentary procedure to adopt copyright laws fit to meet the challenges of the internet,” said rapporteur Axel Voss.

The European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee on June 20 backed plans to update European Union copyright rules to ensure fair pay for artists and journalists. The vote was tight – just 14 in favour, 9 against with 2 abstentions.

“This vote marks the first step of the parliamentary procedure to adopt copyright laws fit to meet the challenges of the internet,” said rapporteur Axel Voss, (EPP, DE) after the vote. “The last laws to address copyright in the information society date back 17 years and the internet of today is fundamentally different to what it was in 2001.”

According to Voss, it is important for creators and news publishers to adapt to the new world of the internet as it works today. “There are opportunities but there are also important drawbacks,” he said. “Notably, news publishers and artists, especially the smaller ones, are not getting paid due to the practices of powerful online content-sharing platforms and news aggregators. This is wrong and we aim to redress it. The principle of fair pay for work done should apply to everyone, everywhere, whether in the physical or online world.”

Voss also stressed that the committee’s position aims to ensure that widely recognised and observed copyright principles also apply to the online world.  “A world which certainly must remain a champion of freedom of expression, but in which our rules-based society should also be reflected,” he said.

To ensure that artists, musicians in particular, are not deprived of fair remuneration for their work, the committee agreed to require sharing platforms either to pay fees to rightsholders whose content is uploaded on these platforms or to ensure that an upload containing copyrighted material is blocked if the platform will pay no fee.

The June 20 vote by the Legal Affairs Committee is likely to be the parliament’s official stance as it heads into negotiations with EU countries on a common position. However, dissenting lawmakers could force a vote at the general assembly next month.

According to the Reuters news agency, lobbying group CCIA, whose members include Google, Facebook, eBay, Amazon and Netflix, criticised lawmakers for ignoring pleas from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, net neutrality expert Tim Wu, internet pioneer Vint Cerf and others.

“We urge all MEPs to contest this report and to support balanced copyright rules, which respect online rights and support Europe’s digital economy,” CCIA’s Maud Sacquet said.

Publishers, however, cheered the committee’s vote, calling it a victory for fairness and a recognition that rights holders should be rewarded.

“The internet is only as useful as the content that populates it. This publishers’ neighbouring right will be key to encouraging further investment in professional, diverse, fact-checked content for the enrichment and enjoyment of everyone, everywhere,” Europe’s news and magazine publishers said.

Explore more